But we still don't have much to go on
Sony seems reluctant to let us see too much of The Order: 1886 at once. In February, Dale had a chance to check it out in a hands-off demo, and his biggest takeaway was that it looked absolutely stunning. After finally having some hands-on time with The Order: 1886, all the positives that we saw before are reaffirmed, but five minutes of solid gameplay isn't exactly enough to warrant shouting its praises from the mountaintops.
The demo dumped us into the beginning of Chapter 3 (titled "Inequalities") and gave us a first-hand look at the combat system. While we've known that it's a third-person cover-based shooter, we weren't exactly sure how it'd play. The cover mechanics are built around a "soft cover" system, as the developers called it, meaning that the protagonist will automatically take refuge behind any pillars or walls, without the need for a button prompt to execute this.
While the cover system was effective enough, it was the introduction of the Thermite Rifle that made the demo a thoroughly enjoyable affair. The Thermite Rifle shoots iron pellets that can, in theory at least, be used to shoot enemies. That's not the fun approach, though. The intended function of the Thermite Rifle is to paint the areas above and behind your attackers, and then shoot a flare at it. This ignition causes a chemical reaction that basically makes fire rain down on your enemies.
The primary intent is to give the player an alternative to the long-ago exhausted experience of gameplay devolving into a pop-up shooting gallery. Being able to circumvent cover facilitates action and adds a unique spark to the affair. Oh yeah, it's also a ton of fun to shoot semi-wildly and light groups of enemies on fire.
During the slice that we were shown, that will almost certainly have to be the player's course of action. The Order: 1886 borderline demands it. The sidearm pistol was almost hilariously under-powered, and the iron pellets by themselves were mostly useless, also. In fact, it even took a couple fire showers to dispatch most enemies, as if being lit aflame once wouldn't be enough to make most people pack it in and call it a day.
The reason for inordinate enemy toughness might have to do with the game's unusual plot device. In this alternate reality of expedited innovation and technological advances, a mysterious liquid called Black Water was discovered. Black Water is notable for its healing properties, and its ability to significantly extend lifespans. However, it's a limited resource and doesn't make its imbiber immortal, just able to live potentially hundreds of years.
After clearing the first combat area, we were treated to a cutscene that featured Black Water. As the short cinematic played out, it was almost impossible to not be impressed by the visual fidelity on display. The ante was upped when it seamlessly segued back into gameplay, and it was starkly apparent that both cutscenes and gameplay were visually on-par with one another. It was obvious that the first section looked good, but given an area to explore with no distractions, this became incredibly apparent.
Although there wasn't much to get into in the small safehold (apart from looking at a note and turning it over), the action quickly resumed again, as we were tasked with dragging a fallen comrade to safety. With one of the character's hands tied up pulling a body, the demo forced us to use the pistol to fend off attackers. It was strange that in this segment, the pistol worked just fine and would drop enemies with one headshot, where mere minutes earlier it was almost like a toy gun.
This is when the demo of The Order: 1886 ended -- approximately five minutes after it began. To be honest, I was a bit disappointed -- not in what I saw, that was mostly great, but in that I couldn't spend more time with it. The cinematic approach to visuals looked fantastic in practice, and it seems as if the technology-driven weaponry will be a real treat to use. However, five minutes is a tiny sample size, especially for a game with this kind of potential. Hopefully next time we see The Order: 1886, it's more than just an appetizer.