I know what you may be thinking with regards to The Council, assuming you’ve heard anything of it before. “Another episodic adventure game”. Dialogue choices, diverting paths, consequences, talking and plenty of pointing and clicking. “Yet more of Telltale’s brand of adventure game”. In part this may be true, but by Big Bad Wolf’s own admission, The Council is a game they intended as a “fresh take on the narrative adventure”, and one that innovates on the gameplay and mechanical style made so popular by Telltale’s The Walking Dead.

How it does this is by implementing more involved systems that work to make your decisions more impactful, interactive, and ultimately providing more meaningful variation in how your story can unfold. Much of this seems quite gamey at first glance, essentially offering you a skill tree to invest skill points and experience in to, but as this first episode progresses, the ways in which these skills and decisions impact the story becomes clearer, and the game more interesting as a result. In short, despite some very minor quirks, Big Bad Wolf have been successful with their original objective.

The game follows Luis de Richet as he is mysteriously invited to a secluded island, coinciding with the disappearance of his mother at the same place. Luis and his mother belong to a secret society, something that is surely no coincidence with regards to this invitation, nor with respect to the other guests present on the island. Pivotal figures from history, and some other interesting characters, including George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte are also in attendance, all ostensibly with their own reasons for being there.

What you must do, therefore, is investigate the island mansion and its characters in hopes of finding out what happened to your mother, while also playing the social game with the guests. At its most essential level, this means walking around the small areas clicking on objects, picking things up, and engaging in dialogue – to ask questions, make decisions that effect the story, and so on. Basically not much we haven’t seen before, albeit it in a pleasantly lavish 18th century setting (on a dark and mysterious secluded island, of course).

But where The Council makes its efforts is with the RPG-lite elements thrown in along the way. The game gives a good introduction via practical tutorial to what initially seem like complex mechanics. Luis has a set of skills, perks and items that he can use to give him an edge during his investigations. You can pick from three main classes at the beginning of the game (this immediately opening up all skills in that branch, though not locking the other classes, as you can unlock them later on at the expense of additional points) including Diplomat, Occultist, and Detective. All these classes include a branch of skills that cover knowledge and aptitude. For example, you can open up your knowledge on politics – coming in use perhaps when talking with the likes of George Washington – or you could invest in your questioning ability – giving you an edge when probing someone for information.

Depending on what you pick, you will be given opportunities throughout the game which you may or may not be skilled enough to deal with. For example, having no knowledge in politics could see a character talk you down with their superior insight, whereas if you were at an adequate level you may be able to impress them and get them to reveal some juicy information. This immediately opens up the game to a variety of diverging paths, and particularly later on in this first episode you can really see the scope and impact of your choice of skills – one scene in particular stands out where Luis and the guests are enjoying dinner together, and every other line seemed to prompt a note that I had missed an opportunity due to a lack of knowledge in some area. This can be a little annoying, I must admit, but then when the subject moves on to an area you are defter at, the tables turn and you can bring things back to your favour.

On the other side of this are the character personalities and traits. Each guest has their own immunities and vulnerabilities. Some are vulnerable to questioning, for example, whereas other will not be swayed by it. So one character when questioned will, as a result of their vulnerability, open up like a can of worms, whereas another will be inclined to clam up and become unhelpful.

These interactions often happen naturally in conversation – so a scene will just play out with you asking questions and jumping on the opportunities that you can – however there is a mini-game for some of the more important interactions, called confrontations. During a confrontation you will have chances to respond to questions or press them yourself, obviously paying mind to all we’ve learned so far (the vulnerabilities and skills). There are a few sections to get through, concluding in a final win or lose – so if you answer the last question correctly you will win the confrontation, even if you have answered the previous ones incorrectly, though this works the same the other way around. It’s a little bit gamey, but they serve the purpose of letting you know that what you’re discussing will ostensibly have implications on the narrative from that point. Whereas in other situations failing or missing an opportunity seems like a small issue, you know with these confrontations that it would be best if you succeed. And thankfully with regards to your skill set, I haven’t found any confrontation where it was impossible to win due to a lack of knowledge. In fact, it seems that the skills can be used more as an aid to the right answer, and in some cases you can simply guess correctly.

Other attributes include perks gained from actions. These could be something like gaining an extra skill point in questioning because you have succeeded in questioning characters ten times, or even perks related to your actions. For example, at the beginning of the game you make a decision whether to trust your mother in a tricky situation, and if you do you get the ‘trusting’ perk. It’s another way that the game makes each playthrough unique. There are also collectables and items that can help you out. A book, for example, will give you the opportunity to study it during the chapter and increase a skill, whereas collecting amber fragments increases your effort gauge.

Effort is related to your use of skills and action – they’re basically action points. If you use your keen detective insight to discover something during a conversation, you will use up a few of your effort points. Therefore if you run out of effort points by using them liberally, you may end up in a situation where you can’t use your skills at all. To make up for this you can find items that replenish your effort, as well as other things like a free skill use, revealing of vulnerabilities and immunities, and clearing of negative effects (some interactions will leave you penalised, so to get rid of this you can use a consumable – however equally if you use too many consumables you can gain negative effects, so it’s all a matter of weighing your actions). The first episode didn’t throw up too much difficulty in terms of resource management, and I never fully ran out of effort points, but one can assume this will become more challenging later on. Additionally it does give you something else to explore the surroundings for – you can also find useful bits of information by searching and examining things as well.

Lastly, another way in which the game offers diverging paths is by literally doing just that. In some scenes you will be given a choice of how to proceed. For example, you could stay with one character and hear their conversation, or leave with another and chat with them – either option revealing different things to you and having consequences of their own. It’s not all a stressful affair of trying to guess what the correct option would be, and I actually found these choices interesting and liberating to an extent. I know that I’ve missed out of whatever George Washington has to say, but as a result I’ve become closer acquainted with the Cardinal.

As a result of these diverging paths, skills and confrontations, The Council manages to offer a shed load of unique directions to take for each player. The developers boasted that your decisions will dramatically affect the story, and that depending on what paths you take, you will be rewarded with different answers to your investigation. Obviously this remains to be seen, as this is only the first episode, but from the number of missed and gained opportunities I witnessed throughout this 3 hour opening, it’s looking very positive.

There’s not much I can say I disliked about The Council. One area of irritation is the clunky movement and camera – even with mouse sensitivity turned all the way up, it’s like controlling a tank. And sometimes the voice acting/writing is a tad cringe-worthy, though to be honest this could just be the pompous nature of all the guests, in which case they’ve done a good job on getting that right. I think Luis is a good character and all the guests are interesting in their own way – be that because of their fame or their mystery. The game makes it clear from the beginning that you are playing a game here with the guests, and that no one is to be trusted outright, so it will be very interesting to see which of the characters will be treacherous and which, if any, could become allies.

The majority of the first episode seems like a tutorial, which perhaps is difficult to avoid given the range of mechanics this has over other narrative adventures, and so you may reach the end feeling that nothing much has happened. Despite a dramatic turn and cliff hanger ending, I would tend to agree with this. Though the second episode is not far off at all, with a release date of May 15. The Council is ambitious and is handling this very well. The last thing you want is to feel overwhelmed or cheated by the mechanics (a sense of dread that you’ve mistakenly made the wrong choice) and thankfully I didn’t feel either of these were the case, instead I felt curious as to where else the game could have gone. The Council successfully innovates on what has frankly become a bit of a tired genre in my opinion, but more importantly, how they have innovated works well and is enjoyable and adds value. So many games boast about replay value and multiple endings, but The Council seems like one of the few that would be legitimately worth doing so. Bring on Episode 2.



Author

John Little
John Little

I started gaming with the release of the PS1 - Crash Bandicoot and Ridge Racer Revolution being the first 'real' games I ever set eyes on - and have been enthralled with the medium ever since. I particularly love strategy and horror games, the sort offered by titles such as Total War and Silent Hill, though I also have a soft spot for a good RPG. I studied Journalism at university in the hopes of progressing into writing about games, but my 'real job' is as a postman. You'll most likely find me covering indie games as I'm always on the look out for interesting little titles, and generally I stick to the PC and PS4 platforms. I'm not interested in MMOs or really any kind of online game, and I have an unusual and frankly worryingly expensive obsession with collecting gaming guide books, but aside from that I like to think I'm a well rounded average gamer. Find me on twitter @JohnLittle29