What a couple of weeks it has been. Launching amid arguments over its standard play time, and touted since its E3 2013 reveal as a fantastic new exclusive PS4 IP, The Order: 1886 was facing an uphill battle from the outset with expectation high from most, if not all, of the PS4 player base.
It is no surprise then, that the gaming world has been somewhat divided over this title, but the reception it received in the mainstream being somewhat on the negative side has only sparked the flames of debate even further. So, given that several of the review team picked this up day one, I thought I would gather our thoughts and see if we can give the good community at MidlifeGamer a compass with which to navigate the waters of To Buy, or Not To Buy.
Joining me today for a biscuit and beverage and bit of a rant, is Ben Naylor and Matt Jones.
1.) The Order is set in an alternate Victorian London. what do you think of the setting?
Derek - For such a rich period in history, there are few games that tap into it. The modern, (by which I mean Victorian), revelations on the Knights of the Round Table following their successful quest for the Holy Grail is a premise for which I have a keen fondness as I have a distinct love for Arthurian Legends, and I can tell the developers do as well. Its no surprise that the first Lithograph you pick up is a translation of text from Le Morte d’Arthur.
The steampunk-esque Tesla inspired weaponry and nods to contemporary events and literature such as Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes all build a world that seems both engrossing and grounded.
Ben – I personally love the idea of the setting. Maybe its because I’m a Londoner but so few games are set in foggy old London town that I couldn’t help but be excited! The Tesla powered future was also a great idea and gave the team a lot to play with, such a shame then that we were given a town awash with not much more than alleyways, rubble and grey. Apart from the accents and a few set pieces, it really could have been anywhere.
Matt – I was a huge fan of this alternative vision of Victorian era London. It managed to pull off the feat between feeling grounded enough in reality to make it almost feasible, with many nods to real life people and events, for example the references made to Tesla and Edison disliking each other intensely. As Ben said, the downside was an inability to explore this wonderfully crafted environment any further than the extremely linear level design allowed.
2.)Being a game aimed squarely as an “interactive movie”, what did you think of the story Ready at Dawn put together?
Derek – Its hard to summarise without revealing too much I suppose. They confirmed they were creating a world to allow them to tell several stories for their new IP, ‘The Order: 1886′ being the first. Ready at Dawn had to tread a fine line between spelling everything out for you, and leaving things open for further development. I think the story they have told within this release gives enough insight into The Order, its founding and its failings as well as the personal battle of your protagonist Ser Galahad, but at times it seems that they opted for the later pay off instead of the instant reveal. I enjoyed the tale they spun, but if I am honest, I was wishing for more.
Ben – The story was a letdown for me I’m afraid. In theory it has everything it needs to be a great tale. Beards, secret orders, lycans, strange neo-victorian technology and betrayal, but it takes so long to really get into the meat and potatoes of the plot that when the end is ready, if you can pay attention to it for that long, it doesn’t creep up or even reach a naturally paced conclusion, it instead just rushes through the finale as if its of as little importance as decent gun play (yes, thats a jab at the games gun play) The Order really feels like a game of two halves, a slow, dragging opening with more cutscenes than Hideo Kojima would even allow, and then a second half that rushes through a handful of quicktime events until it finishes rather unspectacularly. With another quick time event.
Matt - I’m more on Derek’s side of the fence here. I’m quite happy with certain points being left open to the player’s own interpretation or imagination and, despite it being the first installment in what I assume will turn into a franchise, I don’t necessarily feel like every opening chapter to a story needs to be an origins tale. Without moving into spoiler territory, there’s a few threads that feel open ended enough to be fleshed out into DLC, or preferably a sequel, and I’d absolutely be on board with that.
3.) Much has been said of the graphics on this game, with other developers stating this is the “new graphics bar” for the current generation. what are your opinions on The Orders visuals?
Ben – Visuals are clearly the one thing that Ready At Dawn have done right, and I mean really nailed it down. Whether you’re a fan of the forced letter box perspective or not, the visuals are stunning. Everything has so much detail and the facial animations look awesome. Really, the only snag I could take issue with, if I was being really picky, is the amount of dead eye going on. While characters faces look great, their eyes are creepy, hollow fragments of humans anatomy that simply roll all over the shop as they face dead forward. Bit of an odd miss for the team to be fair, but overall its smooth as chocolate. However, I’m not sure this will be the ‘new graphics bar’ considering the amount of work required to create what they have and also, we still don’t know if Ready At Dawn could pull of this graphic quality if they were creating anything other than a short, extremely linear title.
Derek – Have to disagree with Ben to some extent on this one. Regardless of RAD’s ability to replicate this fidelity in any future games, graphically this is the bar that needs to be hit by other console releases that place a high regard to graphical impact and gives an insight into what is achievable with this current generation of tech.
The part that really stood out for me was the clothing and materials in the game. The wood looked aged and grained, the cloths gave differing appearance whether wet or dry and during the airship sequence, seeing the loose parts of the Knights Jackets flap realistically in the breeze, to me, was a thing of beauty. Dead eyes aside, this was without a doubt the high point of this release.
Matt – It’s a stunning piece of work, no doubt about it. The letter boxing wasn’t an issue in the slightest, in fact I can’t say I thought about it until I saw a picture of the game being shown on a 21:9 ratio monitor and couldn’t get over how mindblowing it looked. Every texture in the game looked nothing short of pristine and I was constantly stunned by the lighting effects all the way through.
I saw a complaint on the MLG facebook page about the game ‘being let down by 30FPS’ and, I’ve got to say, if you’re sat there thinking “Well, this rock solid 30 frames per second gameplay is ruining the presentation” you’re on an entirely different planet to me. It is, without any doubt in my mind, the new high point for console graphics.
4.) As a game with a distinctly cinematic leaning, combat tends to play a lesser role. Did you find this to be the case, or is there redemption for the gameplay?
Derek – Sadly, this is where the game is let down the most. Gunplay is solid, but nothing ground-breaking and interrupted for the first two thirds of the game too often by animations or cut scenes. There is a weight and depth to the weapons that make using them a unique experience, but the closed environments leave little room for originality or parallel thinking. It is truly a linear experience. The forced stealth sections are horrible. Thankfully they only appear twice , but the insta-fail aspect of them left a lot to be desired considering you are playing a character who has the ability to recover from even the most fatal of wounds. On the plus side, the melee was visceral and dynamic. Despite being linked to a single button press depending how you approached made Galahad attack in differing ways. Truly a joy to watch.
Ben - I dont even want to talk about this bit for long because it annoyed me so much. The combat is dated, its essentially exactly the same as gears of war only a lot clunkier and just not great. Because of that, it just feels like this should have come out a decade ago. Enemy AI is god awful, with enemies just running at you and spinning on the spot a lot while Lycans have an idiotic system of taking one swipe then running away then rinse and repeat. I mean, really? If a bear swipes you and gets you, would it really run away and try again later? With the game making you feel like you’re interrupting its story telling to play through short snippets of gun play, you’d expect it to be perfect and at the very least exciting. It’s not.
Matt – Ben makes a good point there, I’d never thought about that Lycan one swipe thing being a bit daft. Aside from that, I actually liked the gun play and combat in general. I’m always a sucker for contextual animations, so I took a perverse joy in seeing Galahad smash enemies faces into walls and tables, or just thumping them into oblivion. I liked the sort of chunky feeling to the weapons too, to me it fit within the time frame and universe. There’s some great guns too, I didn’t ever get tired of firing thermite dust at enemies before igniting it and watching them burn. The stealth sections have taken some stick but they weren’t bad in my opinion, and in fact the second one, when you’re given access to a crossbow, was a particularly enjoyable part for me.
5.)5 hours, 8 hours, 10 hours. depending on who you ask, the game length is different each time. What was your personal play time, and how did you feel the game was paced? Is there any replayability at all?
Derek – Personally, I played through it in just short of 8 hours, and the pacing of the game varied.very slow to start, but by the mid section following the Airship resolution things really began to ramp up as more details of the plot unfurled and further questions were posed to the main character. From a gameplay perspective, the same applies. the first half saw a lot of gameplay broken up by unnecessary animations, and long protracted cut scenes, some of which could easily have been played out without interrupting player agency and this became less frequent as the game progressed. Replay value? maybe another run at a later date but no appeal to jump straight back in.
Ben – I’ve already mentioned it really, but pacing for me was way off. With a slow boring start and then a massively rushed conclusion which is almost an insult to the players. Lengthwise, i don’t really have an issue to be honest. I’ve never judged a game by length, as long as I enjoyed it and there was reason to go back for more. Unfortunately the order gives you no reason to ever touch it again which is just strange. Fair enough, for me there isnt a reason to touch it in the first place BUT even if you enjoyed the game, i guarantee you’ll never feel the urge to pick it up and play through it again.
Matt – Probably around the 8 hour mark for me. Pacing did feel a bit off, the first half felt too broken up with cutscenes, while the second feeling far more action oriented, but I’ve got no complaints about the length. As soon as you start judging art by length you’re making a ridiculous decision, people don’t prefer Jackson Pollock to Van Gogh because Pollock uses a bigger canvas.
As an extra note, I am embarking on a second playthrough. I did enjoy the game, I fancy picking up that Platinum trophy, plus I’m interested to see what other easter eggs or insights into the universe I can find from the various collectibles.
6.) Everybody has their own benchmark on it, and very seldom do two peoples align as we can see from our input today. I must ask the burning question. In your personal opinion, how do you feel The Order stands on the Value for Money front?
Matt – Whether it has value for money will depend on each person’s personal perception of time vs money. Your ‘leisure time’ is an expensive thing. A trip to the cinema will set you back the best part of £10 for a ticket, then there’s the popcorn that you can’t resist and the vastly oversized drink because you know that the popcorn is pretty dry, before you know it you’ve spent the best part of £20 for a couple of hours of entertainment. A couple of hours down the pub is an easy way to piss away (literally) £30. Hell, there’s people I’ve seen moan about the length of The Order (without playing it, natch) who I know will happily drop £20 on a lap dance that’ll last the duration of a Bon Jovi song.
Did The Order 1886 give me value for money? Yeah, absolutely. I paid about £42 for it and got around 8 hours of enjoyable entertainment from it. As an added bonus, my girlfriend watched me play 90% of the game and made repeated comments about how much she was enjoying watching it. Double bonus.
Derek – Have to agree with Matt on this, it is down to our own perception and I think that is the crux of the argument. At the retail price of £50 I would have to say it would fall short of value for money for me, but dropping down to £40 and it hits my sweet spot. Thankfully, that is the price I got it for, and as such I have no regrets about buying this game digitally, day one. Call it an investment into the world that Ready At Dawn have created in anticipation of future releases.
Ben – Well, I disagree with both of you. Sort of. Value for money is definitely down to the individual. However, with games reaching such a high cost lately, something which is extremely unfair to kids, parents and us big kids (£50 a game! really!) they’re almost designed to be traded in. The Order for example, can be traded in for around £35 at your local GAME store, meaning if you finish it and then have no reason to play it again (which you won’t) you’ve paid £15 to rent it. Not good value in my book.
This really should have been an inexpensive digital release in my mind, as the world they’ve made is so tightly controlled and so small that essentially, it is nothing more than an episodic title, thrown onto a disc and given an overblown.
7.) If you could choose one thing to change or add to the game, what would it have been?
Derek - I could say the obvious. Multiplayer,co-op, etc. but that is contrary to what this game was trying to achieve and what I would actually want. If i could add one thing that’s in keeping with the style of game, it would be more interactivity. The backgrounds were beautiful, but there was a ‘look, dont touch’ feel about the world. The characters were amazingly detailed graphically, but only partially developed as believable people with the Voice Acting saving the day here. Having that little bit more interaction could have really developed players engagement more during the “walk from point a to point b sections”. Slap in some contextual one-off conversations to expand on the characters backgrounds, influences or even the pertinent story beats for god sake, don’t make us just blithely limp from one cut scene to the next.
Ben – Definitely add the ability to explore the world. I was just dumbfounded that a team could spend so long trying to build a whole new vision of London, really convince you of its authenticity and then let you have NOTHING to do within it. Fore me this just felt like FFXIII and its endless corridors from section to section. Sure you can pick items up and rotate them unnaturally in your hand, but who cares. The items don’t do anything. NPCs don’t acknowledge you! I’ve mentioned before that on one occasion I saw a gang beating an innocent man and all I could do was watch. They neither acknowledged my existence or were intimidated by me and thats just a huge let down!
Matt - I think both of you have said things I would add to the game. I’m a sucker for coop, so I would have loved to see that included somehow, plus some multiplayer would have added to the longevity and maybe counteracted some of the complaints about content. As Ben says, it’s such an incredible shame we don’t get to explore more of this incredible word that’s been put in front of us.
Ben - Avoid. This game is over hyped because Sony needed a great exclusive (despite ‘being for the players’ they haven’t proved anything so far) and because people are simply tripping over themselves thanks to its great visuals, but beauty isn’t everything and I suspect this game will be long forgotten in a month or two, when bigger better titles such as Batman Arkham Knight absolutely smash it!
Derek – Wait. For me, although I feel it is a fantastic game, it lacks what I would expect for a £60 game especially with no genuine reason to replay.
Matt – Buy. You can already pick it up for about £30 and, as Ben said earlier, you can easily get that back on trade in. It’s effectively a freebie, you tight sods.
So, it seems even we cant agree on it. A three way split (sort of) on our recommendation, means the middle ground is the approach that would benefit most people.
Wait for the drop, and pick it up at your sweet spot, whatever that may be.