Platform: PlayStation 4
Style: 1-Player Shooter
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Ready At Dawn
Release: February 20
The Bottom Line: 7.75/10
Concept: Visit an alternate version of Victorian London in a mash- up of Arthurian legend and gothic horror
Graphics: One of the most detailed and filmic game presentations ever
Sound: Moody orchestral music and emotionally charged voice performances add nuance to these stories about men and women who have lived for far too long
Playability: Gunplay is solid if a little stiff, movement controls are smooth, and cover mechanics rarely cause-problems
Entertainment: A beautifully realized world that sacrifices more involved gameplay in the name of cinematic presentation
Replay Value: Moderately low
Headline: An Uncompromising Cinematic Vision Hampered By Aged Gameplay
One of the things I love about speculative fiction is diving headlong into a new world and figuring out the details as the story unfolds. The Order: 1886 is a triumph of world building, ripe to be explored by players who enjoy that sensation of confusion and discovery as the pieces of the fiction fall into place. Ready At Dawn’s first original IP is also a masterpiece of cinematic immersion. Environments feel gritty and authentic, characters exhibit genuine emotions, and every scene looks like it could be a still cut from a thoughtfully crafted film. The technical and artistic talent on display is astounding, but it comes at a price. The clear desire to embrace the cinematic experience comes at the cost of player agency; The Order: 1886 often places you in the passenger seat instead of letting you steer.
The Knights of the Round Table have survived the centuries, using a mystical and vaguely sinister tonic to unnaturally extend their lives. In the rare instance that one knight dies, a new soldier steps up to take his predecessor’s name. Standing in opposition to these near-immortal warriors are the half-breeds – warped creatures torn from the pages of gothic novels. The long-lived knights of the Order have finally gained a foothold in the war through the advent of industrial technology, and now they serve a British Empire at the height of its power.
The story is structured around introducing the setting, but deliberate pacing and mature, complicated characters keep things interesting. The main characters carry the weight of too many years, and through smart dialogue and gradual exposition, we get a sense of the toll that endless fighting has taken; don’t expect pithy jokes or other attempts to lighten the mood. The Order’s melding of established genres is seamless. London is oppressive and grim, but the zeppelins floating through the sky and sparking weapons on our heroes’ backs remind us that this history is slightly off from the 19th century we know.
Production values set a high bar for new-gen consoles. Cool gray colors dominate, lending an antique flair to the immaculately detailed environments. Soft lighting and barely perceptible particles make each location memorable. Conversations exhibit remarkable character animation work, accentuated by excellent voice acting and naturally flowing dialogue at home in the Victorian vernacular. Old photos and scratchy phonograph recordings contribute authenticity, but these minor extras rarely add meaningful context to the story. A landscape view of the action is another nod to film technique, but I can’t say I’m a fan of the way it limits the player’s view of the action to a narrow bar.
While the visual technology on display is stellar, The Order’s gameplay is in many ways a callback to earlier generations. A linear story carries the player forward, heavy on cinematic sequences and slowly paced periods of exploration. Quick time events crop up frequently, forcing timed button presses to resolve melee encounters and other crises. A simple lock-picking minigame blocks door access. Boxes must be pushed into place to open up a spot to climb. In short, The Order rarely grasps for innovation in its action, and the slower pace of many chapters puts a big focus on enjoying the setting, and a lower priority on interaction.
Combat is the centerpiece of gameplay, but even the battles feel familiar. I couldn’t shake the feeling I was playing through a long- established template for third-person shooting mechanics. Thankfully, a varied collection of weapons adds excitement; potent shotguns and machine pistols sit alongside more exotic offerings that fire off bursts of lightning or clouds of explosive thermite. Each of these cool devices has advantages and drawbacks, and I enjoyed experimenting with all of them. Aiming feels a little rigid, perhaps in a nod to the old-fashioned style of the guns, but the stiff response ultimately detracts from otherwise solid shooting.
Even if the fighting is a little derivative, the highly scripted action scenes remain tense and rewarding. Enemies are aggressive, flanking or pinning you behind a crate as it is steadily degraded by bullets. Moving between hiding places is smooth, and the occasional melee feels brutal and satisfying. Even a brief stealth sequence holds up well, though having failures send you back to a checkpoint is jarring. Needing to equip grenades rather than having a dedicated throw button gives them less utility, so it’s easy to forget about them.
While The Order: 1886 is a fun adventure with lots of intriguing reveals about the nature of its world, it’s also clear that Ready At Dawn intends for this to be the first game of a grander story. Players should brace themselves for a lot of unresolved character arcs and unanswered questions. This is an origin story, but a fascinating one. 1886 goes against the current tide of open-world wandering and emergent sequences, and banks on the idea that players can enjoy a straightforward and relatively brief cinematic adventure – if it’s well told and original. I hope Ready At Dawn is right; I’d love to see what happens in 1887.