Steampunk werewolves of London. No, this isn’t a Warren Zevon song gone wrong, but in fact The Order: 1866, the latest game from developers Ready At Dawn, the team who previously made the superb handheld versions of the God of War series. Set in gloomy old London town, The Order: 1866 is a third-person shooter that follows the Knights of the Round Table as they deal with a rebel uprising and ‘halfbreeds’ (in other words, those aforementioned werewolves, or as called in The Order: 1866, lycans).
Starting out with one of the worst openings in recent times, The Order: 1866 uses that terrible cliché of flashing forward to a part in the story where the character is in peril. Here, we find Sir Galahad drowning in water before managing to break free and work his way to the next cut scene. It’s a horrible way to start what is an otherwise fairly enjoyable game.
The Order: 1866 is quite certainly not an original story. Sure, the Knights versus lycans story sounds interesting initially, but that takes a backseat to what is essentially a story about an organisation versus a rebel uprising. There have been similar stories elsewhere (Bioshock Infinite, for example), and whilst The Order: 1866 doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it does provide a story that’s interesting enough to progress the game. The story isn’t helped by obtuse dialogue, which feels like it’s trying a little too hard to be from a different era. It’s understood that for a game to evoke a certain era it needs to replicate that era as closely as possible, but having confusing dialogue doesn’t help immersion nor what is essentially a very simple story of good versus bad.
The Order: 1866 is a third-person cover shooter that borrows a lot from the Gears of War and Uncharted series’. And just like those games, levels play out in a similar fashion. This is how the average level in The Order: 1866 goes: a cut scene plays, which seamlessly flows into control of the main character, who then walks to an open area full of conveniently placed boxes or columns. Enemies flow into this area only to be eliminated by the player, who is using that cover. Once the required amount of enemies are killed, the next cut scene begins. It’s basic cover-shooter stuff, but it feels familiar and enjoyable.
The guns, however, are something else altogether. They have a real kick to them and sound just glorious to use. You have the usual pistol, shotgun, and machine gun, but there are a few other “advanced” weapons. Most notably is the thermite rifle, which first disperses a cloud of magnesium, and then fires a spark to ignite the magnesium and explode whatever was enveloped in the cloud. It’s a fantastic weapon that feels exciting to use. As with many other games though, the exciting and fun weapons are relegated to only one or two levels and that’s all you get to use it for. I understand the idea that limiting a weapon increases the enjoyment of using it, but this is a trend I wish would stop – provide players with a kick-ass weapon and let them use it regularly! The Resistance series allowed players to use the Auger weapon, which could shoot through walls in most levels, so it’s bizarre to see a weapon as fun as this restricted to certain levels for no particular reason.
Somewhat confusingly, The Order: 1866 is an R-rated game. Besides some random male nudity (with addle wiggle effects), the violence in The Order: 1866 is no different than what you’d find in your average MA-rated game. Whilst this is a discussion for a different time, I am concerned that a game with mostly suggestive violence managed to get an R rating.
Another thing that felt awfully restricted and somewhat wasted was the one-time use of the severely underused PS4 controller’s tracking pad. Here, there’s one opportunity to use it to input morse code and that’s it. It’s something I felt was a unique and novel idea, and I looked forward to using it throughout the game, but it just never happened again. It felt like the developers were simply ticking off something that Sony requested to be included.
Besides having one of the most obvious villains around – The Order also sets up a really interesting female protagonist in Isabeau D’Argyll. In fact, her set-up as a love interest first grated on me as being a generic love interest, but as the story takes on its predictable plot twists, she turns into a character that I’m really interested to see progress in the sequel, should one be made.
When The Order: 1866 was initially promoted, my interest was piqued by the hope of some hardcore knights versus werewolves action. Unfortunately, the lycans here are quite poor opponents. They feel like knock-off versions of the velociraptor necromorphs from Dead Space 2, and are ridiculously easy to dispatch. Being one of the few unique enemies in The Order: 1866, they feel wasted and hardly impactful to the plot.
As a standalone game, The Order: 1866 is fun and interesting, but it feels like just a teaser for a grander story to come. The mythology is introduced quickly and only hinted at in bite–sized pieces. There are storyline beats that are so quickly set up or seemingly thrown in the game that it almost seems to say “tune in next time where we’ll explain what’s going on with that secret society”. Take the way that the knights heal, for example; they carry a vial around their neck and when they get drastically low on health, they drink from the vial and it revitalises them. There is a vague explanation for this in the game, but if only the world would provide a greater explanation for this mythology, it would make the world feel so much deeper.
As it is, it’s a very superficial universe – not even the collectibles provide any information about what is going on in the world. I’d have loved to have seen some letters scattered around detailing the public’s fear of the roaming lycans and the threat that looms over London. Instead, there are newspaper headlines and random household items, none of which have any relevance. They’re merely set dressing that gives the player one more item to check off on their goal to the end. Jarringly, one of the collectibles is a Sackperson from LittleBigPlanet; a character that has been shoehorned into as many first-party exclusive Sony games as possible, as either a preorder bonus or a collectible in-game item. Something that is supposed to be a wink to players instead feels like an in-game advertisement, as if to say “hey, don’t forget about that game with Sony’s mascot in it!”
The Order: 1866 is one of Sony’s first triple-A exclusive titles for the PS4, and every single dollar spent on creating this wonderful looking world is right there on the screen. Shown in a grand letterbox format to really push home the theatrical feel, The Order: 1866 is as much an animated film as it is a game. Your involvement as a player is to simply play out the great action sequences in between the plot moving cutscenes. They’re some of the most stunning looking cutscenes on a console and really go to show how much power these new consoles have. Adding to this theatrical feel is the score. It takes quite a bit for a score to really stick out in a game, and I felt this does a great job.
If it sounds like I’m being harsh on The Order: 1866, it’s only because when it works , it works exceedingly well, but what it doesn’t do great really stands out. It’s a game that I still strongly recommend as it is enjoyable in a lazy Sunday afternoon kind of way. The Order: 1866 is gaming’s equivalent to a shonky sci-fi film, or an action film that is fun to watch, but when you think back on it, it doesn’t really hold up that well. I really hope there is a sequel as I’d love to spend more time in this great looking world and learn more about the mythology.