The Council Episode One Review

The Council sees Louis de Richet loses his beloved parent, but as it turns out that’s just the beginning of something much bigger.

See, Luis is summoned to a small council on a remote island one year after a near-death experience. But not just any Council, this is a secret society, formed by Louis’ mother, with designs on being the most powerful unseen entity in the world. And you wouldn’t bet against them as there’s some influential players in there with the likes of George Washington and Napoleon.

The trouble is, Luis has no idea where she’s got to and neither does anyone else. But her disappearance doesn’t seem to be a coincidence. Far from it, there’s certainly more to it than meets the eye because she’s not the one who’s summoned the group.

 

And it’s not just Luis who’s looking for Mum, but also his newfound company as well. All of them have a vested interest in where she is and what she’s doing. And that’s when The Council starts to get interesting because you quickly need to decide who to trust and how to plan your investigation. Especially when the person who’s summoned everyone chooses not to show his face.

What immediately struck me about The Council – apart from the ridiculously gorgeous Dishonored-esque aesthetic – is how much more mature and evolved this is compared to anything Telltale have done. And while it’s yet to breach Life is Strange’s emotional barrier, Don’tNod could certainly learn plenty from Big Bad Wolf Studios.

In The Council, every character you meet has vulnerabilities and immunities, which immediately determine how you should approach every conversation in a unique way. Gradually, you’ll pick up on their attributes through timed-observations, well-made deductions and hidden clues throughout the game.

This is done using a system based around ‘Effort Points’ which allow you to use the skills you build up through the game to penetrate the defenses of your fellow Council members and get to the heart of their motivations and aspirations. You get 7 small diamonds in the bottom left of the screen which are essentially action points. Every time you use one of your skills, whether it’s agility, political negotiations or something else entirely, the bar depletes based on the amount of action points taken.

These can drain away pretty fast so you’ll need to refill them with Royal Jelly which you can find around the manor. However, some scenarios can actually be a drain on you and expose your vulnerabilities, making it hard to expose others. For instance, if you eat something you shouldn’t or you’ve overdosed on potions when trying to get an advantage, it can actually backfire and cause you spend more points as opposed to less. On other occasions, you may not even be able to use the skill you’ve built up at all.

Fortunately, you can use Golden Elixir to wash it away, though the difficulty comes in that you can only carry a small amount of them at any one time. Other bonuses include Carmelite water which means you can use any one skill for free without any effort points and then there’s Devil’s thorn which actually reveals any character’s vulnerabilities or immunities so you can gain an advantage you wouldn’t have had before.

But this is just the beginning of a bigger conversation about the mechanics which, at times, are going to remind you more of an RPG than a ‘George Washington will remember that’ point and click sim.

From the very beginning, you actually get to pick a class and profession. No, seriously. Not only does this give you a unique backstory to help fill in some of the blanks of your character, but it also helps build into your relationships. For instance, as a diplomat you’ll be the most sociable person around the table, but you can also spout politics and even weave tales to help cover up your lies.

Or you could choose to be an Occultist who is primed to deceive, knowledge being the most important thing to you. Finally a detective, who can sniff out a clue wherever he stands, finding the smallest details in the largest of scenes, always looking to go for the direct approach.

Once you’ve picked a class, you then have a small talent tree for each which can open up new dialogue options and actions which completely change the way you play. Meaning, yes, there’s the potential for at least three different playthroughs in this episode. Fortunately, you’ve also got three different save games to choose from.

Your career path, for instance, determines what types of conversation you’ll get involved in or how you’ll react. If your spidey super sleuth skills are tingling, you’ll actually be able to ‘read’ a character and identify a strength or weakness in their features which might give you a bigger check clue about them

I decided to be a wily detective with a focus on questioning and logic, so to do this I dabbled in traits such as psychology and vigilance. The good thing is you can also spend points in other talent trees and acquire some of the other skills at the end of each mini-chapter, but obviously, they won’t be as well developed as your main class. Fortunately, you can equip books to read during chapters to gain skill points in particular areas, like science and politics.

Using these skills, you can gain clues in different ways. For instance, if you understand Latin you’ll be able to translate some words which lead to a bigger clue, or if you’re proficient with lockpicking you can break into someone’s lockbox.

And naturally, there are choices to be made throughout, such as who you spend the most time with, you help and avoid, and how you conduct yourself. The Council is a game that actually feels like it’s assessing every choice you make, taking them seriously and building into a much larger playing field. I’m both excited and petrified to see how my choices play out over the next four episodes.

If it feels like I’ve spent most of this review explaining the game, it’s because I have. Because there’s a lot to take in and absorb. In a good way. What’s most surprising of all, though, is how quickly you’ll take to it. Within the first chapter, I was fully onboard with the mechanics, whizzing around the house, trying new things and trying to figure out which abilities would suit me best in the long-term. While The Council is the deepest episodic adventure game you’ll have ever played, you’ll also digest it very quickly and be starving for more.

That’s part of Episode One’s problem. By the time you’ve really got to grips with everything, it ends, and you’re left hanging for more. The good thing, at least, is there are two other save files and two other classes to see how your choices could have played out in other ways. Unlike other episodic adventures, The Council really encourages experimentation.

And while The Mad Ones doesn’t really get out of third gear narratively because it’s busy pacing everything while establishing the mechanics, it’s quite clear the remaining four episodes are going to be something very special. I did find some minor frame-rate pacing problems, though, which did cause some slight audio jolts and scene skips. Nothing major, but it does make me wonder how future episodes will perform with more choices and consequences weighing behind them.

The fact of the matter, though, is that The Council is the next evolution of episodic storytelling and you will struggle to look at its competitors the same way after it.


 Pros

+ Gorgeous Dishonored-esque graphics
+ Multi-choice and multi-paths for each episode and chapter

+ Engrossing and surprisingly deep mechanics
+ Foundations of a solid story

Cons

– Minor frame and skipping issues
– A little pacey but sets scene well.


The Council Episode One – The Mad Ones

9 out of 10

Tested on PC