A new type of episodic game is entering the arena with The Council as the first episode is now out there for those interested to enjoy. On the surface, it sounds like Big Bad Wolf is just trying to get in on the market, but there is more to this game than meets the eye initially. This is most likely why Focus Home Interactive took a chance and opted to give it a full run. For now, though, the first episode of the game is out there and we had a chance to give it a solid play. Here is our review of The Council: Mad Ones, the first of five episodes that are to come for this new kind of narrative title.
You are Louis de Richet and the year is 1793. You have been called upon to come to a private island off the shores of England as your mother has gone missing. Yes, gone missing on a private island with no real place to hide or get lost. That is unless you count the massive estate of Lord Mortimer who is hosting one of his major get-togethers with some of the more prominent people in the world. Prominent like George Washington and Napoleon Bonaparte kind of prominent. Time to go rub some elbows, find out why they are all here, how did they know your mother, and just where did she get off to.
One of the bigger things that did not sit well with me in The Council, and hopefully it will change in later episodes, was the fact that the game would show you all kinds of interactive points on the screen but then out of nowhere force you into a scene because you walked to a specific point. Normally not a huge deal, and since you could go back and collect them later it made it less of a hated thing for the collector in me. The issue I always seemed to run into though was that the scene I was drug into would require or be able to be overcome if I had some of those items I could not pick up due to a hidden trigger in the level. It broke a bit of the gameplay and not just the collector side of gaming for me. Most of these were items that were needed to make specific options in the dialog tree, or in one instance a clue I could have used to guide the discussion the way I wanted. This could just be for this episode of The Council, but I have a feeling it may persist into later episodes.
Another thing that was more of an annoyance than anything truly game-breaking had to be the fact that abilities and "classes" in The Council are not explained well enough until the time comes to truly need them. First, you start out with one of three classes and get the first level of the abilities for said class. All of which sound like they can guide conversations in specific ways just through different means. I went with Occultist and the skills made it sound like I could use the knowledge one associates with that to talk circles around those who do not know them. That is not the case in practice for The Council. They are useful for other things, but almost all of the dialog skills come from other classes that you then have to level up by completing chapters. I missed out on what felt like too much from the start because I went the path I did and then was forced to become a Jack-Of-All-Trades to be able to keep up. It is just something I wish was more apparent from the start and not learned the hard way in game.
I had a few reservations with The Council when I heard that we were going to have to have skills, levels, and then levels of those skills. It seemed like a bit much for the way that Focus Home Interactive was making the game seem. I went in expecting a close to historic Telltale-style game and instead walked out see where that genre of games can go. There was a purpose to all of the skills and little extra gameplay mechanics mixed in with these skills and not just there to break up the dialog portions of the game. When you need to investigate in The Council, you actually need to investigate and go back over areas from before now that you have new clues. As the levels and skills rose in power, it felt like there was always something I missed from before because I was unskilled. All of this was not just a distraction from keeping the story going, it had a purpose and felt needed. Something I have been looking for in Narrative-Driven games for a while.
Building on that, the skills in The Council also made the choices we could make seem to have a purpose and that our choices had more weight to them than I have ever experienced in games like this before. Sure, there were a few paths that no matter what you did still end in the same place, but even if some of them were illusions based on our skill, Big Bad Wolf obfuscated them so well that it felt like what we needed or wanted to do. Even if our skills and abilities were not what were driving that selection. Hells, I even fell victim to Napoleon at one point and it never felt like it was how I was limited but that I was going into about that I was ill prepared for and all on my own side without the game forcing my hand. This was one of the best steps forward for the genre and I hope others learn from The Council.
Lastly, I had a feeling from the start that given the historical nature of the story in The Council I was going to be bored and just trying to move things along. It happens in a lot of these narrative games as you do not always want all of the expositions the NPC is going to give. It happened so rarely in this episode of The Council that I felt drawn in to a subject I generally have no interest in at all. Sure, none of it is truly historically accurate and this is not a history-based game, but the way it was all presented you could see it being a possibility. Then mix in the truly weird occult stuff that came close to making this another Cthulhu or Lovecraftian tale. It never crossed over the line to make it feel part of that lore, but it courted it closely to keep interest and still make for an amazing story so far.
To put it bluntly, The Council brought to the narrative genre something things I never knew I wanted. It did so in a way that needed a bit of extra tweaking, but it still brought something new to drive things forward. So much that I could put aside my issues from above and want to play through using the multiple options and skills just to see how things worked out differently. You know, the way these kinds of games are supposed to play out but almost never do. The story may be a bit off for some players, but I think that if you give it all a try you will be sucked into The Council and then wish for all of the episodes to be out as you do not want to stop. I would say to totally give it a go and see where the industry could take this genre and also have a good time with it all.
I give The Council: Mad Ones 5 Pieces Of Amber on the Pieces Of Amber scale.
The Council — Launch Trailer
The Council: Mad Ones was developed by Big Bad Wolf. The Council: Mad Ones was published by Focus Home Interactive for the PS4, Xbox One, and PC on March 13th 2018. A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for reviewing purposes.