The Order: 1886 is a beautifully ornate picture frame that you’ve hung up on the wall with the stock photo still in it.
It is apt that The Order starts with the protagonist drowning. I can’t help but think that Ready At Dawn was suffocating under the weight of their own creation. They clearly spent a huge amount of time making the game look gorgeous. I don’t think that can be disputed. The problem is that they never stopped to give anything a soul. While everything looks good, none of it really seems to matter. It feels like standing on a movie set. I kept waiting for the scenery to topple and reveal a vacant studio.
Nothing feels like is has any form of weight. The werewolves you fight have the presence of papier-mâché dolls. You don’t fight them very often, which is good because their sole means of attacking is charging at you. The only variety being what direction the could be coming from. They come off as scared little kittens that scurry off into the darkness rather then the strong and imposing monsters they should be.
Other more climactic fights between you and a would be elder-monster are relegated to quick time events. The camera cuts to a more dramatic view and you slap the triggers or wiggle the right analog stick when the prompt comes up. It looks dramatic, but the actual play of it is about as interesting as navigating a menu.
The Order is an aggressively mediocre videogame and a terrible movie. The Order is more concerned with not looking like a videogame than actually being a good one.
A lot of your time playing The Order is spent watching cutscenes. I, personally, don’t have a problem with cutscenes—if they’re good or the story is engaging enough to hold my attention, that is. These do not. The story on display here is nothing but boilerplate. It is phatic. It simply exists. The most damning thing I can say about it is that it’s just “Okay”.
It tries to trade in the grandeur of stories that came before it and does nothing new or interesting with them. You are a knight of The Round Table. You are hunting werewolves and vampires. There is a traitor in the group. They think it’s you. If you don’t know the ending already, then you haven’t seen this story replayed in every form of entertainment possible for decades. Every time a cutscene started, my hand would instinctually reach for my phone. I would have let it, if the game wasn’t speckled with quick time events.
If good gameplay had an uncanny valley, The Order would be it’s ultimate example; it climbed down into that ravine, built a home, started a family, and lived its entire life down there.
There is a spark of life here. I never really had a bad time with The Order—I wasn’t really having a good one either. The problem with talking about a mediocre game is that explaining it results in something very boring. The urge is to shrug one’s shoulders. You can’t talk about the highs and lows of the play; all you have is a list of things that you can do.
You take cover. You press the left trigger, fidget with the right-analog stick, then press the right trigger. You will do this a lot. Not as much as you would in Gears Of War, but it is one half of the parts you play. The other half of the parts you “play” are you walking slowly while characters chatter. If these parts were cutscenes, leaving only the shooting for actual play, you would spend over half the game watching, rather then interacting. I’m pretty sure that’s why they are there.
The shooting works. It is adequate. Some of the weapons are interesting in a bland sort of way. The Tesla gun has a nice friction where you have to charge it for a second, but there is no detriment for over charging; so, all you do is hide behind cover for a second longer before you fire it. One gun lets you shoot dust into a person’s eyes to stun them. It is mostly useless, unless, of course, you are hunting for trophies. The thermite gun is a stand out, in that it is slightly more interesting then a glass of water after you’ve already had a solid drink. You can dust an area with the aforementioned thermite powder, then blaze it up with a flare. It gets pretty boring after a few shots.
Ready At Dawn makes you look at the items they have created. I don’t mean you walk over to a door and look at it; I mean you pick up an item and move your characters hand around to inspect something. This is required to move along the story in many cases. They are forcing you to look at the things they spent so much time on. I don’t know how to feel about this. They are well rendered things: intricately designed guns, detailed pocket watches, impressively wobbly sackboy dolls. But it seems like something that would be tossed under the “Extras” menu as a model viewer—oddly enough, it doesn’t exist there. You can only do this in game. It feels presumptuous. Yes, they are beautiful. Yes, I can tell you worked hard on it. No, do not rub my nose in it.
I paid roughly twenty-five dollars for my copy of The Order: 1886. I don’t feel ripped off, and I don’t feel vindicated. I feel ambivalent. Perhaps, if Sony gives Ready At Dawn another swing at this world, they will turn out something with more substance. It’s clear the people over there have the technical chops to pull it off. I just hope, with the beautiful engine created and running, they can put it to work in an equally nice car on an equally well made track.