The Order: 1886 is the best-selling game in the UK right now, ousting Evolve from its position atop the throne. This is despite middling critical reviews which indicated that, yes, the game was gorgeous, and no, the quality of its gameplay didn’t match its visuals.
So now we’re back to that age-old debate: are we still so enamored with a game’s visual fidelity that we’ll overlook its copious flaws and buy it anyway?
Firstly, let’s put this scenario into context; The Order: 1886 has released in a particularly dry period for the video game industry, with February a notoriously barren month for new releases. We’ve seen Evolve, a unique first-person shooter that suffered from disastrous pre-release chatter regarding its DLC policies, and Majora’s Mask 3D and Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, two great 3DS games that were nonetheless never destined to record blockbuster sales. The Order: 1886 was always pegged as being the biggest release of the first quarter of 2015, thanks to its higher marketing budget and Sony’s touting of it as one of their biggest releases of the entire year, and it’s especially easy for it to achieve this feat at a time when there simply isn’t a great deal to choose from right now.
The Order: 1886 beat Evolve from the top of the sales chart, another game lacking the content to warrant its $60 price point, but people bought it because they simply want to play new games.
It was almost inevitable, then, that The Order: 1886 would top the sales chart in the week of its release. This doesn’t indicate just how many copies of the game have been sold and whether it’s achieved sales expectations, nor does it necessarily reflect upon how well it will perform in other regions (though considering the only other relatively big release is Total War: Attila, I’d have to assume it will climb to the top of the US charts), but it does suggest that a game can get by based upon its aesthetics alone, regardless of whether or not it’s as unexceptional and willfully homogeneous as The Order is.
Graphics over gameplay?
It feels like we’re doomed to perpetually have this debate until the end of time (or at the very least, until video games reach the point of true virtual reality and we needn’t concern ourselves over resolution or framerates ever again), but considering how the average gamer will struggle to justify forking out $60 on every big release that is thrown our way, that so many are choosing to plump down their cash for a game that offers very little in the way of replayability and is an altogether lackluster package for its price point is a little odd to say the least.
There’s no denying it looks pretty.
Far be it for me to tell people what they should and shouldn’t be spending their money on, and I also don’t want to wade into the debate of a game’s lengthy runtime also somehow equating to it being immediately worth your money, as I’ve played many a short game that have more than warranted their price of entry, but aside from the copious amounts of cash that have obviously been poured into it in order to make it the beauty pageant winner than it is, it doesn’t exactly do much to convince the player that it’s worth its asking price.
Of course, there are those who will say otherwise (as there always will be), but video games are an expensive hobby and it’s nigh-on impossible to suggest to anyone that The Order is worth sixty big ones, and to not tell them to instead wait for an inevitable price drop or for the game to hit the pre-owned shelves where it is destined to wind up. So why did so many people opt to overlook the critical consensus and throw down their cash for the game? Was it a case of them really being that overwhelmed by the game’s notable aesthetic qualities that they decided to overlook its proposed failings as a video game?
The year of no games
2014 was a dour year for video games. Being the PS4 and Xbox One’s first 365 days on sale, only the occasional strong release and first-party Wii U title gained any real traction. Owners of new consoles want new games, and The Order: 1886 is very much a new game. People want to justify their purchasing of an expensive console with games to play on said console, and there is no fault in that.
2014 was a poor year for new releases, and The Order has proved to be a big-budget stopgap.
So while The Order: 1886 has a multitude of problems as a video game, it has released at a point where people are so eager to lap up anything that comes their way that it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. If it were to have released in a year in which Sony’s big-hitters began taking center stage, I believe it’s practically inarguable that it wouldn’t have managed to attain the same degree of coverage and incited the same level of discussion as it has. Yes, a case can be made for people simply wanting to see pretty things on their powerful new console, but I believe The Order‘s relative success isn’t due to its graphics alone, but is rather a testament to just how few games Sony has given PS4 owners to play.
People are clamoring for software, and The Order was an alluring option with its come-hither eyes and uncanny facial animations. It’s a beautiful but shallow experience, which inveigled those were desperate for something new to play. So is it an example of how people will buy any game if it looks pretty enough? In my opinion, no. It’s an example of how people will buy any game if they’ve experienced as elongated a drought of exciting software releases as PS4 owners have.