The dreaded QTE. The bane of many a gamer. I can vividly remember being amazed by their introduction in Shenmue, allowing Ryo Hazuki to perform all sorts of feats that didn’t seem possible with a controller. We’ve come a long way since then, and the Quick Time Event has become a much-loathed feature across the gaming world. Nearly every action game manages to squeeze a few in somewhere though, it’s like they just can’t help themselves, and The Order: 1886 takes this to its logical extreme.
Before I delve into The Order's sometimes preposterous reliance on QTEs though, it's worth outlining the fascinating world Ready At Dawn has stitched together. You play as Sir Galahad, a centuries old member of The Order tasked with protecting Britain from an ancient threat. It's a lineage stretching back to king Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, and together you and your fellow knights must battle against a half-breed werewolf threat. This is complicated by a third factor, the Rebels, who are intent on bringing down the established ruling classes.The constant battle has enforced a rapid uptake in technology to combat the threat, resulting in technology far more advanced than you’d necessarily expect to see in 1886.
During the opening level you won’t know what the heck is going on, but its world soon reveals itself to be an impressive creation. The streets of Victorian London have a real gritty, sooty feel to them, everything bathed in a sombre palette with a hazy skyline. Looking out across the city it’s a place of great industry with landmarks aplenty, but there's just enough there for it to feel like an otherworldly place. From the monorails to the blimp taxis, there's the merest hint of technology in every direction you look.
As a consequence, at your fingertips you have an array of advanced weapons and gadgets, ranging from your standard carbines, pistols, and shotguns, up to the futuristic tech of Tesla’s Arc Gun and the Thermite Rifle. While some are obviously more scarce than others, the futuristic weapons can be a real treat. The Arc Gun fires off a charged up lightning bolt that can cause the enemy’s head to exploded, while the Thermite Rifle fires of a barrage of thermite that can then be ignited using a bullet from secondary fire. They’re all meaty and great to use. They’ve all got some thumping kickbeat and booming noises as you fire them off; it’s definitely one for the headphones.
The Order: 1886’s combat is rock solid, if unspectacular. Much like Gears of War and Uncharted before it, you’re dealing with an array of enemies coming at you. You're forced to make liberal use of cover and peeking out to take potshots. It's entertaining enough but for the majority of the game it is essentially a shooting gallery; the levels often aren't wide enough to accommodate flanking tactics. The Lycans are also a major disappointment. Hyped as a big deal pre-release, the werewolves are few and far between, and fighting them off is overly simplistic and repetitive. Of course it would be nice if the gameplay could match the visuals blow for blow, but alas it's not quite there.
What’s disappointing is how every combatant you take on is behaving like they've just gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson. The AI never extends beyond popping out from a bit of cover and firing some shots off, mixed up slightly by a few shotgun-toting fellas that charge at you. This is a criticism which unfortunately can be levelled at the majority of games today. The quality of AI has been forgotten in the search for bigger, more graphically impressive scenarios. It felt with the likes F.E.A.R. and Halo: Combat Evolved this could be an avenue ripe for exploring, but it’s not to be yet, at least in the decade since.
Now, onto those quick time events. I’ll hold my hands up though, I don’t often mind QTEs. As long as they’re well integrated and thought through, I’m a-ok with a few cropping up in any game. With The Order: 1886 though, it’s rare to go more than a minute or two with at least a button prompt, if not a full-blown QTE. All of your actions are basically context-sensitive, so triangle will open doors, raise winches, help someone up onto a ledge etc.
There’s one bit fairly early on where you’re trying climb aboard a giant blimp in the sky, and the visuals and animation are absolutely mind-blowing as you sidle rightwards along a ledge. What threw me though was how this could easily be a cutscene, so I stopped moving and Galahad stopped too. To put my theory to the test I tried to move left and nothing happened, in essence it felt like me pushing right was just putting a pre-animated sequence in motion.
If you don’t pay too much heed to moments like this then it’s a rollocking adventure, but there’s always that nagging feeling at the back of your head - you’re just a passenger in a tale which will end up an identical experience to everyone else’s regardless.
But what a beautiful journey it is. For gaming fans The Order: 1886 is tantamount to graphical porn, delivering some of the most lifelike environments I've ever seen. Everything is dripping in atmosphere, and sometimes it pays off to take a moment to poke around, just marveling at the immense detail on each and every object. Nothing I've played comes close to this on console, and for a certain segment of fans that will be enough to warrant a playthrough.
It would be fan to say Ready at Dawn is guilty of a heavy degree of self-indulgence in regards to the visuals. The entirety of The Order: 1886 must be played in super-widescreen 2.35:1 ration so it's letterboxed, and littered around the environments are all sorts of oddities you can pick up and examine. A number of these are required to advance the story, and bizarrely it forces you to turn the object over in your hand for an age so you can see it from every angle. One of these is an apple you're going to throw at someone. I didn't feel inclined to stare at a digital apple for 20 seconds, but Ready at Dawn certainly seemed to want me to.
It’s certainly not a game without its fair share of problems, but many people will enjoy The Order: 1886 despite this, myself included. In games there’s been a backlash of style over substance. Once the mainstay of many single-player titles, gamers now expect more. What we have here is the Tarantino of the gaming world, delivering a flashy, eye-catching and entertaining experience that doesn't necessarily look to achieve anything more than solid entertainment.
I have to say I didn’t expect the combat to be such an integral part of The Order, but a fair portion of your 7-10 hour playthrough will be spent blasting away. In the run up to, and post-release, it’s come under heavy fire for its cinematic approach. It’s true control is wrenched away from the player often, but there’s certainly plenty of gameplay packed in its running length here for third-person shooter fans. Despite the value concerns could have been shot down by RaD if it had chosen to implement anything to boost replayability. There's no multiplayer to speak of, no unlockables except for pre-order exclusive weapons, and not really anything there at all to tempt you back a second time.
The issue of cost is an awkward one. £40 to one person might be a huge deal, to another it could just be another drop in the ocean. It’s certainly a bit expensive for my tastes, but I don’t think The Order should be judged wholly on that. Like any game nowadays you won’t have to wait long to pick it up dirt cheap, and The Order: 1886 is certainly a game worth a playthrough. The worth of that playthrough however, comes down to you.