In what conventional wisdom and the wrath of Metacritic could assure me was going to be a huge mistake, I pressed the tiny gumball button on my slightly battered PlayStation 4 controller to awaken it to life. After a deep breath and maybe the longest blink I could subconsciously muster, I pressed the X button, and said “yes, Order: 1886. I choose you.
I played through it and found that, yes, The Order is not a very good videogame. In fact, I would call it just a step above “steaming, dripping pile.” But, by God, I finished it; somehow willing my way through not unlike completing a prison sentence for a crime I didn’t commit. The common cultural narrative surrounding this game, I found, was right all along. But I did it. A conscious choice. Part of me knew that going into it, that odds were long that I would like this game, and as a man closer to 40 than he is to 30 and new father with all of the responsibilities that comes with it, I did it anyway.
But why? I’m still asking myself this now. As I played through it, though, using what little quiet moments I have between rearing a child, working a 9-5, and sharing the TV with my significant other for something that society largely informed me was only going to rank as a “meh,” I was beginning to find answers.
And the answers, they frighten me.
Step 1: Maybe it wasn’t so bad (Denial)
The first few hours of the game were certainly what we’d call the low-hanging fruit of denial. To be sure, I have taste. At least, I’d like to think that I do. And history has shown over and over again that there’s always something that slips through the ephemera of that moment in time when a game was reviewed critically to become a cult classic; the Earthbounds and Niers of the world. Like a cheap concert or local food when traveling, I’m of the mind that I’ll try anything once, even if it’s lousy with screaming men sporting curious facial hair.
The premise of the game isn’t bad, either, with the Knights of the Round Table and the werewolves and the Victorian Londons and the Teslas and the science guns and stuff. I mean, things go downhill pretty quickly after the many early encounters with antiquated Quick Time Events, but there might be something salvageable from the tepid shooting of this game and weak melee attacks. There may even be a good game under this patina of noble machismo that may be varnished off as this thing goes onward.
But it’s not, and it doesn’t. As the last glacial physical attack ends and my mustachioed Galahad is again gunned down (because he can’t just stab a guy and get back behind the box), I am reminded that I am old, and should know better, and have been burned so many times before. Then I get pissed.
Step 2: I am a snob (Anger)
There are several videogames that I hate. Like, hate hate, a frothing, snarling, revenge-movie kind of hate. But I finished those games. I wanted to see their credits roll and silently nod to myself that I won’t be conquered, no matter how clichéd, or shallow, or broken the experience might be. The few games on that list, to be fair, were much worse than The Order, but as the mid-game was nearing and very little about it was evolving, my stomach began to knot and my brow was starting to affix in a Charles Bronson sort of furrow.
Was this anger misdirected, though? Am I simply too full of myself and my own level of gaming pretense that The Order was somehow beneath me (actually, it is)? I am not bound to this thing, this weaksauce shooting gallery, so why must I bludgeon my way through it? Am I more angry at this game, which is bad, but not so bad, really, or should I be directing this rage inward? I know that I could be playing something objectively better, right? Or maybe I should drop what I’m doing and move on to something newer. Maybe I should take another look in the mirror. Maybe I’m just a snob.
Step 3: I need to stop buying so many videogames (Bargaining)
The blight of gaming is its bloat, as anyone with a Steam account can attest. The problem with the smorgasbord, though, is that the whole feast won’t be to your liking, which, yes, is a weird metaphor. But if you’re committed to going all the way through, which I was with The Order at the mid-game, a certain level of inner hustling begins to form. “If I can finish this off quickly, I can finally get to Darkest Dungeon” segues into “this has to be over soon, and then I can get back to some Third Strike” drifts wistfully into “maybe I’ll just get through the next check point and then watch paint dry for the rest of the night.” When it comes to shooting the same mooks over and over with a shotgun or whatever, the dreams of digging out your backlog fade quickly into wanting to do nearly anything else with your time.
But that’s just it, right? It’s blatantly, crushingly obvious by now that I’ve done this to myself, and part of the verdict from this indictment came from stacks and rows of purchases that have become so aggressively constant that I’ve forgotten half of what I own (or, at least, when I bought them). We joke about the checklist of games that clutter online profiles so we don’t face the terrible truths about our spending habits and how we’ve cheapened a hobby to the point of ambivalence. I’ll buy anything if I can get it for a wink and a smile, and in that sense, this bed of shit was made by me. And I have to lie in it.
Step 4: Five years ago, this wouldn’t be a problem (Depression)
I have stared into the abyss, and this poorly implemented stealth sequence in what could be the universe’s largest and most bland enclosed garden stares back at me.
The terrible melee that I found myself using all too much in the early game has transitioned into quiet but horrifically protracted behind-the-back murders. Solid Snake wouldn’t stand for this nonsense. Shit, The Incredible Hulk would do it with less flourish. But it’s no longer worth the mental anguish to object, even if no one in this forest of lost reason would hear it.
I was assured by trusted friends and reviews that I found myself re-reading now that I was playing the game so long after its release that The Order would finished in, erm, short order. But here, in what I can only assume has to be closing in on the end credits, I feel as though time itself is a gulag, The Order its warden.
This game is so bad, but I’ve pushed myself this far. Through curiosity, then ego, and all the way back around to almost begging, parts of me are thinking of the absolutely worst: I will unplug my PlayStation 4, bury it around my neighborhood piece by piece, and realize that I don’t have time for this anymore. Step back and think about that. Play videogames for your entire life, and then you get a little older, and life changing things at a rate you’ve tried to prepare for but never really anticipated. I can’t come home from work, inhale some dinner, and spend a month or two personally judging the merits of every Final Fantasy in the catalogue in chronological order from front to back. Yes, including both MMO endgames. No, not Crystal Chronicles. That would be overkill. I only have time for underkill now. Underkill’s not even a word. I’m sorry, videogames, but after all this time and too many Tales games, was our love too beautiful to live?
Step 5: Catharsis (Acceptance)
Sure, this game is so replete with anticlimax it may as well have been called The Order: Galactica, but this dumb shootfest won’t ruin me. I still wonder why I went the distance with it, but if The Order has taught me anything, it’s that it’s time to be a little bit more choosey about how I spend what fleeting time I have to myself anymore. It sucks that, at least for the short term, devoting hours to a raid group may not be in the cards, or that working my way to tournament readiness in brand new fighting games will be a thing of the past.
Call it acceptance. I’m a creature of habit, really; the kind of guy that, before a year ago, would go to work, go to the gym, have dinner with my wife, and run through Demon’s Souls for the seventh time. But even I knew, not so deep down, that it wouldn’t last. I soaked in as much as I could before getting to this point, but if the mental temper tantrums that came from not being a child anymore says anything, it’s that being an adult, actually, is pretty good. The house with the mortgage more gratifying than it lets on, the stinky diapers hilarious in their bizarrely putrid way. It’s nice to go to work, go to the gym, and then be involved with those things, free time flickering away in the candlelight notwithstanding. Playing The Order: 1886 was, for the last time, a conscious choice, but it was still one that I made of my own will, for that free time. It could have been worse.
It could have been No Man’s Sky.