The Order: 1886 has the Potential to Be Something Great

When I first saw the E3 trailer for The Order: 1886, I was absolutely ecstatic. I have a very particular weakness for the aesthetic of Victorian England (though not the […]

When I first saw the E3 trailer for The Order: 1886, I was absolutely ecstatic. I have a very particular weakness for the aesthetic of Victorian England (though not the colonialism and the living conditions), so the lush visuals and smoky skylines of The Order: 1886’s alternate timeline London immediately caught my attention. An additional allure was the idea of fighting werewolves, territory that is surprisingly not very well trod by gaming at this point. (VtM: Bloodlines still has the scariest werewolf fights, let’s be honest). My anticipation grew with videos of gameplay, as running away from scary things while trying to shoot at them is a lifetime hobby of mine. My excitement just continued to increase, especially given how much I loved the design of Isabeau D’Argyll, and my curiosity about the world building the game would provide to explain the technology and mythology of their alternate London’s reality.

However, as the release date approached and passed, I started to see more and more negative reviews pouring in, and felt disappointed. Most of the reviews, however, had quibbles mostly with the length of the game, and with the amount of cutscenes. To counter those arguments, I’d like to raise the point that Metal Gear Solid 4, a fan favorite, has a single cutscene that is 21 minutes long, and the final epilogue cutscene is over an hour long. I don’t think the cutscene to gameplay ratio is the sole indicator of the quality of a game, and I think it’s unfair to pan a game based on the amount of cutscenes present, especially when many of the cutscenes in The Order: 1886 are still interactive. I’d also like to put forward the argument that I don’t think the gameplay was the main focus of the game, and that the developers intended it that way. They had other goals in mind when creating The Order: 1886, and those goals took precedence over the gameplay length. There are many varieties of games in this world, and I am of the opinion that’s a wonderful thing. There are games dedicated to having fun gameplay, games that are dedicated to having challenging gameplay, games that want to tell a story, games that have a particular message, games that have glorious visuals, and games that are combinations of all of the above, or many other variables. And that’s a plus. Gaming wouldn’t be nearly as fun without the kind of variety developers from many different companies and backgrounds produce.

The Order: 1886, in my opinion, wanted to show us a lush, lived in version of London and they made very good attempts at doing so. However, there were moments where it really worked thanks in part to the quality of the graphics, and the amount of detail put into the buildings, clothing, and weaponry designs. I spent an inordinate amount of time gawking at buildings, the minute facial expressions of the characters, the costuming, and even the way light and shadows were cast in the game engine. It was an incredible experience, and I’m not even sure we can advance graphics much further past this. The world felt incredibly real to me visually, and the character’s facial expressions and body language were almost uncomfortably realistic. I’d be remiss in not complementing the way the voice acting completed the encompassing atmosphere of Ready at Dawn’s alternate London. In particular, there’s a moment where an officer is struggling to breath with a collapsed lung. His choked, gasping breaths were so convincing that I ended up forgetting to breath myself for a few seconds, caught in the moment and his struggle. And that was just a side character, who showed up for all of 10 minutes in game.

The other point The Order: 1886 wanted to make were ones about colonialism, and the risks of trusting implicitly in the structures and organizations around you. Werewolves and vampires play a very small role in most of the game. In fact, I believe we only really encounter a handful of half-breeds and Elders, and maybe two living vampires, neither of whom we actually fight in any meaningful way. But I liked that. Because, in The Order: 1886, these monsters were meant to be a mere distraction from the real monsters: greed, misplaced loyalty, and cruelty towards an ‘Other’. The characters of The Order itself are nuanced and well written, and Galahad’s struggle between loyalty to an organization he’s been a part of for centuries, and these new rebels who have undeniably shown him that just because someone or something is well established doesn’t mean it can’t be corrupted and tainted by greed and secrecy. Galahad is also torn between his relationship with his mentee Isabeau, who is fiercely loyal to him until his perceived betrayal, and his newfound allies Lakshmi and her bodyguard. Questions about colonialism are asked in the form of the United India Company, but sometimes these questions feel incomplete or unfulfilled, particularly when it comes to the rebels. In the end, we really know nothing more about these rebels than we did in the past, besides that many of them are Indian themselves, and have had their lives destroyed by the vicious colonialism of United India Company (something that isn’t too far from real life events). Many details of the story felt like they were missing and as if they could have made the story excellent, instead of just good or decent. In particular, Isabeau L’Argyll has a paradigm shift in characterization after Galahad is seen helping the rebels, but this shift from adoring Galahad to gladly condemning him to death seems unreal, like it was done just for convenience and to heighten Galahad’s emotional pain, not because it matched Isabeau’s character. She doesn’t even give him a chance to explain himself, and this felt wrong to me, like some sort of conversation between the two should have been written, but was removed.

The gameplay itself, when it is actually happening, is actually quite fun and enjoyable. Gunfights do start to feel a bit monotonous to me after a while, but the set pieces and the shortness of most of the fights made them feel necessary, and not as repetitive as they could have been. The knife fighting mechanics are incredibly fun and nerve wracking, and the two segments where you fight a Lycan with just your knife are tense and last just long enough to stay fun. If, in a future sequel, the developers wanted to expand their gameplay segments, I’d be a little worried that they’d start to drag out segments or artificially insert fights and skirmishes just to counter complaints about cutscene/gameplay ratios. As it is, the gameplay segments were just the right length to avoid feeling stilted, so I hope the developers follow their instincts and allow gameplay to emerge organically as they see fit for the story, and not allow gameplay to hinder or dictate their development of future games.

All in all, I think The Order: 1886 is something refreshing, something that doesn’t rely on waves and waves of enemies and monotonous gun battles to drive it forwards, and succeeds in spite of an inbalance between cutscenes and gameplay. Despite it’s many shortcomings and flaws, and the somewhat uninspired characterizations and plot, I really want to like The Order: 1886. It has something about it that makes it endearing, and there are little details and moments between characters that make me think this universe and these characters have something incredible to offer us, if given another chance. The Order was very close to being an excellent game, but all of the wonderful set pieces and characters were let down a little by how bland they felt. The components for a Game of the Year were there, but the game was missing that special something to really give the world the vibrancy to really keep people interested and invested in the plot and the characters. I see a lot of growth and learning here for the developers, and I think they could create something amazing in the future, once they find that spark to enliven and invigorate this colorful world they’ve created.