Ord. review – “Quest? Die. Repeat.”
As a writer, I’ve always been absolutely entranced by the power of words. As a gamer, I’ve always had an overactive imagination. And when you combine those two unholy traits together, you get a dangerous combination of the chaotic mess that goes in my mind every single day.
The magic of words can make you feel and imagine anything from epic world-saving adventures to quiet, intimate moments that break the heart, which is exactly what Ord. sets out to do. It relies on your own brain as a tool to help fill in the gaps of what otherwise would be a game that makes no sense – but, in true genius fashion, Ord. essentially lets you in as a game developer too, because it’s your own imagination that defines the whole experience. In that sense, no two gamers will have the same experience with each playthrough.
What am I going on and on about? Here’s the thing: Ord. is a text-based game that lets you embark on all kinds of adventures by using just three words at a time. The game presents you with a one-word prompt, then provides two one-word choices that pushes the story forward based on your decision. For example, the very beginning of the game starts with “Alarm”, and you have to choose between “Wake” and “Snooze”. The choice will determine how your story will go. You can pretty much stay at home and water plants and watch TV and stuff, but then what would be the point of the game, right?
There are lots of games that emphasize the importance of player choices like in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, but Ord. brings something entirely new to the table – it presents you with choices that determine your fate with a fast-paced narrative that evokes deep emotions as you go through your adventure, all in just three words at a time.
I was pretty impressed with how the visuals managed to transport me to different worlds that really made me think. There’s a dark and flickering vignette that surrounds the text when you’re inside a dungeon, and there are flashes of lightning that illuminate the words when you’re out in the rain. Sometimes, I take my time to think about my choices to determine what happens next, while there are moments when everything is just so fast-paced in the middle of heart-thumping action that I’m forced to tap on rapid-fire decisions just to get the heck out of whatever predicament I’m in (whether I’m being chased by child-eating monsters or getting shot at with trap arrows).
Part of Ord.’s charm is the fact that you can die really, really easily. There are more obvious fatalities like getting chowed down by zombies, or absolutely hilarious ones like death by staring directly at the sun. The game also takes funny jabs at you for making certain decisions, like hugging a tree will prompt the game to call you a hippie for no reason. Some decisions have no bearing on the outcome of the adventure whatsoever, and some sub-quests will have you getting your hand stuck in some sticky you-know-what because of a lewd magazine you find under the bed.
One of the things that surprised me the most was that there was no definitive straightforward path to certain areas. It really makes you feel like it’s all about the journey and not the destination. On the road to a warlock’s tower, you can meet a colorful cast of characters and travelers along the way, stop by a village and challenge someone to a juggling contest, or play some classical guitar with a demon disguised as a bard. The game does a fantastic job of daring you to make braver and more adventurous decisions since you’ll die a lot, anyway. You start all the way from the very beginning when you die, but you’ll find yourself wondering what might have happened if you had done something differently or gone down a different path, so you start the game all over again and hope for the best.
I was able to finish the main quest a handful of different ways myself, with some paths more convoluted than others. I won’t spoil you with the particulars, but I suggest you go through different playthroughs to understand the backstories of the main antagonist (the warlock) and the protagonist (yourself) a little bit better. While you can definitely “defeat” the warlock using the quickest route possible, knowing more about the character gives the whole experience more substance (I assure you – what you’ll discover is heartbreaking and definitely emotional).
If you don’t want to go through the main quest, you also have the option to choose a mode of play where you take on the role of a god and create life as you see fit. There’s another storyline where you can go dimension-hopping, either to defeat a T-Rex at the request of a tribe chieftain or to steal a briefcase from a cyborg as instructed by a gangster in a lawless futuristic city. The dimension that I liked best here is this portal where you end up at a boring office pushing papers and answering emails in a dead-end job. Be ready for this storyline to get dark fast and induce an existential crisis in you.
Still, this minimalist approach isn’t for everybody. The wake-adventure-die cycle can get pretty repetitive, and most people will probably go through a couple of endings and call it a day. It’s certainly not something that you’ll invest too many hours in, especially once you already get the “ending” that you want. It’s really more of you trying to memorize which decision leads to what outcome to get to where you want to be.
Overall, Ord. is an innovative way of telling stories without having to say too much. It’s almost like a homage to your own childlike imagination as it invites you to think big and regain what might have been lost as you get jaded by adult life. But while the interesting concept feels novel for the first few playthroughs, it unfortunately loses its charm really quickly as you repeat your quest over and over again.