As I may have mentiond before when reviewing games within the genre, I am a big fan of steampunk. I’m a purist though. The steampunk that I like is of the more ‘hard SF’ or ‘alternative history’ style. The Difference Engine rather than Arcanum. In many respects The Order does tick the right boxes, but hopefully I’m not spoilering anything by revealing that it also includes supernatural elements – which I admit that I’m biased against.
The Order has been subject to some controversy, mostly centred around its playing time and its cinematic styling and prevalence of quicktime events and cutscenes.
I have no particular dog in the fight around cinematic styling (it certainly helped elevate Alien Isolation), I primarily care about whether the game and story are good. I can forgive a lot and I enjoyed Space Ace and Dragon’s Lair back in the day. I expect more these days, but have nothing necessarily against cinematic frame rate, film grain or qt events.
When it comes to play time, I do think there’s an issue to answer. My metric for time well spent and value for money is cinema. Locally you can expect to see a two hour film for around £8. I would hope to get at least eight hours from a shooting game (more from an RPG or similar). That means I would look to expect about twelve hours of joy for a cover price of £50, including replay value.
I finished The Order, without rushing, in about 7 hours. That’s about £30 worth of entertainment, sold for nearly twice that.
Here be spoilers.
You are a knight of the order, a tradition carried on since King Arthur’s day and a band of near-immortal knights empowered by the ‘black water’, drunk from the holy grail. You play Sir Galahad (Grayson) a stoic and principled member of the order who progresses through the story from absolute loyalty to questioning everything he’s been taught to believe and has upheld for centuries.
Taking the names of the knights (similarly to the conceit in Kingsman) The Order serves the realm and answers to no-one, concentrating on helping protect the realm and humanity in general against threats both natural and supernatural (rebellion, lycanthropes, ‘bedlamites’, vampires and more).
The Order has absolute authority and autonomy, commands police and soldiers, operates out of a palace and has access to the finest technology of the new age of science present in the game. This includes a diverse group of weapons from automatic pistols (based on the Mauser and the C-93) to automatic rifles, pump action shotguns and more exotic weapons like a thermite rifle, electrical arc gun and a recoilless explosive launcher.
You start with a flashback – or flash forward – where you have betrayed The Order and are sentenced to death. Crippled you make your escape with some difficulty and then flash back a considerable amount of time and back to your more regular duties. The Order are essentially a special operations unit and as you deal with bedlamites, lycanthropes and rebels you slowly uncover a conspiracy at the heart of the United India company that reaches into the heart of The Order itself.
Vampires, werewolves, knights of the realm, it’s all rather derivative – even in the language that’s used (lycans…) and owes more than a little to the Underworld film series, which is unfortunate. It would have been a stronger story, I think, without the supernatural elements which – at this point – are worn thin. It’s possible they could have been elevated, tired concepts can still work if handled well or if they’re aware of themselves, but The Order goes at its material in too po-faced and serious a manner for it to really work here.
Too much goes unexplained and while that can work – if you find out as you’re playing – you don’t find out enough to make proper sense of what’s going on in the game.
Graphically The Order is an astounding feat. The people look real enough that there’s no real uncanny valley feeling, even though sometimes there’s a delay in a character moving out of your way or responding to a cue from a button press to push a cart or give someone a leg up.
The sheer level of graphical fidelity is breathtaking, most especially noteworthy is the way that cloth moves and drapes. The design is perfect.
Oddly, this sheer level of graphical accomplishment sometimes works against the game because the sheer level of graphical detail and realism leads you to expect realism to such a degree that the flaws stick out like sore thumbs. The most glaring of these were the fact that you cast no reflection – leading me to erroneously believe that Galahad was a vampire for a while – and that things fail to explode, shatter or move when you run into them or set off an explosion.
The voice acting is superb and brings real emotion into the characters. The characters look like real people – imperfections and all. The musical score is appropriate and well done. Presentation-wise, this is a brilliant game.
The game breaks down into four separate gameplay styles, one of which isn’t really gameplay.
- Cut-scenes: Sit and listen to the various characters discussing this/that and the other. It would have added a great deal if you’d been able to choose your character’s input and conversational options during these.
- Quick Time Events: Some of these occur during combat (stealth attacks, boss fights, melee). Others occur on their own basis during cut-scenes. Some of these are an improvement on normal QTEs as they’re somewhat forgiving. If you mess up it’s often not instant doom, but a setback you can recover from.
- Cover Shooter: Once the guns are out the game is a cover-shooter, similar in feel to Gears of War, though a bit less bulky/macho. This isn’t bad per se, but the cover spots are obvious and many of the fighting spaces are so tight and constricted you might as well be in melee combat. The different guns are quite fun. The wild disparity in enemy toughness is disconcerting though.
- Exploration: Occasionally you’ll be free to move around and not be in combat. There’s not much in the way of exploration, you’re primarily on rails the whole time with an obvious way to go. While exploring you can find beautifully rendered objects, read newspapers, locate clues etc but nothing that really has that much impact on the game or that would motivate you to search around when you don’t have to. You will find audio recordings, but since you have to interrupt play to listen to them and they have no real bearing on play there’s little reason to do so.
Style: 5 (In terms of graphics, style and technical accomplishment the game is close enough to perfect as to warrant a 5).
Substance: 2 (Too short, derivative story, hidden story).
Overall: 3.5 (Solidly above average, but only dragged there by virtual of graphical and technological accomplishment).
The Order is not a bad game. It’s just not a great game. It doesn’t live up to its hype (similarly to how Watchdogs – an otherwise solid game – drew ire thanks to not living up to its hype). It is, however, a laudable and marvellous technological and graphical achievement which will be the new benchmark for console games from now on.
It is too short, ripping the feeling of having gotten value for money completely away and leaving one dissatisfied and even resentful.
With no plans for DLC we can’t even look forward to a more complete experience further down the line.
If the company takes their criticism to heart and addresses it for a sequel, they could well be on to a truly winning formula but it also remains to be seen how much of a success the game will be or whether the negative reviews have stymied any hope of a better sequel.
Personally, I’d love to see a Dishonoured sequel, rendered in this engine and with Dishonoured’s gameplay. That would be marvellous.
Like many things, this would probably make a better tabletop RPG than a computer game, as things stand.
I mean hell. I’d write the sequel for minimum wage, just to see a better story presented this well.
I hope we see this engine licensed and used for better games.