I bought The Order|1886 out of sheer contrariness. It was a game that suffered quite a bit of derision, primarily because a game walkthrough video was released just before the game was set to be released. The video clocked about 5 hours of gameplay.
After 100+ hours of Dragon Age Inquisition (a game I have yet to review, I know, but I did write one for Speltidningen Fenix), a game clocking in on 5 hours would do me good, except it was longer than five hours. That, if anything, is a reminder to check your sources.
The Order|1886 was created by Ready At Dawn exclusively for the PS4, and booting the game up, I can see why. The game is absolutely astoundingly beautiful. I can taste the copper in the air when there’s bloodshed. I can smell Galahad’s hair*. The grit and grime of this world is excellently rendered. So are the characters and the facial expressions.
The Order is set in winter 1886, in a steampunk neo-Victorian London. The city becomes a backdrop for the Order’s comings and goings, and the Order is nothing less than the surviving Knights of the Round Table. You know, Arthurian fame and all that.
Our protagonist in the game is sir Galahad, also known as Grayson, the third knight to carry that title. The knighthood comes with responsibilities towards the Realm of course, but also with the healing power of the Grail, something known in the game as Blackwater. Immortality is not out of the grasp of the knights, but they do lead violent lives, something pointed out more than once.
Sir Galahad is accompanied by General Lafayette, “the most American Frenchman I know.” who, to offset Galahad’s principled personality, is a bit of a cad. In the entourage can also be found the aging but still competent Sir Perceval (a.k.a. Sebastien Malory), and the much younger and almost irreverent Lady Igraine (a.k.a. Isabeu D’Argyll). As the game progresses Galahad teams up with each of them for different missions, and I think it’s fair to say that all of them are quite competent in their own way.
As the game begins, I’m dropped into the middle of some nasty torture. It becomes apparent fairly soon that something has pitted Galahad against the rest of his order. It’s a very dramatic start to the game, and it just gets better. At least according to me.
Unlike many others who have written about the game, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I think it helps to know what you’re getting into when you start playing. Yes, it is incredibly linear. Yes, it sometimes suffers from long QTE sequences, and yes, unless you really like the story or some other aspect of the game, there is little replayability value in the game. So what is it** that is so great about this game that I would play it more than once?
First of all, the main protagonist, Sir Galahad is a man after my own tastes. He is principled, loyal and honest. His reactions and decisions are so well in tune with my own that I have a hard time imagining how I could have played the game any differently. This is the first time I feel this way about a male protagonists, and I’ve been playing for ages, so that’s saying something.
Secondly, the story is played straight with a serious tone of voice that suits the setting well. And it’s actually a pretty good story. Certainly better than some of the other dross out there.*** There are a few twists and turns, and I can’t say that I don’t see them coming, but to me it is still perfectly believable that the solid, trusting and honorable Galahad didn’t. He is after all “the perfect knight”. An embodiment of honor, trust and purity. No wonder then that he holds his peers up to the same standard, only to be predictably betrayed by man’s base nature.
Thirdly, there are moments in the game when the incredible weight of Galahad’s decisions come crashing down all around him. Those moments are worth waiting and playing for. The angst encompassed in one gunshot is massive, and the emotional reward equally great, although exactly what those emotions are I will leave unsaid. These are the moments when the game shows its potential.
Fourth, I have rarely encountered a game with a male protagonist and all the dreadfulness that seem to be staple ware in games nowadays that treats the subject with indifference, if not distaste. And a bit of humor. Yes, there is a whorehouse, and yes you get to see breasts (or one at any rate. Normal sized! Wohoo!) but it is handled in a non gratuitous manner, and if you keep your eyes open you’ll note that only men are fully naked in the game. This may not seem like such a big deal, but to me it is revolutionary.
This is a game set in neo-Victorian London. It is a time in real history in which women were expected to stay at home and care for the household. In this, for women, repressive environment it would have been all too easy to dismiss women in the game with the ever touted and long since debunked**** argument of historical correctness. But not Ready At Dawn. Instead, they give us not one but three absolutely kick ass women with their own minds made up, as concerned with the state of the nation as the men in the game and determined to do something about it. This game actually passes the Bechdel test with flying colors. Not that impressive if we stick to the test, but a lot more impressive when considering that many games don’t have women at all. Or if they do, not more than one.
Everything in the game is presented in a calm and matter of fact tone of voice, which lends credence to all of the game, including women who are competent without being objectified. To me, this is the main draw of the game and a victory for me as a “social justice warrior”. This is what I want. This no nonsense approach to women characters and to some extent to people of color (although, admittedly, it could have done better in that area. It’s a very white game overall.) is simple, beautiful and apparently something other developers have a really hard time accomplishing. As in a really, really, really hard time. Apart from Bioware, of course.
Another point of attraction, I must admit, is Galahad himself and his relationship to these women. I see nothing but respect (and perhaps a bit of exasperation when dealing with Isabeu’s veiled references to a marriage that is obviously not on the table, but still hovers like a specter above Isabeu’s and Grayson’s relationship) in his dealings with the women in this game.
Considering that this is one of very few triple-A games***** with a male protagonist I’ve played for more than an hour unless I had to, is saying something. Even if what it is saying is that I have a peculiar taste in games. I have however finished The Order (voluntarily), just as I finish every Bioware game ever made, the Diablo series and Kingdoms of Amalur: the Reckoning, but those are all “choose your own protagonist” games.
The drawbacks with The Order|1886 is that it is short, the controls and QTEs at times feel clunky and slow and there are storylines that are left unfinished. There are no real replay values in the game, apart from reliving the story and possibly getting more trophies. To me, these issues are not even close to decreasing my enjoyment of the game, but you should be aware of them. The linear nature of the game may also prove to be trying for some, but the length of the game (about 8 – 10 hours) offsets that issue nicely.
My hopes are that additional DLC will be released to the game expanding on the story. From my twitter feed I have come to understand that this isn’t an opinion universally shared.
Four half-breeds of five possible.
P.S. In the interest of full disclosure I may have developed a huge crush on Galahad. Possibly caused by his impressive facial hair.
P.S. 2 In the interest of total disclosure, I actually like the fact that Galahad gets his ass kicked on several occasions. It proves he’s not superhuman. And yes, he still manages to be attractive.
* I’ll get to that later, but yes, I do have something to tell you all about Galahad…
** Apart from that thing about Galahad that I’ll get back to.
*** There’s no avenging ones family for one. Very refreshing, if you ask me.
**** Usually with arguments along the lines of “there are dragons and magic, but no women?”
***** Uncharted, Assassins Creed, Max Payne, Dead Space, Red Dead Redemption etc etc etc….