Recently, a friend of mine was shocked to discover The Order: 1886 in a used games store, as it had only been released a few weeks prior to her visit. Thinking she was experiencing a great streak of luck, she bought the game, when, in reality, she might as well have broken a mirror or walked under a ladder.
It is by no means an exaggeration to say that I found the The Order: 1886 to be baffling on almost every level. After having spent a great deal of time both playing the game and watching my friend play it, I have lost a great deal of faith in AAA titles.
To understand what is so wrong with The Order: 1886, one must first recognize some of the most prominent cliches infecting the game industry. On their own or in small groups, cliches can exist with doing little-to-no harm to a video game, but, when a great deal are lumped together, they can kill it. That is The Order: 1886: an tumorous amalgamation of some of the most frustrating cliches in the industry. In order to properly expound this game, I will break my analysis into three parts, analyzing story, characters, and game mechanics. (Be warned: here there be spoilers).
The Order: 1886 tells the story of an alternate-history London during the Industrial Revolution. Centuries prior, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table had discovered the Holy Grail, gaining longevity and healing powers, which they used to battle werewolf-like monsters called Lycans. Now, the Order continues this fight using advanced technology. Things are complicated, however, when rebels begin attacking, and the main character, Sir Galahad, discovers a conspiracy.
This summary is a notably simplified version of the convoluted story. And, before one suggests that a game’s story is not always important, I would like point out that this game contains more unskippable cut scenes than gameplay.
The prevalence of cut scenes has been a growing issue in modern video games, as games lean more towards the cinematic and often forget that players want to play a game, rather than watch a movie. One recent controversy involved Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, which follows its beginning gameplay with two cut scenes and a very silly quick-time event. In The Order, the number of cut scenes is so over-the-top, it feels as though its developers heard the growing discontent and decided to stick it to players.
As someone who is willing to play dialogue- and cut scene-heavy games if it means I will be part of a good story, I could have been forgiving for The Order‘s transgression, were the story not a terrible Frankenstein of cliches. The Order uses well-known Arthurian mythology (which it never fleshes out) to set up a world without any distinctive rules or compelling features. In a blatant rip-off of Bioshock: Infinite, the game tries to create a steampunk portrait of the past by putting air ships and modern weapons in an antiquated setting, but lacks the creativity to even make it look interesting.
Look! They’ve got modern guns, but there’s a carriage in the background! Wait, why aren’t you excited?
The narrative is complicated by non-linear story-telling, with the game’s prologue featuring Galahad escaping from prison, labelled a traitor. Then, the game jumps backwards, but we already know too much of the future to be engaged in the past. For example, a character is brutally injured, but we know she’ll survive, as she’s in the prologue.
There is also the matter of the games’ “twists,” all of which are maddeningly cliche or silly. For example, the rebels turn out to be the good guys, whereas the Order’s ally, the United India Company, turns out to be an evil corporation, and respected members of the Order are actually sleeper agents.
On the silly end, the Company is secretly run by vampires, who want to important Lycans to start an all-out war in London and convert everyone into vampires. Oh, and Jack the Ripper ties in somehow, too.
Sometimes, a game’s generic story can be revived by its characters. Unfortunately, a great deal of AAA games have simply seen fit to throw in dull cardboard cut-outs, instead. Even great AAA games are guilty of adhering to one of the most prevalent cliches of all: the main character is a scruffy, straight, white man, who is often a “by the book, standard military guy” and brooding (bonus points if he has a dark past). That is Sir Galahad, with his husky voice, no nonsense attitude, and guns. This would forgiveable if the game were set up so “the main character is an empty vessel, because we’re supposed to put ourselves in [him],” but this is, sadly, not the case (Previously Recorded).
Wow, never seen anyone like him before…
The supporting cast is similarly bland. There is Isabeau D’Argyll, the Order’s token female, whose only traits are that she can “really hang with the boys because … she’s a tough lady” and has a romance with Sir Galahad despite a lack of chemistry (Previously Recorded). There is also Lafayette, the “horny French man,” and Sebastian Malory, the wise, old mentor who dies to create a revenge quest (Previously Recorded). There is also Lakshmi, who could be unique for a generic AAA shooter in that she is a woman of color, but ends up being nothing more than a second generic tough woman.
There’s also the traitor, a man who was adopted but cannot escape his dark origins (spoiler: he’s a Lycan), and Nikola Tesla, who just creates your unimaginative weapons.
Gameplay for The Order can be divided into three categories: combat, stealth, and quick-time events meshed with walking around.
The game’s combat sections are comprised primarily of shooting. The player is given the standard first- and third-person shooters’ arsenal of weapons, like pistols, submachine guns, shotguns, sniper rifles, and grenades. There are occasionally vaguely unique weapons, like a lightning gun, but they can only be used briefly. Taking a page from series like Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, and Far Cry, shooting-based combat features convenient, waist high barriers to hide behind, generic-looking enemies, and entire sequences where you have to just stay up high and shoot enemies one-by-one. Health is regenerative and, though ammo can run out, that is more of an annoyance than a challenge. Even melee is unremarkable, with dots appearing to indicate where you can strike.
Worse still is the fact that the main antagonists of the games are barely present: you only engage in quick-time-centric combat with roughly a dozen werewolves and you can’t fight the vampires at all.
But if I don’t have quick-time dots to show me what to do, how will I know to stab the monster?
The stealth parts of the game are similarly awful. Your character is automatically made to crouch, and you must slowly take out enemies from behind using a knife. If you are spotted, you will die. This calls back to another recent game AAA game, Watchdogs, where the stealth is equally monotonous and repetitive.
Finally, there are the quick-time events, with a dash of exploration. This game is, without a doubt, visually stunning, with amazing lighting, faces, and scenery, but that is not enough. Exploration should have been an opportunity to build the supernatural world in which the game is set. Instead, “a large chunk of the ‘gameplay’ is made up of completely unremarkable ‘walk from point A to point B’ objectives that feature some character explaining the next objective” (Strom). Occasionally, you can pick up random newspaper clippings and photos, but they add nothing to the story. Any time you get lost, white dots appear over what you need to do next, which leads to the greater issue of quick-time events.
Quick time events are when a button prompt appears on the screen and, in order to continue the game, you must press it. The Arkham series features this when opening grates and and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare 2 features it when you have to press X to mourn at a funeral. As critic Steven Strom states, it feels like quick time events are there to “to confirm [players] aren’t asleep” (Strom). Game review channel, Previously Recorded, did an experiment where they didn’t press the suggested button and found that the scene just played on a loop until they did. Quick time events are, truly, miniature cut scenes that try to trick players into thinking they are playing by hitting a single button.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspects of The Order: 1886 is that I, as a player, was left to imagine what could have been. A game in which Knights of the Round Table battle werewolves and vampires in a steam punk London as Nikola Tesla invents weapons for them could have been delightful, campy fun. But, instead, it became an utterly joyless warning that any AAA game that adheres to the horrific cliches that have risen to prominence in the game industry is doomed to become an utter disaster. And, while a great deal of this can be chalked up to the industry’s prioritizing of profit over art, we, as players, must accept some responsibility, as, by buying these games, we are allowing the cycle to continue. If we keep playing trash, we will keep receiving it.
Previously Recorded. “Previously Recorded – The Order 1886.” Online video. Youtube. Youtube, 7 Mar. 2015. Web.