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Since its reveal, Ready at Dawn's The Order: 1886 has been one of my most anticipated games for the PS4. There's just something about its 1800s alternate-history London setting, its inventive weaponry, and its supernatural premise that really resonates with me. I think it's pretty cool that its protagonists title themselves after the knights of Arthurian legend; it's also pretty badass they sometimes fight werewolf things. I can get behind that. The fact that it looks downright incredible is just icing on the cake. Rather, I thought is was the icing--but now I'm wondering if the game's focus on visual quality is the cake itself.
In an interview with GameSpot, Ready at Dawn co-founder Ru Weerasuriya says the drive behind creating The Order: 1886 was to tap into the PS4's hardware potential: "...the onus at the very beginning was to showcase what the PlayStation 4 could do through this game; visually, graphically, technologically." That's fine, to an extent. I think there's a part of most of us that genuinely appreciates insanely detailed visuals. That's partially why we buy PS4s and Xbox Ones in the first place.
But I'd argue that the bigger reason we invest in new consoles is to see what sorts of gameplay experiences they'll offer. Which brings me to the root of my growing concern for The Order: 1886. Every time I see a demo of the game, or hear the developers talk about it, the message is always the same: "Sure is pretty, huh?" It is--but I don't recall hearing much talk about gameplay during any showings of the game.
I got a bit of hands-on time with The Order: 1886 at this year's E3, which you can read about here. Yes, the game is incredibly detailed, and yes, all the story stuff did pique my interest. But the brief segment I played, honestly, was a little boring. To be clear: that's not because The Order is a third-person shooter and pffft-that's-so-2006, or because it takes a more scripted, linear approach to storytelling. I enjoy third-person shooters! I'm ready to dig into a scripted, linear story-heavy game! Plus, I had a blast catching enemies on fire with a Thermite Rifle--it's not the quality of The Order's gameplay that concerns me. My issue is that I rarely have control of the game for more than a few minutes at a time. I want to play, but it wants me to watch.
The same holds true for a separate hands-off E3 demo, in which Galahad--the main character--is chased by one of those aforementioned werewolves. The sequence is intense, and the atmosphere created by the dim lighting in the abandoned hospital setting is spot-on. But again, every couple of minutes, the gameplay gives way to cutscenes; the frequency is jarring.
Now, to be fair, I have no idea how The Order: 1886, as a whole, will play. For all I know, those two E3 demos were selected solely for the purpose of highlighting the game's visual quality; if that's the case, they certainly succeeded. But here's the thing: we're all very aware that Ready at Dawn's first PS4 project is a looker. Point established. But for it to remain one of my most anticipated titles, I really need to start seeing some demos that showcase its strengths as an interactive video game. Incredible graphics won't matter a whole lot if I don't have much control of them as a player.