Sony may be lousy with well-reviewed, hardware-pushing exclusives in 2018, but that was far from the case some years ago. In fact, in the early days of the eighth console generation, the tech industry titan was encountering a bit of trouble moving units out the door. That is not to say that their console sold poorly—the PS4 is famous for outpacing Microsoft’s most recent console two-to-one in overall sales—it simply lacked a truly killer app, a reason for on-the-fence consumers to move on from the PlayStation 3.
In terms of games, Sony’s initial first-party showing seldom justified the purchase of an entirely new console, and titles like Killzone: Shadow Fall, Knack, and Driveclub did little to persuade consumers to ditch the PS3. Given that Microsoft was spending its time mired in numerous self-made controversies and Nintendo was desperately clinging to the fast-fading lifespan of their Wii U, the title of next-gen victor always seemed to linger just within Sony’s reach.
And reach it they eventually would: many must-play eighth-gen console exclusives like Spider-Man, God of War, and Horizon: Zero Dawn all seem to have landed on Sony’s platform. What’s more, hotly-anticipated upcoming releases like The Last of Us Part II and Death Stranding have been putting Microsoft’s lackluster list of first-party offerings to shame, and this trend grows more obvious with each Crackdown 3 delay.
Back in 2013, nobody was quite sure just how the new console generation would play out, and, at that point, the exclusivity of some upcoming titles may well have defined the hardware on which gamers would play. Enter The Order 1886, a game seemingly on thin ice from the very beginning thanks to its development team’s relative lack of experience. Ready at Dawn, a studio which had long operated in service of Sony, was only known for their PSP iterations of the Jak and Daxter and God of War games, and many were skeptical as to how their games’ might fare on a more stationary console.
The brief clips shown off at 2013’s E3 conference managed to stir up the PlayStation faithful and elicit a bit of excitement in console early adopters whom had, up until that point, felt slightly spurned. That said, when the game finally launched nearly two years later, it was almost entirely overlooked. It received lukewarm reviews from a disinterested group of critics, and it quickly fell by the wayside as gamers began to anticipate more enthralling releases.
What Went Wrong?
Though it has a relatively mediocre Metascore of 68, Metacritic’s data shows that user reviews for the title are far-and-away more positive than those left by official critics. Could it have been that The Order 1886 was actually a great experience ruined by a set of dismissive, quick-to-judge detractors? The answer to that question is obviously subjective, though there are seems to have been a common set of complaints which a fresh take on the title may alleviate.
First and foremost, The Order 1886 was faulted for having the audacity to charge triple-A top dollar for an experience which could, on average, be beaten in five to six hours. At a glance, that does seem like a pretty shaky proposition, as plenty of comparable titles offer dozens, if not hundreds of hours of gameplay. The root issue here is that The Order put an incredible emphasis on narrative while downplaying any meaningful interactivity: it feels, in many ways, like a movie in which audience members are sometimes allowed to take control and shoot some enemies. To some, that prospect may be totally unappealing, but narrative-focused success stories like Detroit: Become Human and Until Dawn have proven that there is a viable market for games which emphasize story over gameplay. The latter title in particular is scarcely longer than Order, and it may be sensible to assume that some consumers could be willing to spend a bit more for slightly unorthodox, niche experiences.
On that note, The Order 1886 weaves an interesting and unique steampunk tale concerning the nearly-immortal remnants of Sir Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table in their never-ending quest to rid the world of a species of vampiric lycanthropes they refer to as “half-breeds” or “lycans.” A story of loyalty, betrayal, and peril set against a backdrop of a technologically advanced Victorian London, Ready at Dawn deserves at least a few points for creative story-boarding.
One irrefutable issue with the game, however, is that Ready at Dawn seems to have sewn the fabric of gameplay together in such a way as to make broad chunks of playtime feel like little more than tutorial missions: on-screen prompts and dumbed-down mechanic familiarization scenarios litter the entirety of the campaign, and the player ends up feeling strung along by the hand through the whole experience. The game quite literally takes a moment to explain basic gunplay features like reloading and cover shooting, features with which all but the greenest gamers should be familiar. Major swaths of in-game time are spent watching cutscenes, and it all amounts to such an incredible pity: just as the player is truly set free to wreak havoc and take on the Lycan horde, the credits role.
Is It Worth Replaying in 2018?
Despite the aforementioned avalanche of professional criticism hurled at the title, one aspect seems to receive unanimous praise: this game is visually stunning. The gritty subway sections and harrowing underground tunnels feel authentically lifelike, and the streets of London can feel, at times, almost photo-realistic. Some have complained that all of this amounts to little more than a glorified tech demo, and, while this argument may hold some water, The Order 1886 still stands as a magnificent graphical benchmark.
Marketing may have been partially to blame for the game’s critical failure, as early advertisements seemed to bill it as something more akin to the grand sweeping Gears of War franchise when, in reality, it was little more than a watered down, re-skinned Call of Duty campaign—right down to the simplistic gunplay and plot ripped almost entirely from Modern Warfare 2. The Order 1886 is far from a bad game, though it may have seemed extraordinarily underwhelming if purchased for a full sixty dollars. Today, Ready at Dawn’s PS4 exclusive can be found littering used-game shelves and overflowing clearance bins in stores the world over, and, for an asking price of ten to fifteen bucks, it is a more than worthwhile title in 2018.