For anyone following The Order: 1886, it's easy to assume that Ready at Dawn's upcoming action game focuses on story first and gameplay second. After all, just a week before release, most of the game's promotional materials still focus on The Order: 1886's cinematic visuals, its alternate-history backstory, and its steampunk setting. Far less has been said about the gameplay itself, which combines third-person action with interactive cut-scenes.
To a certain extent, the concern is warranted. According to producer Ru Weerasuriya, the game started with a story idea, not a gameplay hook. Many of the decisions made during development - for example, the way that The Order: 1886 uses a "letterboxed" 2.40:1 aspect ratio, limiting the player's view while creating a movie-like affect - were informed by narrative concerns, not mechanical ones. While the game handles well, as seen during hands-on previews, the question remains: how much of The Order is a game, and how much is a glorified movie?
Weerasuriya says that he's aware of players' concerns, and admits that The Order: 1886's unique blend of story and hands-on action might be "jarring" to players. However, Weerasuriya contends that players will be surprised by the amount of control that they have over The Order: 1886's proceedings. While Weerasuriya admits that "we do take control away from you just like other games do for cinematics," he promises that "we give it back to you when you don't expect it sometimes," too.
Ultimately, Weerasuriya's goal is create an experience where players constantly question "whether or not what [they're] looking at is a cinematic or are [they] playing the game," making the whole thing feel seamless. In The Order: 1886, story and gameplay aren't separate. They blend together, creating a single, unified experience.
Or that's the goal, at least. While Weerasuriya says that The Order: 1886 represents "something new," it's hard to tell exactly how fresh The Order: 1886's storytelling techniques really are. After all, the Uncharted series already showed how developers could combine gameplay with a story that'd be at home in a Hollywood blockbuster. Further, The Order's interactive cutscenes don't look all that different from the ubiquitous "quick time events" that have been stuffed into games since they were popularized by Resident Evil 4.
Still, it's safe to say that no game has tried to blend cinematics and gameplay quite as much as The Order: 1886 seems to, and Weerasuriya admits that this 'new' storytelling approach is "gonna be a trial by fire." If it works, however, Weerasuriya thinks the sky's the limit. In his eyes, Ready at Dawn is "just touching the surface" of what the PlayStation 4 is capable of. If audiences accept Weerasuriya's vision, then all bets are off; there's no telling how deep video game storytelling can go.
The Order: 1886 releases February 20, 2015 for the PlayStation 4.