If you take a step back for a second and not focus on stuff that is immediately silly to focus on, such as the resolution and framerate of a game, it’s amazing to see how far games have come within the last decade let alone the past five years. Seeing the advances that have been made in key technical fields such as visual fidelity and animation is stunning, and it’s even more impressive to see developers take full advantage of the tools they have in order to deliver something special to us. Such technical leaps and breakthroughs may seem a bit at odds when you consider how certain gameplay design, or the design methodology used in general, isn’t making the same type of evolution.
So what is a better thing to have, good graphics coupled with other neat bits & bobs, or refined gameplay that hits a genre breakthrough? Ultimately such a question may be asked by many when playing The Order: 1886, a game which almost relishes in how damn impressive it is technically all while delivering a gameplay experience that may not immediately wow those who are looking for the next big thing.
The first, and perhaps foremost, thing about The Order: 1886 in which absolutely no questions will be asked of its validity is that the graphics and overall presentation are literally breathtaking. I know it’s common place within the games industry, and even amongst journo/bloggers, to over-hype the visuals of a game by saying it’s “near CG” quality. After all, the same was said of the Uncharted series when it first arrived on the PlayStation 3, and of course those games look a bit dated compared to more recent advances. Though a true advancement has been made by the Ready At Dawn development team, the various programming wizards employed there, since The Order has no moment to moment visual blemishes since the immersion, overall fidelity, and composition of the visuals never once flounder once the game begins.
Again, it may sound like I’m a bit too excited about what The Order offered, thus my opinion may be questioned by some, but the game has an amazing aura to it which is created both by the stunning period specific art design, and the actual CG quality of the visuals. Are the visuals of The Order comparable to the recent work done by the Square Enix Visual Works team (the group that does all those CG cutscenes/promo vids)? In all honesty The Order does reach a similar visual level, though it may not be as totally immaculate in how it looks like a $90 million CGI movie.
Seeing the way that the characters move, act, and of course how they look in regards to their varying skin textures and how the clothing they wear has an uncanny realism to it is stunning, and it’s not in the way that it feels like a one trick pony of sorts. Ready At Dawn has done a tremendous, at least in my view, job at balancing out the visual elements of the game in respect to sections of the game not feeling like a tech demo in regards to showing off a particular visual effect or tool as has been in the case with other games. More importantly, there are some genuinely cool advancements made throughout the game which make the visuals continue to standout and be engaging rather than becoming old hat when the player gets used to how impressive the characters look.
The other thing about the visuals of The Order is that I think they wouldn’t nearly be as impressive if it wasn’t for the art design. If you think about it, the graphics of any game are merely a vessel of sorts, and it boils down to the soul, the art design, of getting the full message across in adding a sense of being believably and engagement to the proceedings. In the case of The Order, Ready At Dawn hits a level of absolute brilliance with how each level, right down to the tiniest details such as seeing a fan in a cabin room, look beautiful and actually work in context of what the world that they’ve created is like.
The Order is a more methodical and slower pace game, which I’ll discuss in greater detail shortly, but that wasn’t such a big problem for me since the art design is of the same quality as a high-end BBC television production like H-Division, or Ripper Street as it’s known in North America, since it has a ton of detail and beauty to it that elevates the overall production so you never once question that you’re simply looking at something that’s a polygonal world; instead it’s easy to become immersed whilst traversing a posh travel blimp or a series of dark caves since details such as the design of the furniture, general lighting of the environment, or elaborate size of giant machinery makes it easy to go with the flow and believe that yes, you’re a century year old Knight hunting down werewolves in late 19th century London.
Speaking of being a werewolf hunter in London, the gameplay of The Order is an interesting mixture of being serviceable and fun all while being what will easily be one of the most decisive experiences to be had among players. As a third person cover based shooter, The Order was honestly fun and entertaining during the journey I had. A deluge of new mechanics or genre defining elements may not be introduced by Ready At Dawn within The Order, but serving as the first time the studio has made a 3rd person action game focused on shooting rather than melee combat, such as their work on the God of War games for the PSP, I was really surprised, in a pleasant way, at how responsive, fluid, and downright fun it was to shoot stuff and traverse the world in general.
Feeling more like the Uncharted games rather than Gears of War in the shooting department, The Order has a very snappy and easily accurate feel as far as moving from cover to cover, and then popping up to take a few shots or even a one & done headshot on a standard enemy. Having not played the game at any earlier press events I was a tad worried as to how The Order would feel and if I would have to tinker with the aiming sensitivity options to make the game “feel right” to me as a player and how I’m used to playing 3rd person shooting titles, but no such adjustments needed to be made on my part since the game delivers in offering easy to grasp controls that are responsive and never once feel clunky.
It’s interesting to look at the design dynamics of The Order since at it’s core the game is a shooter. So things like targeting red barrels to take out multiple enemies, taking headshots, doing blindfire, or simply mowing an enemy down mercilessly with a shotgun is common place, and are fun given the animation reactions and visual effects cues such as blood splattering effects. However, The Order isn’t designed as a “traditional”, in today’s standards, 3rd person shooter since it’s a more slower paced title that more focused, for better or worse depending on where your tastes lay, on telling the story at hand and in turn making the player experience that in a manner of ways whether it be as a quick time event battle, a stealth sequence, or solely as a cutscene.
Essentially, Ready At Dawn has done a better job, if not succeeded entirely, in making a cinematic gaming experience that feels more refined, and game-like in a sense, compared to the solely cinematic games made by Quantic Dream. Now that’s certainly not a knock towards Quantic Dream since I admire that studio and the work David Cage has done to create titles that are focused more on emotion and storytelling rather than action, but The Order basically is a well produced movie/TV series in which you get to play all the good action bits and manage to sit back and relax to watch the story unfold during the course of six or so hours.
Certain players are bound to become a bit frustrated, or perhaps bored, with how The Order is structured since it’s not about moment to moment action bolstered by giant set piece battles that don’t make sense within the context of the narrative. There’s certainly a decent amount of action in the game, which naturally progresses to enhance certain narrative plot beats such as the grand final battle, though if you don’t go into The Order with the mindset that it’s more of an overall experience and not a 3rd person shooter, you may become annoyed at the long cutscenes, occasional instant fail stealth sections, and lack of diversity in the gameplay so as to allow an instant second playthrough upon completion.
What I’ve just discussed may make The Order sound like it’s a jack of all trades, but master of none, but that actually couldn’t be farther from the truth. While I do think Ready At Dawn certainly has room to expand on their core concepts such as fleshing out the stealth or making the gun battles feel larger in scope so as to encourage different play styles if a sequel is ever produced, the content in the game does feel polished and not like it’s only half a concept that was simply thrown in for the sake of padding the game and lending some variety to the gun battles. Compared to other games, such as Resident Evil 4 for example, the quick time event sequences do feel a bit different thanks to scenarios which allow the player to select a choice, such as bashing in the head of a rebel or stabbing them, and that design approach does result in a very cool, albeit short, final boss battle that easily delivers on the general concept that it introduces in conjunction to being rather tense to play.
Smart design choices aside, such using the DualShock 4 touchpad to send a SOS signal, I do think The Order could’ve done with a bit of a tighter pace, or at least some general design variety. As opposed to what may have been hinted at with the pre-release materials going all the way back to the initial E3 2013 debut trailer, there sadly isn’t a lot of werewolf fighting in the game. In total, there are around four sequences in which a single or group of Lycans are faced, and the actual first encounter is a huge disappointment. I don’t know if it was a combination of my personal excitement and the “oh damn” build up that occurs within the level itself, which features an extremely cool transformation sequence, but the ensuing Lycan battle itself is dull and lacks any skill to it. Rather than coming across as ferocious beasts that can easily take out the player, the Lycans come across as giant trolls, of the figuratively and not literal variety, as they just run up to pounce on the player and then retreat into the shadows.
I can understand if there were some design restrictions as to what the Lycans could do in the more “free” control sections that are offered when the game is in shooter mode, though the environments that the Lycans are encountered also don’t do the game any favors since it lacks tension and really didn’t allow me as the player to fully witness and gaze upon their size and agility. That said, the boss battle sequences against more superior Lycans, referenced as Elders within the game, do fare better but the downside is that they’re limited in player control and what weapons can be used since only a knife/blade can be wielded. Again, I think there’s a ton of improvement to be made if a sequel happens, which I’ll discuss shortly, since it felt as if the full potential of battling Lycans and feeling like a century spanning badass warrior wasn’t quiet met. Does the game deliver on the base principles of such a thing? It actually does, yet it’s disappointing to see that the core enemy type in the game be that of the human variety, and that there never once was a section featuring a group of Knights taking on Lycans as teased in the debut trailer.
A cutscene from The Order: 1886
Seeing as how The Order: 1886 is essentially presented as a movie/high-end TV series, complete with a bit of non-linear story telling at the start, I’m sure some of you may be wondering if the game actually tells a compelling, or at the very least an intriguing narrative. Perhaps another example of the mixed reaction that’s to be had by some folks, the story featured within The Order won’t be for everyone. The core plot of a secret society of knights, all of whom are hundreds of years old thanks to a mysterious liquid known as Black Water, is interesting as is the fact that this occurs in a version of late 19th century London which is slightly different than that of reality given the small tech and architectural differences. Certain archetypal character tropes are met, and are almost upheld in a genre standard sort of way, as well since the main character of Sir Galahad is a gruff warrior, while his mentor Sir Perceval is slightly stoic given his wisdom and lingering doubts about the Order itself.
All the characters in the game are brilliantly portrayed by their actors, such as Graham McTavish as Sir Perceveal, and have nice moments to shine when the story calls for it. The majority of the narrative structure within the game is laid out well since nothing feels too out of place, unexpected in a bad way, or has massively obvious logic wholes that are so hard to ignore that it ruins the experience ala Star Trek: Into Darkness. Everything about The Order makes sense to a degree, taking into account that this is a fantasy game in which blimps roam the skies and werewolves are eating people at hospitals, but there’s a certain lack of depth to a degree which is hard to ignore within the game.
The story doesn’t feel like it’s fluff since it does tell an obvious tale, and it even features a more subtle one, which I dare won’t spoil, which does offer a complete character arc that feels satisfying, and in some ways may reflect deeply upon the player however familiar that territory may have been treaded in the past. The issue that arises within The Order is that it doesn’t entirely feel satisfying at the end given the amount of loose plot strings that exist, and the massive mystery question that is raised by two late reveals, which again are huge spoiler topics. A nice finale does occur within the closing moments of the game, which is far from being a happy ending, but in all honesty The Order:1886 feels more like Act 1 of a giant tale rather than being a stand-alone game. I can understand, and in some sense applaud, the creative decisions that Ready At Dawn took with the game since they do feel thoughtful and like a full story arc has been laid out for all the characters and the world in general. This decision of course means that there are some massive questions left at the end of the game, one of which being a late plot development, that are left totally unanswered and with no hints laid as to what the future may hold.
For folks such as myself that enjoyed what The Order: 1886 offered this is nice as far as it letting our minds go wild as to speculation by trying to piece together small teases that were left within the core story, but it also leaves us unfulfilled as to the potential, which is massive in one key area, until a sequel happens – if it does at all. So pending the choice made by Sony on the matter, we may never get any answers left to the near Lost like teasing that is done in the 2nd half of The Order: 1886 unless Ready At Dawn spills the beans if a sequel isn’t greenlit.
Looking at the overall package rather than one particular element, The Order: 1886 is a masterfully created game that just happens to go against the action-centric blockbuster norm that exists these days to tell an actual story. Is the game perfect in every possible way to match the stunning graphics? There’s certainly room for improvement, though The Order never once feels like a shallow tech demo to show off the truly impressive skills that Ready At Dawn possess. Featuring a likeable cast of characters, a setting that is captivating and original, and gameplay that feels solid and enjoyable, The Order: 1886 may not be an instant masterpiece that’s held high atop the classics of gaming, but it is a must play game for those who enjoy games that are more cinematic in nature.