The Order 1886 was Sony’s attempt to start a new IP with a new console. It’s gameplay closely adheres to the template created by Gears of War more than half a decade earlier, but hopes to offset it with a story whose tone and setting would fit comfortably into an HBO timeslot.
First, let’s cover the good parts before I rip this game a new one. The graphics are gorgeous. And I loved the aesthetic of the Knights. The character models and acting were also stellar even when the dialogue or character motivations themselves were not particularly clear. Lastly, the developer’s reverence for the camera as its own entity that dictates the player’s understanding of the game world is marvelous. The camera always seems to know where to be during cutscenes (although I am far from a cinematographer) and gameplay. Moreover, the devs worked carefully to make it seem as if the whole world is viewed through a real camera, with the curvature of the lens being taken into account and lens flares that would make J. J. Abrams blush.
Gameplay is split into three segments. The core of the gameplay is the 3rd person shooting action. While this is mostly generic, it works pretty well and was relatively enjoyable. There are a few unique weapons, but they were placed so sparingly throughout the campaign that you were usually just stuck using the same stock weaponry present in every shooter. The other parts of the game cannot be said to work quite so well. The game has several forced stealth segments which are mechanically quite underdeveloped. But the worst part by far is the game’s reliance upon QTEs. Everything from dodge rolling (WTF?) to boss battles to random action sequences to melee combat to lever pulling requires QTEs.
The gameplay’s general mediocrity could have been overlooked had its story been good. But in attempting to discuss the story with you I immediately hit upon a problem. Merely setting up this game’s premise for you is giving you information that the game itself takes way too long to clumsily communicate. Imagine joining in on season 5 of Game of Thrones, but you have no clue who any of the characters are, their relations to one another, or how the lore of this particular fantasy world works. So the whole time you are trying to piece together what the hell is even going on. Well, that is the way this feels. I had a better idea of how the lore surrounding the Knights of the Round Table worked going into the game than leaving it because somehow their horrible explanations did more to confound my understanding of the knights than to clarify it.
Past poorly communicating the lore the game’s story is still bad. Many characters seem to act irrationally for no particular reason to conveniently set up the next plot point. For instance, the main character acts like a total dick to one of his teammates for no reason which then makes that teammate lose faith in him which has severe negative repercussions down the line, but the fact that he had no reason to get pissed made the whole thing feel contrived. It very much felt that they wanted to set up a conflict in their relationship down the line but it was set into action so sloppily that it made no sense. There are MUCH more examples to mention, but I don’t want to ruin the story/waste your time by making you read more of the story. The game also has too many antagonists for such a short game. It eventually only reaches a conclusion with one of them, leaving many plot lines up in the air for a sequel (Who doesn’t love good sequel bait?). This is exacerbated by the game’s short length (5-7 hours) which makes it feel like they broke one game into several.
In my eyes, the biggest insult that could be hurled at this game is that it often fails to feel like much of a game at all. The cutscenes are frequent and can not be skipped (replayability be damned). All of the “coolest” fights– including the final boss– are a series of QTEs. All of the levels are extremely linear. And this beautiful world isn’t interactive. When you are in a kitchen and use your rifle’s alt-fire, which sends out a shockwave of pressurized air, all of the dishes satisfyingly and chaotically fly around and crash into things, but that’s the extent of it. There’s nothing to do.
There’s a lot to be said about the Order 1886, but at the end of the day it boils down to a few things. The artistry that went into everything from the character models, the subtle steampunk theme, the mastery of the camera, the environments, and the acting made me want to feel invested in the world and characters. And the mediocre shooting didn’t get in the way of that. But a proliferation of subpar QTEs and a very poorly realized narrative starring as the spine of the game made for a miserable experience that couldn’t be saved by said artistry.