The Order: 1886 is, without a doubt, the best-looking game yet released. It shines from top to bottom, despite occasional blurry textures, thanks to the top-notch technical wizardry lavished over every frame. This should come as no surprise, as developers Ready at Dawn previously made the God of War games on the PSP, widely praised for their impressive graphics by that system’s standards. As such The Order serves as a startling reminder that, despite what may appear to be underpowered hardware, skilled developers can still make something that looks amazing.
It’s unfortunate, then, that its looks are all The Order has.
Again, this shouldn’t be surprising given the developer. The God of War series has always been about technical splendor taking precedence over gameplay depth, filled to the brim with boring, repetitive combat and QTE’s. In that respect, The Order does fare better — I found combat to be satisfying throughout the game, especially compared to Gears of War‘s bullet-sponge enemies. Most will drop with one headshot, except for armored shotgunners who are the deadliest enemies. They will move forward to flush you out of the ever-sheltering cover, while most enemies are content to pop up and shoot at you occasionally as you play whack-a-mole with your bullets and their brains.
The exception here is when you’re dealing with Lycans, the werewolf enemies that the titular Order is sworn to defeat. You only fight them a couple of times, and both fights are identical: they run at you, you shoot them, and then hit triangle to stab them and finish them off. On two other occasions, you fight a higher-ranking Lycan, which plays somewhat like a Punch-Out!! fight… But with QTE’s, of course. Bizarrely, in those fights you can use either light or heavy attacks, but I saw no difference between them, because you either hit or you don’t; you can’t get multiple light attacks in.
You also, unfortunately, don’t get to use many outlandish weapons. Despite the semi-steampunk setting, there are only a couple of guns that deviate from the norm, and they’re very rarely encountered. It adds up to make for a game that, while competent, can often feel like a reskin of any other cover shooter.
So with dazzling grafix and serviceable, if unimaginative combat, it’s good to know that the story fares pretty well. The Order itself, a cabal of knights protecting the public from the Warwilf Menace, is presented as a known identity, much like the B.P.R.D. is in Mike Mignola’s comic series. People on the streets know about the knights, and react to them with a mixture of awe and suspicion. Performances are great across the board as well, and something especially notable is that the characters audibly breathe. It’s a small detail, but games often don’t include this, and it goes a long way towards making scenes feel more lifelike. I won’t go into details about the story, despite much of it being shown in pre-release material, simply because the game itself presents many of the known quantities as twists.
Oddities in the story progression exist, however: specifically, the game’s fascination with its own visual fidelity means there are several points where you walk slowly around areas and examine things, or you’re handed an item and you have to move it around a bit before you can proceed. This sometimes works, like when you’re given new equipment, but every collectible item you find in the environments also insists you move it around, and it’s never interesting enough to make that worthwhile — especially with the pieces of paper you find, which always have a prompt to flip it over, and there’s never anything important on the back of them. In fact, they’re usually completely blank.
Then, towards the end of the game, things fall apart. You’re forced into a stealth sequence where, if spotted, you are treated with a cutscene of your character getting blasted in the face. After this, you reach the final boss, and therein lies the problem: it shouldn’t be the final boss. After dispatching with one of the Big Baddie’s lackeys, the game ends, abruptly cutting to credits. You get no resolution with the main plot, and it would seem like it’s setting up a sequel, but with an ending like that, it does not inspire confidence that they could do any better with a second outing.
Here’s the thing. This game is short. It’s around 5-6 hours, contains a lot of cutscenes/QTE’s, and it’s extremely linear. None of these are inherently bad things, and if The Order had stuck the landing, creating a stellar storyline to pull the player along, it would be a totally fine, if somewhat mediocre game. To cut it short in this fashion, whether it was from running out of development time, or trying to save The Good Shit for a sequel, insults the very audience it should be trying its damndest to impress. It results in a short, incomplete inexperience that nobody should pay full price for, and very few should pay more than a few dollars to rent it.