This is where we find The Order 1886, an incredibly lush and developed world it is like someone took their World of Darkness campaign, rolled it in sticky Arthurian Legend and dipped it in tub of Steampunk. Then liberally sprinkle real world personalities like Darwin and Arthur Conan Doyle and serve. Like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup this sounds like something that could be a delicious treat, and it is, but imagine it as one of those one pack Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup packs, enough to remind you of how delicious something is, but leaving you annoyed at how little you got.
What made this so interesting is the same kind of factual underpinning that made the Assassin’s Creed series so interesting. Basically the Q Branch of the Order was run by Nikola Tesla who still had a rivalry with Edison but was living in England for some reason (with an entirely wrong accent for a Serbian). You had lots of little nods to history with the United India Company serving in many ways as the agency of Empire at an economical level which was very much the way Britain expanded empire, The Hudson’s Bay Company, The United India Company and so on acted as proxies for the Crown and when threatened the British would intervene.
America is vaguely touched on, the French are supporters of the American Revolution (which is historically accurate) but still maintains a close relationship with Britain in this world. This is shown to be a stress point between Lafayette and the other characters, Lafayette is very much a lover of freedom but a believer in the cause of The Order. This is where it gets muddy, Assassin’s Creed is much better about keeping their timelines intact, in this case though Lafayette is implied to be the general who helped with the revolution, that Lafayette died in 1834, this may be his son but if it is the same one he is way too young. Given this is a fantasy world and we’ve been shown to have immortals maybe he’s been kept young via magic? Again, maybe he is the son of the General Lafayette (though dialogue would imply otherwise and also implied that the revolution came much later and is much more recent).
That is the world they created and it’s obvious that there was a lot of thought that went in to setting the stage. It’s certainly an interesting one and this is punctuated by the inclusion of dozens of pieces of history scattered around the game. These could be notes, pictures of exotic locals or even shipping logs. The Audio logs touch on the Anarchist movement of the time, regular workers and folk songs and newspaper gossip about the Queen who has disappeared leaving heavy implications for the crown. This was certainly something that a lot of hand crafting went in to the creation of, a definite labour of love. The problem is we’re given one bite sized morsel.
The story starts and we are dealing with a rebel uprising, these rebels are tied to the anarchists and are taking over a building in the heart of London. What follows is some solid if uninspired gameplay using a sort of mashup between The Last of Us and Gears of War. We have a mix of QTE gameplay and exploration that we find in The Last of Us but the level design is fairly linear and swap out Cogs with Victorian Fobs and you’ve got The Order. The weapons are intricate and textured and there’s a really satisfying variety between the different types of pistols and rifles from the period accurate revolvers and automatic pistols designed around the look and feel of the Mauser C96 (which later inspired the Walther p38) to exotic and fantastical weapons spewing a napalm like substance and shooting flares or Arc Guns using Tesla’s experimentation with electricity and weaponizing it.
This is the chocolate and the peanut butter from the Reese’s analogy, here’s where the “bite sized morsel” comes in though. As mentioned, the gameplay is at times formulaic, and many of the events feel contrived and shoehorned in. There is a scene when storming the Royal India Company’s compound in London that you go from being an unstoppable killing machine able to use the magical water from the Holy Grail (called Darkwater) to resurrect yourself or slow down time to being killed in a single shot and forced in to a hamstrung stealth mode where you could be killed without even seeing the person who spotted you. The use of Darkwater as a “super power tool” allows for you to return from the brink of death and also unlock a kind of fun combat mechanic that was seldom practical, you could slow down time and one shot kill enemies. This proved useful when up against armoured shotgun units but other than that seldom entered in to the equation and the fact in this scene it is essentially dropped entirely just makes the gameplay feel cheap. Atop of this, the game can be quite short. I probably got about ten hours of gameplay out of it, which for a AAA shooter is fairly brief but I lingered. There are people who were able to condense this down to five and a half hours of gameplay. This is far too short for a full price title, atop of this there has been no DLC to extend the story and most painful of all is the ending.
I am not against short gameplay experiences. A six to ten hour experience can be rewarding and a nice tight narrative is often far more interesting to me than a sprawling drawn out or even worse padded story. In many games today are stretched out to ridiculous lengths and would fare well with the chop of a good story editor but the public demand long experiences often due to the price tag associated with these games. This opens up the entire debate about the relevance of the AAA title and the pricing structure that’s developed over the last 20 years of gaming. For me, if a game is short as long as I enjoyed and was satisfied by my experience I am okay with it and therein lies the rub. The Order: 1886 was an okay game with decent if not revolutionary gameplay and an interesting world, the story was structured in a way that is currently fairly typical (the start at a point down the line and flash back to the setup to that story). When we loop around to the point we found ourselves at in the start of the game it feels like the world and the story has really opened up. We have a firmly established protagonist and supporting cast, a true antagonist and the outlines of the major plot points that the game is looking to hit. Unfortunately, this is where it ended. I don’t know if it was pressure f
rom Sony or simply bad design but it is like the game was cut in half.
I need to know what happens to these characters, and that’s the sign of a successful game. It left me wishing there was a second peanut butter cup in that package and understanding why so many people were angry that the game ended where it did. Unfortunately Ready At Dawn, the developers of the game, want to return to the series but there is no guarantee that they will. As part of the publishing deal with Sony they own the property and dictate if there will be a sequel and who will create that sequel. Far lesser games like Killzone and Resistance have been given sequels so there is hope but there has been very little chatter and the meager reviews (63% average on Metacritic) and the fact that while it has “met sales expectations” the numbers have not been shown (which is very uncharacteristic of Sony who love rubbing sales numbers in the faces of the competition) means this may be the only entry we see in this story.
This is a game with a lot of promise, an interesting world, interesting characters and intriguing design choices. It suffers from uninspired gameplay, forced mechanics and a truncated story. Here is hoping Sony show the same kind of faith they have shown in other properties and allow this to live to see another day.
- Beautiful from the design down to the technical implementation it is stunning
- Lavishly designed world with an interesting alternate history setting using Arthurian
legend in a fun and unique way
- Well crafted female characters and characters of colour handled in a respectful and positive way
- Truncated story that ends where it feels it should be beginning
- At times stale Gears of War type gameplay
- Excessive reliance on QTE gameplay
- Forced arbitrary limitations which contradict earlier gameplay mechanics
- Potpourri style historical references where it feels at times they took famous people of the day, stuck their names in a bag and shook which gives us Darwin in the House of Lords, Arthur Conan Doyle running Scotland Yard and an American Revolutionary General somehow quite young when he should be dead