The Order: 1886
Ready At Dawn, SCE Santa Monica Studio
Sony Computer Entertainment
February 20, 2015
The Order: 1886™ introduces players to a unique vision of Victorian-Era London where Man uses advanced technology to battle a powerful and ancient foe. As Galahad, a member of an elite order of Knights, join a centuries-old war against a powerful threat that will determine the course of history forever in this intense third-person action-adventure shooter, available exclusively on the PlayStation®4 system.
How you feel about Ready At Dawn’s The Order: 1886 is going to depend largely upon your position in a fairly fundamental discussion about the nature of video games.
A good number of recent titles have forced some rumination upon what makes a ‘game’. Gone Hone, Dear Esther, and The Stanley Parable presented deep, moving, engrossing experiences without any of the more traditional trappings of the ‘video game’. They have been deeply divisive, with some commentators refusing to afford them much, if any, consideration as games.
Whilst The Order: 1886 is not such an extreme example as those above, it is a title which places the requirements of ‘being a game’ behind those of telling its story.
So, let me get this out of the way. If you measure the worth of a game upon the number of firefights you get into, upon how many hours of twitch gaming practice you had to draw upon to complete it; if you’re looking for a balls-out shooter or your next e-sports darling, then The Order is going to be a severe disappointment.
Firefights, although the primary focus of the interactive game play, are relatively sparse; a couple of stealth sections are rudimentary and you are likely to spend as much time again traversing the world, listening to conversations and soaking in the sights.
I am not surprised that the game has proven divisive, or that it has received less than stellar scores because of these facts.
But I like Gone Home. I like being told a good story and I have no love of overly padded gameplay. Whilst I cannot deny the complaints that many have leveled at The Order, I also cannot give them so much weight because The Order is a fantastic experience.
However you look at The Order, you cannot look past the visuals. I know that graphics don’t make a game, but visuals can make a story. The Order‘s third-person perspective presents an utterly stunning representation of its world. Both technically and artistically, it is impossible to deny the beauty and quality of Ready At Dawn’s work. The Gothic grandeur of Victoriana is front and centre; wood gleams with years of polish, stone is worn and weathered, and everything is viewed through an ever present miasma of smoke and mist. The detail included in the machines that litter Nicola Tesla’s laboratory let you read a great deal about what you’re looking at without the game explicitly telling you. There’s thick history and narrative written in the whole world, but without the fourth-wall breaking conceit of the characters passing comment on things that would be banal to them.
Those characters too are utterly gorgeous. They’re as close to totally, photographically convincing as I have ever seen in real time and they act and emote their way through the beautifully delivered script well. I frequently realised that my brain had stopped thinking that it was watching a game and had switched into movie-watching mode.
The cover-based shooting and stealth sections fit into the world and the narrative perfectly. They never feel gratuitous. Certainly, more gameplay could have been squeezed into the campaign, but it would have been padding, it would have slowed and warped the pace of the story and in doing so, it would have – in my opinion – spoilt the overall experience.
As far as the shooting goes, it feels great. The weapons, for the most part, are fairly standard, but there are one or two really nice twists on the classics that make it feel different. Although to be fair, the shooting mechanics alone aren’t going to break any molds. I must take a moment, though, to mention the Thermite Rifle, which might well be my favourite new weapon. I’m not sure how effective it is, but it’s great fun to use!
So… there you go. You’re going to have to decide what you believe makes a game to know whether to give The Order your time. I know a great many people will disagree, but for myself, it represents an utterly beautiful world, a compellingly well told story and an engrossing experience. I enjoyed the world and I loved inhabiting it. I want to see more and learn more and I genuinely believe that the immersion of the story would have been spoilt by the artificial addition of more ‘gameplay’. I hope the future holds a return to Ready At Dawn’s alternative 19th century and I hope they work just as hard to do justice to their narrative.