The Order 1886: Graphics Over Gameplay?

The Order: 1886 is, at least in this time prior to E3 2014, one of the very few AAA first party PlayStation 4 games from Sony that we are aware of. Though hopefully Sony will announce some more first party PS4 software at their E3 conference, as of right now The Order is really the only major exclusive for PlayStation 4 owners to look forward to in the near future. Being developed by Ready at Dawn, the studio responsible for the excellent PSP God of War games, The Order warrants attention due to the developer’s impressive pedigree as well as the game’s interesting premise. However, between some recent comments from the developers and somewhat generic looking gameplay, many are wondering if The Order can meet gamers’ high expectations.

If there is one aspect of The Order that is undeniably impressive it is definitely the visuals. Footage of the game in action has been scarce since it was first announced last year, but what we have seen looks incredibly sharp. The environments, animations, and especially the character models look simply amazing, and the game will likely be among the most visually impressive games on any system if this is indeed how the final product looks. However, while the focus of pre-release information has been squarely on the game’s impressive visuals, the gameplay hasn’t been a major talking point.

In a very brief live stream Sony recently showed off a few minutes of gameplay, and to say it was on the generic side is being kind. The game appears to be a very standard cover based third person shooter without much to distinguish itself from the many games of this type we’ve seen since Gears of War popularized the genre back in 2006. This footage consisted mostly of hiding behind short walls or pillars and popping out to shoot at enemies who were also hiding behind things, which is absolutely nothing new. This somewhat underwhelming gameplay is certainly a reason for concern, but not as much as some recent comments from a member of the development team.

Dana Jan, who is the game director on The Order, was recently asked in an interview with CVG what the team was most focused on between visuals, gameplay, and story, and this is how he responded:

“I think story and visuals are very high. Gameplay is something that… it’s a game, we make games, we can’t get around it. We love games, but we also love telling stories, so I think story is always going to be at the top because it’s what we start with. It’s at the top of the pyramid and everything else supports that. I think it’d be more challenging to make a game for the gameplay’s sake, then try to make a story that fits in there.”

Many people are taking this comment to mean that the development is ignoring gameplay for the sake of the story, and given the generic look of the gameplay in action that we’ve seen to this point, that conclusion isn’t exactly a stretch. Still, with the game’s recent delay putting it close to a year away, it’s certainly too early to jump to conclusions based on a few minutes of video and one comment from a developer.

Setting aside these concerns for a moment, everything else we’ve seen and learned about the game seems very promising. The game’s mix of Victorian Era historical fiction, Arthurian Mythology, steam punk, and fantasy is just brimming with potential. Several of these elements are largely unexplored in video game fiction on their own, but combining them all together has the potential to create something entirely unique and refreshingly original. The game has the potential to craft a world like nothing players have ever experienced before, which is a great first step towards telling an engaging story.

Even the gameplay situation may not be as dire as it seems. With so much still unknown about the game’s mechanics at this point, there is still the possibility that the game does feature more substance than it currently appears. One of the things we do know a bit about is the game’s arsenal, which has the potential to be a strong point in the gameplay’s favor. They have shared with us some of the unique steam punk/fantasy weapons, such as the Thermite Rifle, which some individuals that have gotten hands on time with the game have described as something you might expect from Insomniac, which is certainly high praise. However, even if the gameplay never reveals itself to be anything more than a standard Gears of War-like cover shooter, I don’t think that means the game is doomed to mediocrity.

If there is one game that immediately comes to mind as a title that overcame generic gameplay and was able to rise to greatness anyway, it is Spec Ops: The Line. That game was a completely generic cover based third person shooter with not a single element of the gameplay being even remotely new or original. However, the game’s gripping story and solid presentation helped it rise above gameplay which is most accurate described as “serviceable.” The saving grace for Spec Ops was that, though generic and somewhat rote, the gameplay at the very least controlled well and was more or less an adequate implementation of this sort of combat system; it wasn’t actively bad.

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Now, a situation similar to Spec Ops is by no means the ideal scenario for The Order, but it also wouldn’t be the worst thing. Ideally the game will have great gameplay as well as great visuals and an interesting story, but things would certainly have to be improved upon what’s been show so far for that to be the case. Of course, if the gameplay does end up being as standard as what we’ve seen, the setting and story have to be excellent to keep it from mediocrity. If The Order: 1866 ends up being a game with generic, but competently executed, gameplay accompanied by an interesting setting, engaging story and outstanding visuals, I could certainly see it becoming a creative success.