This is why The Order: 1886 is almost a great game
The Order: 1886, Ready At Dawn’s gothic shooter, isn’t very good. It’s simply bad by most accounts. But there are bad games and there are bad games that are so close to being good. The Order: 1886 is one of the latter, a game that takes a solid foundation and flubs the execution.
There’s a lot of problems with The Order: 1886, some fuzzier than others. But there are two, big, specific problems that are the reason why it’s being called boring and why its ending is getting laughed at. So, let’s look at what went wrong.
1. The combat encounters
Disclaimer: this argument may only apply to normal difficulty, but because that’s what the majority of people play, it’s worth discussing.
The Order: 1886’s firefights are stale because half the time the arenas are restrictively designed and the other half of the time the enemy types don’t push you to make use of the arenas. There’s rarely a reason to not sit behind the same piece of cover you start with and pick off enemies until they stop coming. Many of the fights place you directly opposite the enemies in a rectangular space and never give you incentive to move. You shoot straight forward, which is why people liken it to a shooting gallery. And when there is a complex space to navigate, where enemies can flank you and you can flank them, the game doesn’t put enough pressure on you to leave a safe position once you’ve found one.
Which is sad, because it has the tools to do so with its various enemy types. The most effective is the powerful shotgun guy, who will push forward with heavy armor and get you to either circle him or back up. In bigger rooms, the shotgun guy is a satisfying enemy to fight because you have to catch him from a different angle than every other enemy or else you’ll quickly die. The shotgun guy gets you to think about positioning rather than just deciding when to duck down behind cover and reload. He forces you to prioritize him first because of his potency, which is refreshing since the rest of the game is about shooting whoever is closest to you. The problem is, The Order: 1886 will often place a shotgun guy in a room where you have no way to maneuver around him, and, as a result, the encounter becomes frustrating. He becomes a way to raise the tension of the fight by pure difficulty, not strategy, and ultimately, symbolizes how the all of the enemy types in this game are used as obstacles not puzzles.
2. That ending
Spoilers follow for the whole of The Order: 1886’s story.
The Order: 1886 has a surprisingly functional story … all the way until the end. It’s full of cliches, but they’re not the real reason why it doesn’t work. It fails for one pretty simple reason: we don’t know who the werewolves are.
It’s easy to criticize the ending for trying to shove Meaning down your throat with a werewolf character talking about how he and Galahad aren’t that different and that we all fight for something we believe in. But the problem isn’t the whole story, the problem is we can’t empathize at all with the werewolves. The game completely skips why they slaughter people, so there’s no way we can understand the character at the end when he tries to compare Galahad to himself. It’s especially odd considering the second half of the game takes its time showing you what the rebels want and gets you to see that they aren’t just rebellious killers, that they aren’t really that different from Galahad.
The rest of the game builds to this argument about seeing the flaws in people ruthlessly fighting for what they believe in when you look at it from an opposing perspective. It does this by showing how easy it is for Galahad to break The Order’s rules and kill even his own men just to stop the half-breeds, and how he snaps when someone he cares about, his mentor, is killed by rebels. He’s not a good guy and, although I think it could do a lot more things to make the point clear, it’s obvious that the game wants you to see this. That’s why when it tries to end with a powerful statement to get Galahad to face this similarity between him and the groups he is supposed to despise head-on, it has all the potential to be good but completely misses the point because of who is saying it. It almost gets it. It’s so close that I wonder if a part of the story was cut. It just feels too confident and out-of-place to not be some leftover, but we’ll probably never know.