Not so long ago, people were content to play shooters entirely for their single player experiences. They usually featured gruff, stoic protagonists and featured stories about saving the world or preventing some mythic, immediate threat to humanity. They were slowly subsumed by shooters ameliorated with RPG elements or decked out with a top-notch multiplayer.
However, wholly linear, cover-based third person shooters are not just a thing of the past, as you might once have suspected. The Order: 1886 seems to be attempting a resurrection of a very specific sort of game, the story-based, multiplayer-less, QTE-heavy shooter.
It hearkens back to the days of yore, but is it a breath of nostalgic fresh air, or a stale, dank cloud? Truth be told, the answer lies somewhere in the middle, but it’s going to take some discussion to extract the whole truth behind what’s good and bad in The Order: 1886.
In a way, The Order almost feels like a Naughty Dog game, pure and simple. It has a strong narrative element and numerous shootouts with scores of nameless bad guys. The difference between, say, The Last of Us and The Order: 1886 is that, while TLOU and The Order both possess strong narratives, the latter fails to evoke the same ineffable, enchanting spark of similar titles.
The basic story of The Order: 1886 is that it is an alt-history of Victorian England that features Arthurian Legend and the Knights of the Round Table. There’s Galahad and Perceval and Lucan and even a character named Malory. These appear to be the actual knights themselves, who use a healing potion called Blackwater to help them exist for centuries in order to fight Lycans.
The subplot involves a resistance straight out of BioShock: Infinite, so you’ll spend plenty of time fighting random “rebels,” in lieu of the curiously underdeveloped werewolves story.
The story is capped off by the existence of a young weapons manufacturer named Nikola Tesla — maybe you’ve heard of him — who provides the team with futuristic, steampunk weapons and a communications system not unlike one you’d find in Gears of War.
The game looks amazing, unmatched by just about any other current title on the market. Each set piece is lovingly crafted and looks as though it comes from a museum. Galahad is sometimes compelled by the game to walk at a snail’s pace through the world — which can be infuriating — but it forces the onlooker to take in the scenery and appreciate a world that is imbued with not just a grim slant on history but also fairly detailed, as well.
Even better than the sets are the character models, which could not be more visually appealing. Some characters are written to be a bit flat — kind of a bummer for a story-based game — but they sure do look good. Everything, from their facial expressions to their gaits, are fully realized, and each animation, canned or no, is kind of interesting to watch.
Additionally, the voice acting is more than just good, the actors giving exceptional line reads the whole way through, so the amount of walking and talking is never really a chore to listen to.
Mechanically, The Order is a game with few bells and whistles, so the primary focus is on shooting. It’s fairly standard and without a lot of depth, but the actual firing mechanics themselves feel pretty spectacular. I racked up quite a few headshots, but I also don’t think the enemies themselves are necessarily bullet sponges, either. You’ll fight plenty of boring, standard enemies, so get used to combat, but the chapters are designed to give players some variety of interaction in the world.
It’s bad but also good. The game doesn’t linger overly on one single idea. Sure, you’ll involve yourself in plenty of gunfights, but you’ll also be encouraged to use stealth or to fight off the Lycans. You might get bored with one aspect of the game, but the chapters themselves are short, so you’ll not be subjected to one annoyance for too long.
This comes at a cost. Sometimes the game subjects you to pointless button presses and weird QuickTime events, but they almost seem to exist to break the monotony of the cutscenes rather than to introduce meaningful mechanics.
Also, for a game that is ostensibly about fighting werewolves, there are painfully few werewolves in the game. Save for the steampunk setting and the few horror-based encounters, The Order barely plays as a horror game at all. It’s truly more like a standard shooter than anything else, and the few and far between horror sequences seem less integral than they do ornamental.
The major problem with The Order: 1886 is its value proposition. For a single player experience, the game is interesting, from its story to the shooting mechanics and stunning visuals, but nevertheless it doesn’t contain enough content.
Short games are not necessarily without full value, but they usually offer something in addition to a brief single player campaign. The Call of Duty games usually have brief-but-dynamic single player campaigns, but they also feature multiplayer, too.
Strangely, The Order: 1886 doesn’t have a multiplayer, or anything else to draw players into it for more than the six hour campaign. For that reason, it feels like a rather shallow game and possesses almost no reason for replay value.
Not only that, but other, somewhat standard gameplay elements are noticeably absent. The weapons are not upgradeable, nor are they customizable in any way. The game tries to solve this dilemma by giving players two slots for weapons, not unlike BioShock: Infinite, so you’ll have to make constant decisions regarding which guns to take with you through sections of the game. But it’s never quite enough, and I’m not saying the game should be longer, because it felt just long enough, but there’s still something essential missing here.
At certain points, the game takes complete control away from the player for the sake of elaborate cutscenes, a fact which doesn’t seem all that out of the ordinary, except that it’s entire chapters for which players will be sitting and watching, rather than playing. I know of at least two full chapters (out of sixteen) in which the game consists entirely of canned dialogue. Considering The Order: 1886 is only about six hours in length, that is certainly a little bit weird.
To wit, the ending is abrupt, only magnifying how unsatisfying parts of the game truly are, so it’s kind of difficult to judge this game as a whole, since it only feels like part of a game. I don’t think it’s bad, but it’s also not worth $60, and that’s really the laser that cuts through any discussion of the game’s relative and understandable value.
The Final Word: My suggestion is, pick up The Order: 1886 when it fits your budget. It doesn’t really make sense as a $60 value proposition, but the story and graphics are worth checking it out…eventually.