Within the first few years of a consoles launch, players are often looking for those games that showcase the prowess of their new hardware in ways that previously weren’t possible. Consoles are expensive in the first few years of release and innovative games are one way to make a console more attractive and make that cost seem less pricey. Gamers look for better visuals, transformative game play and experiences they couldn’t get on their old machine.
When The Order 1886 released in February 2015, it delivered on one of those elements – the graphics – but failed to push the envelope anywhere else. It was critically lambasted for it. Destructiod called the gun play “well-built but standard”. GamesRadar said “The Order’s archaic, player-detached approaches to interaction and narrative nonetheless make it a dated and instantly forgettable experience.”. It ended up with a Metacritic score of 63 which I imagine was disappointing to both Sony and Ready At Dawn. The price, the same as large open world games like Destiny which released a year earlier, probably didn’t help either.
Let’s be clear – The Order 1886 isn’t innovative. It tells a story through cut scenes without a branching narrative and is devoid of player choice. It has QTE’s. The level design is linear. The combat and cover based shooting are as familiar as old, comfortable slippers. Visually, it was splendid but hardly ground breaking. To put it bluntly, The Order 1886 lacked any of the elements that players and critics look for in a tent pole game in the first few years of a console release. It didn’t provide something you couldn’t get from a PS3/Xbox 360 game.
And yet, despite lacking innovation, The Order 1886 is a thoroughly enjoyable, narrative focused game, especially played in 2019 and without the expectations of it breaking new ground.
I finally got around to playing The Order 1886 a few weeks ago. A 12 hour hole appeared in my free time between reviews and, after being initially put off by the initial reception, I decided to finally dive in. To say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement. Away from any expectation on The Order 1886 having to be a system selling, ground breaking product, you can really appreciate it for what it is – A linear atmospheric narrative game polished to within an inch of its life, that does everything it does do well.
The story it tells is full of mystery and offers a few twists, if a little on the nose when they arrive. The weapons you get to wield, probably a little too infrequently, are meaty and inventive. The characters are interesting and have a depth that’s well achieved in its 8 hour run time. The lore is an interesting concept and hints at more. It’s the atmosphere and feel to The Order: 1886 that really stands it apart from its peers though. A tremendous amount of effort has gone in to the little details and to making it feel authentic. It’s thrilling too, the Whitechapel Hospital chapter offering up as much tension as a run in with Mr X in Resident Evil 2.
What’s really surprising though, is how much I’d missed this type of storytelling. As Amy Hennig pointed out at DICE 2019, “Truly curated narratives are a rarity right now” and when you look at the game release calendar, filled with open worlds, emergent sims with player driven stories or games with 100 endings based on your choices, games like The Order: 1886 just don’t seem to exist right now. A straight forward, highly polished and directed plot, told how the game designers wanted to tell it, running for a short time with a filmic feel to it. In 2019, surrounded by 45 hour open world games with shopping list quests, it feels like a real curio.
More than anything though, The Order: 1886 felt like a start of something. It felt like chapter 0 of an untold epic, the ground work on which something truly wonderful could be built. The lore is there. The battle lines drawn. Hints of Werewolves and Vampires on distant shores and the readiness of Galahad and his small band to take the fight too them. Ready At Dawn founder Ru Weerasuriya confirmed as much back in 2015: “The first game was more than anything a launch platform to build upon […] The Order was never written as a one-off story”.
Since releasing The Order: 1886, Ready At Dawn have been busy creating other games. First there was Deformers, a multiplayer brawler featuring squishy creatures. Then came VR titles Lone Echo and Echo Arena, released on the same day as one another for the Oculus Rift. Both received very favourable reviews, won a number of awards and are set to see continued expansion. They’ve also started to hire for a “new AAA third-person action console title, based on a brand new original IP”. It looks unlikely that with all of these projects in the works that they’re working on a sequel for 1886.
As Sony own the IP to The Order, it’s unlikely we’ll see a sequel and that’s a shame. In a 2019 market filled with games suffering from open world bloat, I truly enjoyed the purposefulness of The Order: 1886 and would certainly buy a follow up. There’s so little out there like it right now that a sequel would likely find a niche of its own. 1886 certainly deserves a sequel – perhaps set in an alternative history America a few years later – and those of us out there that can appreciate an 8 hour narrative focused game would likely welcome it with open arms and big moustaches. If that’s not to be, we’ll always have our memories of London…