When one thinks of an Episodic Narrative Adventure, one usually thinks of The Walking Dead Series from Telltale Games. Telltale set the bar for what this genre has become yet few have been able to capture the way that TWD games are able to suck you in and keep you wanting more. Square Enix and Dontnod Entertainment’s Life is Strange series took the formula and put their own stink on it to create a series that reviewers and fans both love. Taking the genre even further and bending it to their will, developer Big Bad Wolf and publisher Focus Home Interactive has crafted an ENA that is everything that I wish TWD and LIS were. The Council: Mad Ones takes what works and adds new features that turns the genre on its head by adding RPG elements while crafting an adventure unlike anything that you have played in a long while.
In The Council, you take on the role of Louis de Richet, a member of a secret society called the Golden Order in the year 1793. He and his mother, Sarah Faustin de Richet, have been invited to a private island by the enigmatic and mysterious Lord Mortimer. Joining him at this exclusive soiree are a number of high profile guests, including President of the newly-formed United States of America, George Washington and a young and eager Napoleon Bonaparte. The strange nature of this private reception goes beyond just the prestigious guests, however, as Richet’s own mother has suddenly and mysteriously gone missing after setting foot on the island. What makes this event so unnerving is that each and every one of the colorful cast members seems to be jockeying into position to advance their own plans.
Before you can enjoy what this game has to offer, you must pick the class that you want to belong to in the game. You can’t change this later, so choose wisely now. You can still choose abilities from the other classes, however, those abilities will cost more effort points to acquire. Why these abilities are so important is because having purchased certain abilities will allow you to interact with the other characters in the game without missing out on important bits of information or having the chance to get on someone’s good side so that you can take the route with the least amount of resistance. This system is called the Social Influence system and comes into play when you are in a confrontation with an NPC. Skills and limited resources can be used to gain the upper hand to achieve the desired outcome from your specific play-style. As a general rule, make sure to thoroughly investigate your surroundings because you will be rewarded for your knowledge of each character’s psychological vulnerabilities and immunities.
In a new twist for the Narrative Adventure genre, players will need to develop Louis de Richet’s character with RPG skills in order to assist his journey. There are 15 distinct skills that can be developed as you progress in the game, spread across three different classes and these skills can be mixed and matched between any class. The three classes are Diplomat which contains the Etiquette, Conviction, Politics, Diversion, and Linguistics skills, Occultist, which contains the Science, Subterfuge, Erudition, Occultism, and Manipulation skills and the Detective, which contains the Vigilance, Logic, Psychology, Questioning, and Agility skills. Balancing these skills with whichever class you choose will be crucial to your advancement in the game.
There will be times where you will have to choose a response to an NPC’s question or statement and some answers will be straight forward while others will take some consideration. There are times where you can take your time to choose your answer, but there will be times where you will only have a few seconds to pick the suitable answer so you better choose wisely. All of the decisions that you make are permanent and will affect your abilities throughout the five episodes of the game. What sets this aspect of the game apart from others in the genre is that the decisions that you are asked to make aren’t simple decisions but ones that could effect your physical well-being as well as that of someone else.
For example, I was forced at one point in the game to choose between helping a frail woman who was afraid that someone was trying to hurt her against the decision to continue a conversation with an influential individual who could potentially become a powerful ally later on. I could choose to help her at the expense of gaining an ally but what if she was just being paranoid? These are the types of scenarios that you will be confronted with one after the other making for an intense experience.
Visually, The Council was a big surprise to me. The environments are so spectacularly modeled where in many games, they seem to take a back seat to the work that is done to make the character models look fantastic. Candle light gleans off of the seawater that has splashed onto the cobblestone dock of the island. The leather duster that Louis wears looks appropriately worn and the delicate lace dress of Emily Hillsborrow, one of the aristocrats that was also invited to the island, looks intricate and very expensive. This game is photo-realistic in the best sense and it is what I hope Telltale does with its next game whether it be TWD or even the Batman series.
For all of the good things that The Council gets right, there are a few issues that I had that I think need to be tweaked before the next episode is released in order to make the game feel a little more polished. The first is the fact that there are special sections of the game where you will have a quick timer to choose an aspect either in the environment on on the body of an NPC that will allow you to possibly get the upper hand during a confrontation. The problem is that the time goes so fast, the cursor moves so slow as well as the fact that it takes some time to even pick out the areas on the screen that corresponds with an area of interest that I ended up missing my opportunity to respond and it hurt the outcome of that encounter. This happened to me on almost every event of this type that came up and it was definitely frustrating.
The other issue that I came up against was how I ended up choosing the class that I did (I choose Detective) and how it affected the game moving forward. This first episode contains instances where just about all of the available skills will be called upon, but being that either you picked a class that doesn’t allow immediate access to that particular skill that is being called upon or you haven’t earned enough effort points to put into those skills, you obviously will take a ding to your confrontation outcomes. Now, this is obviously going to happen at this stage of the game but the game itself will let you know that you have failed at a particular skill in game with a popup making you feel that you were unsuccessful even though you had no direct control over that at this point. It would have been better if the game somehow was able to either award more effort points so that you could level up quicker or tailor the game so that only those skills that are associated with your class are needed in order to proceed in the story. As it stands, after finishing the first episode, I felt like I missed a lot of content because of the class that I initially decided to go with and that’s not a feeling that I like to have when playing a game.
This first episode can probably be completed in under three hours but I was so enamored by the story, the visuals and the topic of the game that I am eagerly awaiting the next episode, and it can’t get here soon enough. This is the game that I hope that the next edition of TWD will be visuals-wise and game-play-wise. Lord Mortimer’s estate is sprawling and getting to hold conversations with George Washington and Napoleon Bonaparte was actually very cool and fun. What really grabbed me was the profound decisions that you have to make while trying to find your mother who, in all possibility, could be deceased. Big Bad Wolf is taking a huge gamble releasing a game in this genre, because, let’s be completely honest, it is a part of gaming that, thanks to Telltale, is very crowded and a little long in the tooth. However, I have a feeling that once gamers get their hands on this first episode, they will be as excited about it as I am. Lets hope the next episode is even better and blows the first out of the water.
This review is based on a copy of the game provided by the publisher.