Set in Victorian London, with a main cast comprised of Arthurian Knights, The Order: 1886 has a rather unique setting, with werewolves running rampant and guns far more modern than they should be for the titular year. The staple alternate-universe airships are strewn across the skies, and the game isn’t afraid to mix up history lessons to its own advantage.
That setting comes to life wonderfully, with some of the most incredible visuals ever seen in a full game. There’s a letterbox effect to create the aspect ratio of 2.40:1, as you’d see in most movies, and it is certainly a movie-like experience, with uncanny and almost photorealistic facial features – which will throw you aback at points with their immense detail – and plenty of epic, cinematic moments.
Don’t let that take away from the gameplay though, The Order: 1886 is more Naughty Dog than it is Quantic Dream, with the gunplay being a particularly strong point of the game – we’ll get to that – and it being less QTE (quick-time event) heavy than you’d expect. It has about the same balance as God of War (Ready At Dawn previously worked on the PSP spin-offs for that series) in terms of gameplay to events.
The quite vicious beginning of the game pulls some of the same tricks as Uncharted does, and you’ll feel as though Ready At Dawn are channeling Naughty Dog at points, but when it gets into things this is more of a squad-based game, with your character Sir Galahad teaming up with his fellow Knights of The Order. There’s Lady Igraine, who shows some great characterisation alongside a strong will; Sir Perceval, a wise and sturdy leader; and Marquis, who brings some French charm – and humour – to the squad.
These characters are hardly the most likeable bunch; The Order, as a regime, feels almost corrupt and archaic in its beliefs at points, but you’ll grow to love the group, particularly Sir Galahad who, despite not seeming that relatable at first, works as a great protagonist and driving force for the game with his own sensibilities and vices on show. It’s his story, after all, and while that really works at points, the game is often let down by focusing too much on the character rather than the world.
Particularly because it really is a beautifully crafted world, with intricate designs – both interior and exterior – which are fleshed out by items such as newspapers which can be examined. It feels real while blurring the lines between Victorian times, modern day, and the mythological with its dark atmosphere. It’s a refreshing setting which you’ll genuinely want to be in, and one that really works for the game as a whole, allowing the developers to place this out-of-time story and make it fit on this wonderful backdrop.
While this works for the game in its first and second acts, the game begins to stumble in the last few hours of gameplay, focusing too much on a contrived story, and not affording enough time to plot threads which beg to be explored, setting them up in flames before they can really get anywhere. It’s such a shame, because the first half of the game is genuinely really enjoyable, particularly as things begin to kick into gear, but the second half just doesn’t do enough to match it.
It’s around six or seven hours long on normal difficulty – and it’s hard to imagine it being much longer unless you spend a lot of time exploring every facet of each room – but the game feels cut short, just as you think you can see where it’s beginning to go, instead swapping out a perfectly good plot for something that just doesn’t work. It’s still very successful at blending cutscenes with gameplay, and the QTEs never feel overbearing, and as such it works for what it is, but it just doesn’t do quite enough when you look back on it as a whole, sadly losing the pacing it had built up in the first half.
Still, there’s really little to complain about in terms of the gameplay at least; the cover-based gunplay is notably fun, rather than feeling like a chore, due to the guns feeling extremely weighty and dangerous without being too old-fashioned in their nature. Parts of the environment get destroyed in firefights, and enemies realistically recoil when shot. Environmental melee attacks are always well-placed, and the shootouts just feel realistic.
This is in part thanks to Sir Galahad’s Blackwater: all of the members of The Order have this special concoction in a vial around their necks, and this instantly heals wounds as well as giving them slow-motion gunslinging abilities in the form of Blacksight, which comes as a recharging meter. It makes sense in the world, more so than Nathan Drake gunning down four thousand enemies and living to tell the tale.
It’s not only human enemies you’ll face; the half-breeds are terrifying and bring an authentic gothic aspect to the game, at times verging on true horror. Unfortunately, your encounters with these Lycan foes only come in two forms: a room battle where you must fight off a few, or a harder one-on-one boss battle. The first time each of these happen, it’s a thrill, but these sections are repeated and soon become stale when it’s almost the exact same situation as before.
In fact, when you pull The Order: 1886 apart, you’ll realise a lot of it is very scripted. There’s simply no freedom to how you tackle each section, and you’re often guided through. This is particularly noticeable in the dire stealth sections, where you must eliminate every guard before progressing, and to take out those guards you’ve got a timed QTE which activates as you approach them. There’s no nuance to the stealth, no hiding bodies or choosing your own path through, and you’ll be thankful that these sections only make up a small portion of the game.
You’ll be back to a gunfight in no time though, and it’s likely that you’ll find a weapon that you haven’t used before. While the pistols and shotguns are pretty standard, there are more outlandish weapons such as the thermite rifle, which has you fire once to sow your seeds and create a cloud of the substance before using your alt-fire to light it up. There’s also an arc rifle, which is devastating with its use of electricity, and even a wild west style double-firing revolver. You’ll often find, though, that you’re doing most of the work; your team mates won’t be of much assistance at all.
The game’s guns are extremely satisfying to use, partly because of how wonderfully loud they are, with the sounds being top-notch throughout the game. The cast also deliver impressive voice performances on all fronts, and the attention to detail in the sound design is outstanding, from characters’ breathing to incidental background noises and music which makes the world feel even more atmospheric.
This, combined with the aesthetics, makes The Order: 1886 an extremely polished and immersive experience, and one that you’ll be drawn into with its high production values and beautiful setting. There are some incredible set-pieces throughout which really show the power of the PS4, and even when you’re just climbing to a building’s roof and looking out over the world, you’ll notice how spectacular it can look, despite it blurring somewhat as you zoom in, which can be a pain in gunfights.
The Order: 1886 features a wonderfully crafted and realistic alternate history setting with the greatest visuals and production values so far on the PS4. While the first half or so of the story really works, it’s let down by the final few hours, which abandon things shouting out to be explored in favour of introducing forced plot points which do the world and the main cast a disservice. Despite that, the gunplay is a lot of fun and it’s not a bad story overall, just one which could’ve been far better.