By Jonathon Dornbush
Updated February 19, 2015 at 02:15 AM EST
  • Video Games

Throughout my time playing The Order: 1886, one question continued to pop into my mind. Whether I was battling werewolves, dashing through the streets of Whitechapel, or repelling down the side of a blimp—all of which sound thrilling but ultimately end up being empty experiences—“Is this really it?”

Surely I was missing something beyond the extended cutscenes that issued a button prompt every now and then, the rote shooting sequences, and occasional newspaper or photo I could pick up and examine. The Order is beautiful to look at—the English locales fully realized in a stunning art design and the characters brought to life with incredible realism. With such attention paid to the details of the world, The Order had to have more to offer.

But it doesn’t offer much more than that. It’s a shame, because The Order presents an intriguing concept with glimmers of promise peppered throughout its story. Rather than capitalizing on any of them, it squanders them for a streamlined experience that is by no means poorly made, but because it aspires to such great heights, its uninspiring gameplay becomes all the more disappointing.

The Order delves into an alternate history of Victorian-era London, where a secret group of Knights has protected the city against forces both human and mythical for centuries. The Knights assume the identities of Knights of the Round Table and other prominent members of Arthurian legend, with Sir Galahad serving as the game’s protagonist. The Order also has access to a life-extending elixir and advanced weaponry that real Victorian-era soldiers would faint at the sight of them.

Throughout the game, Galahad uncovers the mysteries behind a Lycan threat (werewolves, for the mythologically challenged), discovering secrets that could alter not just his own life but the lives of all of those he calls brothers in arms.

Playing out across 16 chapters, The Order relies heavily on scripted scenes where players will occasionally press buttons to advance the action—grabbing a ledge with the triangle button, blocking a punch with circle—as well as engage in several cover-based shoot-outs. And… that’s about it. Sure, there are moments where players can explore the environment as Galahad, but there isn’t actually much to do in those beautiful environments. There may be a photo lying on a table or an audio diary to pick up and listen to, continuing the video game medium’s obsession with baking extra story into snippets of dialogue without utilizing the trope in any interesting manner.

And that is perhaps indicative of the cardinal sin The Order breaks again and again. It has some clever ideas, both in its gameplay and story, but it never applies them in an intriguing way. The anachronistic weapons that employ fire and lightning in unique ways are essentially just flashy one-shot killing machines and little else. The idea of this secret order and its years-long battle is also, inherently, a simply cool concept. But the story never does anything special with the monstrous element, letting a mid-game reveal about the enemies go absolutely to waste. The actual villain is also realized so late in the game that there’s little reason for the player to actually care, as much as there may be for Galahad.

These missteps are echoed in the gameplay, where combat scenarios against the Lycan foes devolve into rote repetition of evading and shooting. I was even able to remain virtually rooted in one spot during each werewolf encounter, merely dodging when I was prompted to and then letting a few bullets fly until the beasts went down.

There are a couple of scenarios that turn into fighting-game style bouts, as Galahad and a foe strafe around each other in an arena. These moments come down to a simple dodge-and-attack pattern that is almost absurdly easy. Battling a giant werewolf should be frightening yet empowering, but instead these scenes felt both underutilized and not fully realized.

Aside from those encounters, and a cover-shooting system that requires more patience than skill, most of the gameplay falls to the button prompts that attempt to meld story and gameplay as one.

There are certainly aspects of The Order’s mix of story with gameplay that do succeed. Galahad is a strong lead who can’t help but worsen his own predicament despite how much he strives to do what’s right. He’s surrounded by a few fellow Knights who play off each other well, creating a believable camaraderie, and for those needing a little more historical grounding, Nikola Tesla is on hand as the Q to Galahad’s Bond.

Occasional stealth missions and chase sequences bring some much needed tension to the game, and memorable locales offer intriguing narrative opportunities. The game occasionally develops an engaging rhythm of combat and story-based action scenes where those button commands feel like more than just a tap of the controller, but that rhythm can rapidly dissipate. The experience includes a few memorable moments and visuals—aside from occasional hitches and the bizarrely repeated animations, the game’s world is a beautiful one that I wanted to explore, but it didn’t have much worth exploring.

If The Order: 1886 had debuted in 2006, it would have felt like a revolution. Its focus on cinematic moments, storytelling, and cover shooting feel unparalleled in a pre-Gears of War and –Uncharted world. But today, nothing about The Order feels particularly fresh or bold.

And that’s not to say a game needs to do something brand new to be fun. It doesn’t—well-designed iteration on an existing idea can be just as exciting. But The Order eschews that ideal for something beautiful yet mundane, initially intriguing yet ultimately hollow. The Order: 1886 is a new title with all the potential to be a game I loved. Instead, it disappoints by delivering an experience that is neither exceptional nor exceptionally bad. Its story may have its moments, but will leave little impact after it’s over.

PlayStation 4

Sony home console, released in 2013. Fourth version of the PlayStation console family. 
  • Video Games