It seems like a I can barely remember a time when the idea of a story driven adventure game where decisions and dialogue choices would get me excited. Telltale essentially exploded the genre then promptly over saturated the market without really ever pushing it forward. Developer Big Bad Wolf saw the chance to take a stale concept and add a fresh spin on it. They took the concept of narrative game and add in elements of an RPG. The end result is The Council. The Council is a classic murder mystery set in a, what the game calls, a probably fictionalized 1793.
You play as Louis de Richet, a French member of the secret society that touts members all over the globe. You’re on a mission to find out what happened to your mother after she was invited to a mysterious island by the rich and powerful Lord Mortimer. You won’t be the only one on the island though, there are a number of special attendees each with their own mysteries and agendas. You’ll meet powerful figures like George Washington, lords, diplomats and members of the church all gathered for what appears to be a meeting to shape the world.
At the start of the game you pick a specialization each with its own set of unlocked skills. You can start as a diplomat and have and knowledgeable in politics and linguistics, occultist and know tricks like lock picking and how to manipulate people or you can go the route I chose and be a detective and use logic and psychology. No matter what you pick the game does not lock you out of gaining the skills in other classes. You earn XP throughout and can use skill points to unlock any number of skills. Skills unlocked under your class start of with an initial “Effort” cost, the meter which determines if you can use a skill or not. Leveling up a skill reduces the cost. Each skill opens up new dialogue options or ability to discover new clues. The meat of the game comes from dialogue choices and investigations. Each decision made or not made boasts a lasting effect on how the story turns out. You must talk with each guest to try to uncover the true motives. Each character you meet has an innate weakness and immunity to certain skills. For instance say if you try to deflect questions on someone they will see right through you. This can cause a negative status effect causing the effort cost of skills to go up. There are collectibles to find and elixirs to use that refill your effort meter or remove negative effects. The initial episode is broken up into five chapters, after each one the game deals you were you succeeded, failed and what you missed and in some cases will tell you immediately that you missed an opportunity by not having a certain skill unlocked. I personally found myself wanting to replay the first episode immediately over again to find out everything I missed, but it will take more than two or three times, I think to see and learn everything.
The game looks phenomenal. I believe its secondary function is that of an art collector sim. The mansion plays host to numerous real works of art digitally recreated for you to browse. The mansion is detailed and even if i couldn’t interact with everything I still had the urge just to keep looking around. The council does stumble a bit in some areas. A few times I noticed different dialogue choices brought up the same lines from the person you were talking to and in one scene in particular it was unclear if I was meeting for dinner or breakfast as the lines changed multiple times. While the characters you meet have exceptional voice acting, the voice acting for the main character Louis, feels jarringly out of place at times. It is not too far off as to ruin the entire experience but it lead to me catching some lines that seemed more out of place given the setting, but that is something I chalk up to the developers being French and items getting lost in translation.
Overall I enjoyed the opening episode of The Council, it does enough right to make a tired old formula fun again and sets everything up where you not only need but want to play it again. I look forward to the next episode when it is available