Fighting to save the very souls of humanity, members of The Order take to the streets of London to purge the world of half-breed werewolves and vampires. Their mission is good and pure, even divinely inspired. For the most noble among them, the path they’ve been traveling for centuries, since the time of King Arthur and the first Knights of the Round, is beyond clear, despite its inherent dangers.
However, the creators of “The Order: 1886,” the jaw-droppingly stunning world in which our heroes operate, seem to have lost their purpose somewhere along the way. In creating a beautiful atmosphere with an engrossing narrative, developer Ready at Dawn chose to use the video game medium to make what amounts to a extra-long feature film. In effect, “The Order” team preferred style over interaction, story over gameplay, linear over dynamic.
For those unprepared (or not much into heavily narrative-driven games), “The Order” will seem blasphemous. For everyone else, though, the conflict will set in early: Do you sit back and enjoy the beauty of “The Order: 1886,” or do you lament the constricted nature of this lovely but ultimately untouchable movie in video game form? For me, that answer is somewhere in the middle, which compounds my confusion over this incredibly unusual game.
“The Order: 1886,” a PlayStation 4 exclusive, begins its gorgeous narrative in an alternative Victorian-era London, one in which super weapons and half-breed werewolves run rampant and a order of knights save the day from denizens of the night. (Well, as rampant as a secret, guerilla-like war mostly fought in decrepit, ruined architecture and moody underground sewers can be.)
From the very start, it’s clear how much painstaking works must have went into creating this world. The level of detail is beyond precise, with the environments showcasing a beautiful London surrounded on all sides by death and squalor. The inhabitants are well-crafted and realistic, both primary characters and bystanders alike. The transition between cutscene and controllable gameplay is nearly seamless, at times even startling me upon discovering I was no longer watching pre-rendered video.
Those lovely cutscenes, though, occur at an alarming frequency and at ever-increasing lengths. I’m pretty sure an entire chapter was one cutscene. What happens during those scenes ranges from trivial to scandalous (note: there’s some unexpected nudity), but, as with any cutscene, you have nearly no control over whats happening.
Such is central conundrum with “The Order,” depending on how you look at it. In order to keep a firm grasp on the storytelling and its moody, tense atmosphere, the developer allows only the most basic of control when you do get to move around on your own. The linear nature of “The Order” is intentional: The game wants you to walk, not run, and enjoy the detail of the work, the terseness of the strained conversations when everything inevitably starts falling apart. Everything around you is polished to a stunning shine, but the game takes you through it at its own pace. There’s little you can do about it.
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Along the way through this eight-hour narrative, you’ll get to interact with some interesting characters, mostly fictional but some based on historical people. For instance, “The Order’s” version of James Bond’s Q is Nikola Telsa, the famed inventor and engineer. In this timeline, he’s the creator of more than just alternating current; in fact, he crafts a bevy of advanced weaponry we use in our battles. (The Arc Gun, for example, fires high-powered blasts of electricity, getting felling anything in our way.) Other interactions include dealing with the East India Company and a fateful encounter with Jack the Ripper. Even The Order itself casts itself as the continuation of King’s Arthur Knights of the Round Table, bestowing historical names to its members.
In effect, “The Order” pulls several strands of history and folklore together to create a compelling world you want to further explore. But, alas, you can’t. Even when you gain control of Galahad, the knight at the center of this adventure, you’re generally consigned to quick-time events to either interact with nearby objects or to avoid being mauled to death. It’s a tedious affair most of the time.
That’s until you get to the shooting levels. Which are just bedlam, sporadic, ill-paced and fairly basic in nature. The premise is to simply use the ample cover to shoot behind from as you edge closer to the level’s end. If you do find yourself on the losing end of one of the numerous gunfights, you have a chance to revive yourself to some extent by doing a quick-time event with Blackwater, a mysterious elixir. On a related note, if you can execute a melee action, it’s a one-hit KO.
The best fights of the game involve taking down werewolves. The beasts are deadly quick and aren’t afraid to get in your face. Your best bet is simply to back yourself in a corner to prevent one avenue of attack and to unload whatever gun you have at your disposal.
In the end, “The Order: 1886” is a visually stunning film trying to masquerade as a video game. Take that for what you will. I can say I enjoyed my trip through this moody and grimy London, watching Galahad’s dangerous journey unfold. It was jarring to have so little control over what I did throughout the adventure, but I’m OK rationalizing that away. To be honest, I prefer narrative-driven games. However, “The Order” goes just too far in choosing style over interaction or gameplay mechanics (plus a lack of replay value). It’s quite the experience, to say the least, though perhaps not the experience you were expecting.
Three “I don’t know how I feel” stars out of five.