It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where The Order: 1886 went wrong; a clever premise backed by some breath-taking visuals and on-point gameplay mechanics, it has almost everything in the formula to become a big hit. In execution, however, developer Ready at Dawn’s first solo foray on Sony’s next-generation platform falls flat and, quite frankly, is just pretty boring.
As one can probably deduce, the year is 1886, and you are Sir Galahad, though he is called by his common name Grayson, one of the Knights of the Round Table. Citizens have begun a war against the gentry, possibly allying with a race of werewolves they refer to as lycans or half-breeds. It’s a fantastic premise, overflowing with possibilities. You look to the sky and see zeppelins hovering overhead; London itself seems to pulsate a subtle desperation underneath depressing fog and clouds.
Walking, looking, and shooting aren’t bad on their own. In fact, almost all of The Order is polished and bug-free; what makes such basic mechanics so droll are how they are used. When you holster your weapon and are forced to walk slowly, you may expect it to build tension or develop its characters through exposition. Instead, The Order becomes a plain routine of basic plot points until you either open a door that leads to the next stage of the linear level, or another character does it for you.
When The Order tries its hand at set-pieces, its cluelessness is compounded further, turning everything into a QTE (quick time event) and killing any excitement or sense of control. The werewolves come off particularly badly, appearing outside cinematics only as part of two hopelessly prescribed and distinctly boring set-pieces. Ultimately, the creatures that should be The Order’s most unique asset are weakened, reduced puppets with no threatening presence. One particular stealth sequence is also galling for similar reasons, its non-linear environment buried beneath basic AI and even more QTE demands.
These encounters sum up The Order’s problems rather perfectly. Whenever potential presents itself, the game can’t help but reductively shoot itself in the foot by removing the interaction that would have made a sequence shine in favor of more relentless, superficial delivery. Even its Victorian streets suffer, rendered in some of the finest visuals ever to grace a console game, but feeling completely lifeless. They’re punctuated only by NPCs so stiff and mechanical that you can almost see the hinges at their joints. The supposedly narrative-furthering collectibles often hold no information at all, existing only as time-wasting props. It all feels like an empty shell of something once considered a bustling paradise, but now forgotten and abandoned long before you ever started playing.
Closing out just under seven hours, The Order’s relatively short length is actually a boon, since any prolonged narrative couldn’t hold most people’s attention or care enough for them to finish it. As strange as it might sound the game’s relatively short play time actually works in its favor – and yet that’s still not a good thing.
Ultimately, The Order: 1886 is a gorgeous land of missed opportunities that lead an otherwise perfect narrative premise astray into obscurity and boredom. What should have been a unique take on Arthurian legend becomes another by-the-numbers progression from one bland and predictable set piece to the next. Sequel or no, it will be hard to justify a return to a place when we know all the rides and have seen all the attractions.