1v1 Me Bro! is a series in which I compare two (somewhat similar) games in an attempt to decide which is more worth your time.
In 2004 a group of former LucasArts employees banded together to create a company called Telltale Games. Their early years were mostly split between working on Sam & Max and lukewarm video game adaptations of the television show CSI. While appreciated by critics, Sam & Max wasn’t exactly a cash cow, but by being Telltale’s first episodic release the series successfully laid the ground work for big things to come. 2011 saw the release of Telltale’s series based on the popular Back to the Future film franchise, which led to them gaining some steam, but it wasn’t until 2012, and the release of their Walking Dead series, that Telltale became a household name for gamers across the globe. Since then Telltale has been signing contracts to develop games based on some of the hottest intellectual properties out there, including Game of Thrones, Minecraft, and even Batman.
Telltale successfully resurrected the near dead adventure genre, and put their own distinct fingerprint on it in the process. Their work has clearly been inspired by LucasArts classics such as Day of the Tentacle and Grim Fandango, but with nearly all puzzle solving and exploration aspects removed in favor of dialog trees and a heavy reliance on narrative. Using said dialog trees, Telltale’s games present the player with a variety of choices throughout their quest, similar to a “choose your own adventure” novel, which puts the power of influencing the game’s direction directly in the hands of the player. Since the release of The Walking Dead Episode 1 critics have been enamored with these games, showering them with praise. With that said, I could have chosen practically any of Telltale’s recent titles for the purpose of this article, but I’ve chosen The Wolf Among Us, mostly due to the wolf theme that very loosely connects it to the game I’m comparing it to…
It’s June 10th 2013, thousands of gamers have traveled to Los Angeles in person, and millions more are watching from home to witness Sony’s unveiling of the PlayStation 4. The console is shown, the price is announced, and the crowd cheers as they eagerly await the games. Knack looks destined to fail, Killzone looks alright, Infamous Second Son impresses, but perhaps the most appealing new game revealed is The Order 1886. A cool, retro, steampunk, sci-fi setting, eye-catching weapons, interesting characters, and werewolves, what more could you ask for?
As the game’s release date neared, fans began to worry. While every glimpse we got of the game looked fantastic from a technical standpoint, developer Ready at Dawn refused to show lengthy gameplay sections, leading many to have doubts about how the game actually held up outside of cut scenes. How bad could it be though? Sony Santa Monica, the team behind the God of War franchise, was helping with The Order’s development, leaving hopeful fans with some reassurance. But, sure enough, when February 20th 2015 rolled around journalists were not kind. The Order 1886 was heavily criticized, a huge negative stigma surrounds the game even now, to the point where if you hear the game mentioned, it’s most likely as a punch line or as a point of comparison to other sub-par game releases.
After reading and watching dozens of reviews, the main knocks against The Order 1886 are as follows:
- Heavy reliance on QTEs (Quick Time Events)
- Lack of gameplay / generic gameplay
- Extremely linear
- Next to no replay value
- It’s a very short experience
Time to compare and contrast.
Does The Order 1886 have too many QTEs? Hell yes it does, they’re essentially one of the game’s core mechanics. The biggest let down of the entire experience is the fact that the boss battles and the encounters with werewolves are nothing more than extremely formulaic quick time events. They’re boring, uninspired, and frustratingly over abundant. A light sprinkling of QTEs is passable, but The Order uses them as a crutch to keep itself afloat. Funnily enough, the exact same thing could be said about The Wolf Among Us (and all of Telltales other recent titles as well). The Wolf Among Us has QTEs in every single scene that has any form of action, resulting in the same sense of repetitious tedium found in The Order. But there is a key difference: in The Order it actually feels as though there’s something at stake when a QTE occurs, as failure often results in a game over. In The Wolf Among Us most scenes will play out the exact same way whether the player succeeds, fails, or doesn’t even enter a command during a QTE, which leaves the player’s involvement feeling very inconsequential to the experience.
Aside from quick time events, what is there to do in The Order 1886? Well, you’ll find yourself roaming around linear environments, you’ll find a newspaper or photograph to inspect in every second or third room, and once in a while you’ll find an audio log. These roaming sessions are typically book-ended by cinematic cut scenes or a quick shootout. The Order’s shooting mechanics are similar to Gears of War’s stop-and-pop style, except the enemy A.I. is abysmal and the environmental design is lackluster. With that said, I still found myself enjoying the game’s shooting simply because every single gun in the game (and there are a good number of them) is fun to use. The most basic pistols and bolt-action rifles look, feel, and sound fantastic, making them extremely satisfying to fire. Aside from the standard fare the game also features some unique weaponry, most of which has a sci-fi twist to it. The assortment of weapons, the style each of them possesses, and the satisfaction of using them nearly made me think I was playing a game developed by Insomniac. Yes, the game feels generic with its basic cover system and shoe-horned in stealth mechanics, and it is painfully restricting in how it limits the player in terms of exploration, but at least the guns pack a wallop.
Aside from quick time events, what is there to do in The Wolf Among Us? Well, you’ll find yourself roaming around linear environments, hovering your cursor over an object, and pressing a button. Most rooms you’re placed in are extremely small, and the bigger rooms have giant invisible walls which prevent investigation beyond the tiny space you’re limited to. As mentioned earlier, Telltale’s recent games are devoid of puzzles or exploration. The game does very little in terms of involving the player, which personally led me to feel like I was turning the pages of a graphic novel rather than playing a game. The most involved you’ll be is during dialog sequences, but even then, most decisions you make will yield nearly identical responses from the person you’re speaking with, again making your involvement seem unnecessary. Similar to how The Order 1886 feels like a watered down Uncharted game, The Wolf Among Us often feels like a hollowed out Secret of Monkey Island.
According to HowLongToBeat.com the average player can complete The Wolf Among Us in 8.5 hours, whereas The Order 1886 clocks in at 7. Pretty similar numbers, but is one game more replayable than the other? Unless your infatuated with its backdrop, The Order is a one-and-done experience. On the other hand, Telltale’s marketing department will tell you that the branching dialog options make multiple playthroughs of The Wolf Among Us a must, but my experiences say otherwise. There was one section in particular during The Wolf Among Us that I thought could be altered dramatically if I had chosen to side with a different character earlier in the game. Upon replaying the chapters, I was disappointed to find out that the sequence played out the exact same way, regardless of my choices. I also had this same issue with several sequences in Telltale’s Game of Thrones, which prompted me to go to Reddit and have a chat with some of Telltale’s diehard fans. Most people I spoke with feel that players should play through each chapter only once, as multiple play sessions quickly remove the illusion that your choices have any meaningful impact on the game’s flow. So much for replayability.
Considering all the negativity I’ve spewed so far in this article, it’s easy to forget that The Wolf Among Us is actually a well regarded game. Very well regarded actually, with IGN giving three of its five chapters scores of 9/10 or higher. So what exactly is the game praised for? The general consensus is that the game’s strongest attributes are its writing, story, presentation, and character development. I mostly agree with those assessments, as the game does have a diverse cast of interesting characters, and its murder mystery plot is easy to get captivated by. The game’s concept and world is fantastic, but that’s thanks to the source material (Bill Willingham’s Fables). If there’s one positive thing I can say about the game’s dialog trees, it’s that they give the player the freedom to mold sheriff Bigby Wolf to their liking by making him crass, caring, or a bit of both. The writing is strong, and for the most part the delivery is on point, but some of the voice acting is spotty, and often the transition between selecting a dialog option and Bigby delivering the line isn’t as smooth as possible. The game has a beautiful art style, and aside from the occasional muddy texture in the environment, it looks pretty good. Unfortunately, there are technical issues which plague the game, most notably the recurring frame rate drops. After playing The Walking Dead on PC, Game of Thrones on PS4, and now The Wolf Among Us on the Xbox One, I’m very disappointed that my experiences with all three games, on all three platforms, suffered from the same frame rate issues. Character movement is also stiff and somewhat unresponsive, which detracts from the overall experience. All-in-all the game’s presentation and narrative are strong, but the funny thing is that when compared to The Order 1886, The Wolf Among Us is actually trumped in these regards.
The Order does an incredible job of creating a fantastical yet grounded world to surround its narrative. Ready At Dawn created a main cast of four characters who are all distinctly unique, and did so without making their differentiating characteristics purely physical or simple class based variation that we so often see. In terms of its plot, I’d describe it as a slow burn, but it’s ambiguous and quite interesting the whole way though. One of my biggest critiques of the game is how bipolar it is in how it treats the player. On one hand it treats us like a morons by constantly giving on-screen instructions on how to do basic things, even if we’ve done them a dozen times already. But on the other hand, in terms of its narrative, it expects the player to pay the utmost attention. The game opens in medias res, and as we’re introduced to characters we’re given little immediate context as to who they are, what their position is, or how the world around them operates. Each of the four main characters has their actual name, a nickname, and a codename, and they freely use all three in conversation, making the opening chapters hard to follow. It’s like watching the first couple episodes of The Wire for the first time, it’s hard to keep track of all the players and their roles. But, just like The Wire, after giving it some time, things start to click. The playable character, Sir Galahad, goes though an enjoyable and believable arc that just left me wanting more of him. Ready at Dawn doles out interesting plot points evenly throughout the game, making almost every cut scene enjoyable to watch. The game does end too quickly, and many plot threads are left without resolution, but it’s clear by its ending that it was meant to have at least one sequel. Everything oozes with polish, and not just in a technical standpoint, but from a lore perspective as well. Speaking of the technical side of things, the game is simply a marvel to behold. It’s one of the greatest looking console games ever crafted, and it runs flawlessly.
To quote IGN, “The basic conflict at the heart of The Order: 1886 is that considerations for a cinematic approach are prioritized above the needs of basic gameplay”. I couldn’t agree more; The Order puts presentation and narrative above all else, resulting in a lackluster gameplay experience, but The Wolf Among Us has all the same faults, yet isn’t judged as harshly. Yes, The Order 1886 is a short lived, linear, QTE filled extravaganza, but The Wolf Among Us commits the same sins to an even larger degree. And the areas in which The Wolf Among Us excels, The Order: 1886 shines evens brighter.
So why does one game get a pass, while the other is flogged in the streets? Is it because people expect less from an adventure game than they do from a third person shooter? Does the genre associated with a game somehow grant leniency towards mediocrity? Is it because one game launched with a $59.99 price tag while the other could be had for $25~? Does lowering the price of a game automatically grant it a few free credits on the ten-point scale? What about now, with The Order being cheaper than The Wolf Among Us, should review scores be adjusted accordingly? I can’t tell you why the general opinion is that one of these games is great while the other is considered average-at-best, but I can tell you that expectations, genre, and price should have no bearing on the final score given by a professional journalist.
Truth be told, I agree with the consensus on The Order 1886. Despite enjoying the game, it is deeply flawed, and I’d score it somewhere between a 5.5 and a 6. Where I’ll go against the grain is in my judgment of The Wolf Among Us, which I’d score around a 5. It’s truly a shame that games media, and gamers in general, tend to shy away from anything scored lower than a 7.5, because both of these games, average as they may be, are still enjoyable experiences. The negativity surrounding The Order 1886, perpetuated by silly rumors like “the game can be completed in 2 hours”, gave it a horrible reputation before the game was even available for purchase, and as a result, not many ever gave the game a fair chance. Ironically, I think fans of The Wolf Among Us are the exact kind of people who’d appreciate The Order’s focus on top notch presentation and world building. If cinematic / story driven games are your thing, give Sir Galahad and his fellow Knights a chance, they may surprise you.
– Matt De Azevedo