The knights of next-gen
So, first, let’s get to the bad: The Order: 1886 has been delayed until early 2015.
Yes, that’s a disappointing thing. Yes, that now makes one wonder what in the world Sony will have for the PS4 this holiday season beyond a game that was supposed to have been out last holiday season. However, it’s better to give a game extra time if it needs it, than to rush it out when it needs that additional time cooking in the oven—and, as for the latter, let’s hope Sony has some tricks up its sleeves come E3.
Now, the good: The Order is turning out pretty darn cool.
Right from the start, there was a lot to be excited about surrounding the game: interesting premise, brand new IP, time period not often featured in gaming, development studio eager to show what they can do in their first major console project.
Getting a chance to play The Order recently, that excitement holds up. My time with the pre-E3 demo was short—annoyingly short—but it provided a window into some of what Ready at Dawn is trying to do with the world they’re building.
I know one of the first questions many will ask: is The Order pretty? Absolutely. When I think about what I expect from “next-gen” in terms of visuals, this is the point where my expectations start to be fulfilled (for now). There’s a softness to everything—the world, its inhabitants, everything—that makes playing The Order feel like you’re watching a movie unfold instead of a videogame. Obviously that’s helped by the decision to always present the game in 2.40:1 widescreen—a decision I fully support, by the way—but it’s also a product of the graphical style that’s been chosen. Games can and will look better on the new consoles as the days and months pass by, but for now The Order will absolutely be one of the most impressive of the new crop of games in this regard when it hits.
The section of the game we saw was a very quick segment cut from a much larger stage. If I’m remembering my characters (and their locations at the start of the demo) correctly, Grayson and Lafayette are rushing to meet up with Mallory and Isabeau, who find themselves pinned down by enemy soldiers. Once the team regroups, a constable that had been tagging along with Mallory and Isabeau attempts to help turn the tide by rushing out into the open to take aim at their opposition—only to be dropped by a bullet. What started as a gunfight being waged from behind cover becomes a desperate attempt to drag the downed constable to safety, complete with some classic “take out enemies while also taking part in another task” gameplay. Once safely inside a nearby building, the team regroups, as they must deal not only with the realization that their companion didn’t make it, but also that they’re trapped in the small room they’ve taken shelter in. Grayson discovers a way out—a debris pile that can be removed by blowing up some scarified ammo—and it’s back onto the streets of the city for another quick firefight before the demo comes to a close.
During this segment, Ready at Dawn CEO (and The Order director) Ru Weerasuriya points out one of the design philosophies the team is following in the crafting of the game. They’re doing their best to create structures and game spaces that have real-world scale, so that players actually feel like they’re in 1880’s London—and not its videogame equivalent. Weerasuriya points out that this is a rather difficult task, as, typically, locations in games are given scale and scope that are based around gameplay needs, not reality. For The Order, the insides of buildings—such as the one the knights temporarily hold themselves up in—feel more claustrophobic and restrictive, due to that push for a greater sense of realism.
How did playing all of that feel, though? That’s harder to answer, because when you’re handed such a short demo of a product, you’re trying to take so much in in such a small amount of time that you can’t fully appreciate everything you’re experiencing. From what I did get to experience, gameplay feels good, well-crafted, and solid in control. Ducking in and our of cover can work in two ways: soft cover, where your character hides behind the landscape automatically when close enough, and faster, more tactical entering and exiting from cover with the touch of a button. In another element, characters can use Blacksight, a side effect of Black Water, the elixir our heroic knights use (and some might say abuse) to give themselves longevity and superhuman healing abilities. Blacksight, when employed, makes time slow down, allowing for more controlled and less panicked aiming at enemy forces.
Honestly, above anything else, what stood out the most for me when playing The Order was the Thermite Rifle. The default weapon of the demo, the gun’s main ammo actually didn’t kill anyone. Instead, the pellets it shoots explode into cloud of thermite dust. By itself, not so effective in a firefight—but combine it with the rifle’s secondary fire, a flare, and you start to get the picture. Hide behind cover, fill the air around your foes with thermite dust, and then set it (and some poor, unsuspecting saps) ablaze. As that cloud is burning, you can then shoot out additional thermite pellets to help widen the blast radius. Or, conversely, you can shoot out a flare first, and then fill the air with thermite dust.
The thinking behind the Thermite Rifle really feels unique—and it’s just one of the ways it looks like The Order: 1886 will stand out from the rest of the third-person shooter crowd. And, really, if there’s something that genre certainly needs more of, it’s uniqueness.