The Order: 1886 makes a great case for the argument that graphics aren’t everything.
It’s not a bad game. In fact, considering how many big-budget games have launched with huge technical problems over the last year, the fact that The Order works as-intended is almost impressive. It’s just that there’s not much to this adventure that we haven’t seen before, making the end result a game that feels rote when it should feel exciting.
The Order, at its core, is a third person shooter — fairly comparable to Gears of War in terms of overall gameplay style — with an interesting steampunk setting and a big dose of quick time events. There’s a lot of pointing at things and shooting them, usually from behind cover, through a very linear path the leads you through an alternate history version of London.
The story takes place, as you might have guessed, during 1886. You are a member of (surprise!) The Order — a group of well-armed monster hunters that walk in the footsteps of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table. Thanks to the legendary Holy Grail, these new knights (who wield steampunk guns instead of swords) can supernaturally heal themselves from mortal wounds (hence the very video game-y health regeneration mechanic), though they are not invincible.
Some elements of this setting can border on hokey and cliched, (Can you guess what historical scientific figure makes your super advanced arsenal? Everyone who guessed Nikola Tesla gets a point!) but I personally like it. I would not mind playing The Order: 1887 (or whatever a sequel might be called) to see more of this universe. I like its airships and magic elixirs and conspiracies, even when it’s not all original.
But The Order: 1886 is ultimately kind of forgettable, often boring and occasionally frustrating.
Part of this is due to the lack of variety in the enemies you go up against. The Order sets up a fantasy world and talks a big game about how the ultimate purpose of the Knights is to protect the world from monsters, but most of your time is spent shooting at other humans — and not very smart ones, generally speaking. OK, technically some of them are “half-breeds” — monsters in human form — but they move and shoot just like humans.
They’ll take cover and shoot at you. Some of them might throw grenades. A few others have sniper rifles. None of this feels fresh. These enemies could have been ripped straight out of a standard World War II shooter, making The Order’s more unique setting feel somewhat pointless.
In a world supposedly threatened by monsters on a regular basis, you only really ever fight one type of supernatural creature: lycans (you know. Werewolves). It’s nice to have a change of pace, but even these fights have a strict formula that gets old after the first encounter. Lycans run away. Then they run at you. Then they run away again. The trick is to dodge then shoot, which isn’t very difficult.
On rare occasion you also have to be sneaky, stealth killing enemies from behind. There are a couple of areas where being spotted by the enemy means instant failure, throwing you back to a checkpoint. These are frustrating, and the less said about them, the better.
The stealth sections are even more frustrating because the action sequences are pretty solid. The gameplay is nothing new, really, but the act of aiming and shooting feels good. Unfortunately there are only a couple of notable, interesting weapons (most are relatively standard rifles, pistols and shotguns), but there weren’t any weapons I hated using. Everything you can pick up feels useful — with the exception of smoke grenades, which to me were utterly pointless.
Again, none of this gameplay is bad. It all works, and can even be enjoyable. It just feels tired, as there’s nothing here to differentiate The Order from every other cover-based third-person shooter out there.
Well, except the graphics. The catch to all this is that The Order is really easy on the eyes. Graphically, it’s one of the better looking games to hit any video game console and it does a lot of things cinematically that make me feel as if it wouldn’t have been a bad movie. Not only is each individual frame impressive, it also looks really good in motion, transitioning pretty seamlessly from cutscenes to gameplay.
I think the developers were well aware of how good their game looked, because there are many instances where the game intentionally slows your movement, forcing you to walk slowly as if to say, “No, stop. Look how gorgeous these graphics are. Can’t you see how much work we put into these environments?”
Yes, I can see how much love went into these visuals, and I admire that. But it’s not enough. The prettiest game in the world can still be boring.
Much has already been said about the game’s length, as claims have been made that it can be finished in about five hours. I think that’s selling it a bit short, but it’s certainly not a long experience, even by typical action game standards. There’s no multiplayer and not much in the way of incentive to play through a second time, so when it’s done, it’s done. If you’re the kind of gamer who needs to stretch every gaming dollar to as many hours as possible, this game isn’t for you.
The bigger problem, though, is that the weekend playing session The Order might last you doesn’t feel worthwhile. I have nothing against short games, but this wasn’t a game that I wanted to keep going. In fact, it’s to The Order’s credit that it doesn’t outstay its welcome. A longer game might have been more frustrating rather than more fun.
Upon finishing the game I leaned back on my couch and essentially thought, “Well, that was OK.” I like a lot of things The Order does with its setting and think there was potential here for something really interesting, but most of the moment-to-moment gameplay is underwhelming. I think there’s talent in the studio behind the game, but The Order may not be the best use of the few hours it takes to complete.