Over the past week, a pack of marauding wolves has descended upon “The Order: 1886.” The ire of these beasts was far worse than that of the half-breed monsters found in the PlayStation 4 exclusive, which released on Feb.20.
I am talking of course about my fellow critics.
We collectively turned on “The Order: 1886” as soon as the review embargo lifted. Forbes’ game section was particularly vicious, with six or so negative stories in the last week. A whirlwind of severe criticism stamped the game, which many of us predicted to be one of the best new titles of the year, with a 65 out of 100 rating on Metacritic.
Many point to its brevity. Initial reports clocked the $60 game in the five-hour range. My first play through lasted about nine hours.
Given the recent saturation of the gaming market with massive, open-ended titles like “Dragon Age: Inquisition” and “Grand Theft Auto V,” I understand the backlash. How can a 100-hour game and a 10-hour game both cost the same? Where is the justice?
Yes, the game is short. Maybe it’s because I am getting old and don’t have as much free time, but I actually enjoyed being able to finish the entire game in a 24-hour window.
I am joining the pack in its criticism for a much more important reason. The game doesn’t make sense — at least as it’s presented to the player.
Players are immediately thrust into an action-packed mission. “The Order: 1886” takes place in an alternate version of London, so I enjoyed that the first goal was to investigate the Jack the Ripper killings. It was the tongue-in-cheek nod to history that I was hoping for out of the new series.
But as I played through the game, I was dumbfounded by just how little “The Order: 1886” took advantage of its diverse and imaginative retelling of British history.
For one thing, it is clear from the first minute that the mystical order you belong to is directly descended from King Arthur’s knights of the round table. The order’s leader is even rumored to have served the great ruler. The first incarnation of the order found the curative Black Water, which is Ready at Dawn’s version of the classic Holy Grail or Fountain of Youth sections of Arthurian myth.
And yet, even with this elaborately spun parallel universe firmly in tow, players never get to see any of it. There are no flashback missions in the main story arc, and I didn’t find any side missions — at all. The game’s extremely rigid gameplay style mirrors the action titles of 20 years ago, not 2015. There is nothing meaningful to do beyond following the main story.
Maybe Sir Galahad, the player character, could gaze into some sort of reflecting pool that allowed the player to then assume the role of an original knight finding the Black Water? Something like that would have gone a long way in establishing who you are, why you are here and how you got there.
Another major flaw in the plot comes in the form of the Marquis de Lafayette. He is a central ally, but he doesn’t join the order until halfway through the game. Joining the order gives the member access to the Black Water, which heals all wounds and slows the aging process. So how can the Marquis de Lafayette, who aided the colonists during the American Revolution in the 1770s, be alive in 1886? He is awfully spry and nimble for a 140-year-old.
I didn’t understand the game’s monsters, either. The half-breeds are not traditional werewolves, as they seem capable of transforming at will. Or maybe they are? Their origin and motives aren’t made clear. The player is just asked to slaughter them across the streets of London.
I also hate that the Warren Zevon song “Werewolves of London” isn’t even gently referenced in “The Order: 1886.” Most of the game is spent chasing werewolves in London. It’s a no-brainer to me. An old-time piano version playing when Galahad enters the brothel would have done nicely.
Vampires also make a random appearance, and they are apparently in league with the half-breeds. Why? What is the nature of this alliance? Traditionally, vampires and werewolves hate each other.
If you look past the vague lump of Swiss cheese that is the plot of “The Order: 1886,” it’s a great game. Breathtaking visuals, an arsenal of great steampunk weapons and quick, fluid combat make for a great experience.
You just have to turn your brain off to enjoy it.