Summer Book Club Review: Blackwater Archives | The Art of The Order: 1886

Welcome to VGBlogger’s Summer Book Club! All summer long, we will be providing weekly book reviews across a wide range of geek favorite categories, including art, comics/graphic novels, fantasy, gaming, and sci-fi. So whether you’re heading out for a road trip, going on vacation, lounging beach/poolside on a nice sunny day, relaxing inside away from the summer heat, or simply searching for a good read to fill your free time, follow our Summer Book Club for our top picks of what you should be reading during these hot summertime doldrums.

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If you ask me, The Order: 1886 is one of the true standout games early in this new console generation. To me the linearity, cinematic scripting, and six to eight hour runtime are positives rather than negatives, because I much prefer a tightly focused story driven gaming experience to some couple dozen hour long open world grind that lacks direction and is mostly a lot of side mission filler and collectible scavenger hunting. Putting the debate over gameplay and campaign length aside for a moment, I think most of us can agree that few if any games can match The Order‘s impeccable production value and graphical splendor. I certainly can’t think of another game that I’ve played on a console or even a PC that can match this game’s richly detailed environments, Hollywood caliber cinematography, and memorable acting performances.

Blackwater Archives, published by Bluecanvas, the same curators of the lovely God of War: Ascension and Journey art books, chronicles (and celebrates) the creative journey Ready At Dawn embarked on during the conception and production of The Order: 1886, its 267 pages representing the art team’s collective vision for bringing the PlayStation 4 exclusive’s Neo-Victorian world to life. After poring over these heavy stock pages, it’s no wonder that the game ultimately turned out to be such a visual marvel.

Spoiler Alert: Before proceeding, I should warn that the book does contain plot spoilers, and as such I will mention things and show pictures that are also potential spoilers. Read with caution if you haven’t played the game yet.

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Before digging into the book itself, let me first point out just how beautiful this art book is. Its leather-bound hard cover is soft to the touch and bordered by a beautifully etched calligraphic trim, with an Ouroboros symbol debossed in gold at the center, giving the book the appearance of an authentic period ledger Sir Galahad might find in between battles with rebels and half-breeds. Holding the book in person reminds me of the generally pointless object inspection mechanic from the game which allows you to pick up certain collectibles and manipulate them in Sir Galahad’s hand by moving the analog stick. It’s only real purpose seems to be a show off move to flaunt just how detailed every object is, the equivalent of Ron Burgundy’s classic opening line from Anchorman: “I look good. I mean really good. Hey everyone… come and see how good I look!” With this book, you’ll want to tumble it around in your hands just to admire its classy craftsmanship.

Fortunately, Blackwater Archives has the good personality and deep soul to match its gorgeous face. Stretching two feet wide at full spread, the book’s landscape orientation is an ideal format for matching the game’s widescreen letterbox cinematic presentation. The artwork is divided into three main categories: characters, weapons, and environments. With a mix of sketches, 3D sculpts, face and hair studies, and final portraits, the characters chapter guides you through the ideation process that went into all of the major players in this grand work of interactive alternate history fiction, down to each Knight’s unique coat of arms insignia and distinguishing costume flourishes, from Malory’s pocket watch to Tesla’s eyepiece.

Not to be lumped in with the humans, the half-breeds get their own dedicated chapter, where you’ll learn more about some of the research Ready At Dawn did in anatomy, diseases, and skin conditions to design the Lycans with a believable sense of evolution and deformation from human to canine. They don’t just look like the classic monster movie werewolf, which grounds their design in at least some level of plausible reality.

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The weapons and devices chapter shows concepts for every last piece of equipment Nikola Tesla crafted for the Knights of the Round Table’s arsenal of Industrial Revolution innovations. In addition to illustrations of the Knights’ blades, experimental weapons like the arc gun and thermite rifle, and gadgets like the Stamford lockpikck and Remote Transmission Communicator, the book includes functionality sketches that show how individual gadget and weapon mechanisms work in intricate detail. It’s really cool to get an up close and personal look at the inner workings of such inventive weapons. Although Ready At Dawn pushes the boundaries of realism for the sake of more interesting gameplay, there still is a sense that these weapons and devices could have existed in some form back during the 1886 time period.

Hogging half the book on its own, the environments chapter is more than just a collection of mood lighting studies and landscape paintings depicting the world’s artistic intertwining of fantasy and historic authenticity; it’s essentially a picture book that guides you chronologically (for the most part) through the game’s campaign level by level. Seriously, it’s probably not a good idea to read the book if you haven’t played through the game yet. Even though this is an art book and not a novelization, there is so much information accompanying the artwork that you can easily pick up on many of the main story beats and twists. Which is fine by me, because I like art books that offer substance to go with the style rather than compiling a bunch of pictures with short captions that don’t provide much in the way of artistic insight.

Of course, the environments chapter is also where the book’s landscape format is used most effectively as there are numerous two-page painting spreads of iconic scenes like the Knights rappelling down the side of the Agamemnon in flight, Galahad taking his leap of desperation from the top of Westminster Palace into the River Thames below, and the post-credits tease of Grayson peering out over a nighttime London like a Victorian era Batman. Did I mention that this book looks so good?

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At $60, Blackwater Archives is a pricey investment, but for a premium price you definitely get a premium product that will immediately become the new centerpiece of your art book library. Pair it up with a statue from one of the two The Order: 1886 special editions and you’ll have a collection sure to make your gaming buddies real jealous.

The first printing of Blackwater Archives | The Art of The Order: 1886 sold out immediately upon release back in March, but Bluecanvas has it back in stock exclusively on Amazon.com.

Disclosure: A free review copy for Blackwater Archives | The Art of The Order: 1886 was provided to VGBlogger.com by Bluecanvas.

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!