The Order: 1886 and the Problem with Late-Game Difficulty Spikes
I marathoned almost the entirety of The Order: 1886 this past weekend, and for the most part, I really enjoyed my time with it. It is a very linear game with a healthy amount of cutscenes and quick time events, but I really got invested in the story the game was telling, and the third-person shooter elements felt smooth and fun to play. The Order is extremely polished, and it looks gorgeous from start to finish. I finished the game yesterday, and my playthrough clocked in around 6.5-7 hours, which is totally fine in my book.
My only real gripe with the game is its pacing. There are some chapters that are more cutscene than gameplay, and the interruption of gameplay with cutscenes in some places disrupts the flow of the game.
And then there was this:
This particular scene takes place in Chapter 15 of the game, the second to last chapter. It represents a difficulty spike that absolutely ground my playthrough of the game to halt, and left me thinking I might not even finish the game.
What was supremely frustrating about this particular scene is that you enter into a room in which there is no escape initially. Guards continue to spawn in at the back of the room, and there is no position where you are safe from being flanked. So, you are constantly moving around the room, which is fine, until you start dealing with the heavies (more powerful enemies). Because you’re constantly moving, you’re going to take some damage as you’re running around. Normal gunfire isn’t a big deal, but when enemies start using grenade launchers and thermite guns (which shower you with flammable material then set you ablaze), one shot from these heavies will finish you off. And the last ditch healing mechanic you have takes precious seconds to use, during which time other enemies just pump you full of bullets.
After dying a myriad of times, I did walk away for the rest of the evening. I managed to beat this section the following day, essentially by using a spawn closet for cover as I picked off the heavies, as they would not enter into the spawn closet for some reason.
The crazy thing about this particular segment of the game is it represents a big spike in difficulty. There was no other area in the entire game where I had to deal with that many enemies of various types in such a confined space, with no defensible position. It forced me to play the game differently that I had for all of the previous hours I’d spent with it.
Now, hitting one really frustrating point in the course of an entire game is not the end of the world, but I feel like it’s a big deal for The Order, because the flow of the story is so important to the experience. There is a sense of urgency to this part of the game, where Gallahad (the main character) is trying to get to a colleague as quickly as possible. That experience is completely shattered when one room becomes a meat grinder that causes you to replay the same section over and over again. It ruins the penultimate chapter of the story in a game where the story is everything.
The last time I ran into a momentum killer like this was in 2012’s ZombiU, which is still my favorite WiiU game to date (I wrote a whole series on it in 2012). There is a level where you get captured and have to fight your way out of an arena that almost made me quit that game (you can read my post on that here).
Whether designed to shake things up or to prolong the playtime of a game, the late-game difficulty spike can not only be a momentum killer, it can actually keep people from finishing a game, which is a bummer.
And just so we’re clear, I’m not picking on The Order here–I really enjoyed the game. But this particular section was a textbook example of something I think games can do without.
Do you have any examples of late-game difficulty spikes? Did you end up finishing the game in question?