The Order: 1886 review: London calling

Game Info
Platform PS4
Publisher Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer Ready At Dawn Studios
Release Date Feb 20, 2015

Games like The Order: 1886 are why I don't pre-order games anymore.

A developer, Ready At Dawn, with a solid track record. A setting, Ripper-era London, that I love. A premise, a new generation of Arthurian knights battling the supernatural, which seems just chock-full of promise. Also, it's an absolute jaw-dropper graphically. This is the sort of game I would have paid for in full months in advance.

That exuberance would have saddled me with a dull, disjointed game that never quite lives up to its promise, despite often delivering on the technical front.

The knights of The Order aren't the same that once sat around Arthur's Round Table

The knights of The Order aren't the same that once sat around Arthur's Round Table, of course, but they're not quite as far removed as you might think. Thanks to the discovery of a substance called "Black Water," Order members have greatly extended their life span, passing down their names once their service is done.

The Order: 1886's star is the current Sir Galahad, though friends still refer to him by his given name of Grayson. In addition to the ever-present threat of werewolves — sorry, Lycans — Grayson's brethren are also pitted against a new rebellion causing problems for the British crown and the United India Company, an economic powerhouse that employs its own private army to protect its interests.

the order review screen 1
the order review screen 2b

The plot unfurls from that potentially dynamite setup, but rarely follows any one thread long enough or well enough to carry any emotional weight.

For a group of people literally defined by honor, knights of The Order seem to change their affiliations and moral code with the shifting of the winds. At one point, Galahad pursues the rebels to an airship with his protege Lafayette, partner/love interest Isabeau and his commanding officer Sir Percival. When asked about the rules of engagement, Percival insists there won't be time to distinguish between United India Company guards on board and rebels who may have infiltrated their ranks. That's right: Knights of The Order, when busy enough, will just start killing innocents.

Not to belabor this point, but the fake guards don't have UIC insignias on their arms, a fact that probably would have sped up sorting out the frauds considerably. Grayson is well aware of this fact — he's the one that mentions it later in the level, in fact — but inexplicably decides not to mention when trigger-happy Percy rolls out his "Kill 'Em All" plan.

I know "poor justification for murder" sums up plenty of video game plots, but if you're going to crib from Arthurian legend, it might be wise to at least in some way nod to the ideals and themes that are central to that mythology. The story, which gets progressively more disjointed as the game continues, is also poorly told, with conversations fluidly swinging from cliche to cliche, like a sort of hackneyed Tarzan.

But the real sin of The Order: 1886 isn't its shoddy storytelling or regrettable dialogue. No, the real problem is that it's all so incredibly boring.

Every moment of The Order: 1886, from the in medias res opening to the abrupt final battle, feels entirely predetermined. With the exception of a handful of gun battles, in which the player is free to decide in which order they will kill all the bad guys, Ready At Dawn is entirely unwilling to let go of the player's hand.

This is the sort of game that prompts you to hammer on the X button to break a thug's arm, but should you decide not to, Galahad will simply continue to hold the rogue's wrist and keep smooshing his face into a wall for all of eternity. It simply has no vocabulary to speak to the player who doesn't instantly comply 100 percent of the time.

There are a lot of quicktime events

Complying in The Order: 1886 typically takes the form of a third-person cover-based shootout that borrows liberally from Gears of War, moving the bulky Galahad to a cover point, popping off a few shots and repeating. Though knights of the Order have a few cool toys (namely a gun that shoots ignitable thermite clouds and a rifle that hurls bursts of electricity), you'll run into them just a couple of times. Instead, I relied on an uninspiring assortment of pistols, shotguns and rifles. For what it's worth, enemies do react to gunshots in specific limbs, so if that's the level of grisly fidelity you demand, you'll be happy to hear it's available here.

The other gameplay tools at The Order: 1886's disposal include some admittedly pretty cool contextual melee kills, a "Blacksight" mode which slows time momentarily while auto-targeting enemies for batch execution, and a handful of rough stealth bits in which getting spotted means instant death.

Oh, and quick-time events, there are a lot of those too.

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The components are all passable and employed with enough variety, but you've seen every single one of The Order: 1886's tricks performed better elsewhere. And you're given such little agency in how you employ those tricks that you're left with the overwhelming feeling that the game is holding you at arm's length.

The one area where The Order surpasses the "been there, shot that" vibe is in its presentation. There is, in my estimation, no better looking game on consoles. Victorian London is rendered in beautiful, exacting, sooty detail with just enough steampunk flourishes to make it seem otherworldly. The shift in fidelity between cutscene and gameplay is so imperceptible that it's hardly worth discerning between the two. Though hopelessly outdated from a mechanical perspective, The Order: 1886 is at least decked out in its next-generation finest.

Wrap Up:

The Order doesn't offer much that other games aren't doing better

Galahad's story, such as it is, concludes so rapidly and with so few loose threads tied off, it's hard to shake the feeling that someone somewhere decided that it was time for the knight and his cohorts to get out into the world whether they were ready or not. Though it nails some of the fundamentals, The Order: 1886 has been released without answering the essential question of what it offers that other games aren't already doing better . Everything about the game's final shot screams "sequel set up," but unless The Order finds some non-aesthetic reasons to justify its existence, it's hard to imagine coming back for a second adventure.

The Order: 1886 was reviewed using a pre-release retail copy provided by SCEA. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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