The story of The Council takes place in 1793. You play as Louis de Richet who is a member of a secret society along with his mother. You are urgently invited to an island by the mysterious Lord Mortimer who tells you that your mother has gone missing while visiting the island. When Louis arrives at the island things are not as they seem. You were not the only person invited to the island as you are joined by many other guests including historical figures like George Washington and Napoleon Bonaparte. While the guests seem friendly you can tell that they are hiding something. There also seems to be something paranormal about the island/mansion.
Seeing as The Council is a story driven game I might as well start by talking about the story. I have always been kind of a sucker for the alternate history theme which is one of the reasons that I was intrigued when I first saw The Council. Mixing historical characters like George Washington with secret societies and the occult has all the makings of an interesting theme. I will say that the story starts a little on the slow side but that is to be expected from a game that has to introduce you to a new world and consists of five episodes. Towards the end of the first episode though the story picks up considerably and actually gives you glimpses of some very compelling storylines that likely will be further developed in future episodes. It might start a little slow but I think The Council’s story will develop into a compelling mystery.
If I had to describe the gameplay of The Council I would say that it kind of feels like a combination of the Telltale series of games with the Rockstar game L.A. Noire. For anyone who has played a Telltale game before, you will already be quite familiar with how The Council works. Most of the gameplay revolves around talking with the other characters making choices which directs the game’s story. I would say at least half of the game is spent in dialog menus with you listening to the other characters and then choosing how you would like to respond.
The reason that I bring up L.A. Noire is that The Council relies on a lot of the same type of mechanics of reading the other characters. It doesn’t really have the facial reading mechanics of L.A. Noire but you need to be successful at reading the characters to get what you want out of them. This is where the strengths and weaknesses of all of the characters come into play. Every character in the game has different strengths and weaknesses that you need to try and expose. If you choose an option that matches a characters strength they likely won’t give you any information and it could even turn that character against you. Choose an option that works against one of their weaknesses though and you likely will get more information out of them or even improve your reputation with them. Some of these strengths and weaknesses you can infer from their personalities but some you will encounter through normal conversations.
The area where the strengths and weaknesses really shine is in confrontations. Periodically in conversations you will encounter a confrontation. Your success in the confrontation determines whether you get more information out of a character or gain their trust. When a confrontation begins the top of the screen shows a set of steps. To succeed in the confrontation you have to make it through all of the steps. You are only allowed to make a couple mistakes in the whole confrontation so you need to figure out which responses will work best for the character. If you give enough correct responses you will get what you want. If you make too many mistakes you fail the confrontation and don’t receive what you were trying to get out of the character.
Outside of talking to the other characters you will spend the rest of the time exploring the mansion finding clues and items that you can use in your adventure. This mostly involves walking around rooms looking for areas where an icon shows up which lets you examine items. I would say that most of the items are pretty easy to spot but unlike a lot of these type of games they don’t glow from halfway across the room. To find some of the items you actually have to thoroughly search the room since you have to be pretty close to the item and looking at it for the icon to show up.
While exploring the mansion you will also be presented with a couple puzzles. For the most part they are pretty simple but I will admit that one of the puzzles towards the end of the episode is pretty clever. This puzzle gives me a lot of hope for the puzzles in the game because it is not so difficult that it is frustrating but it still requires quite a bit of thought. I think the game is also really clever in how it set up the puzzle since you can gain clues throughout the episode which make it easier to solve the puzzle.
At this point The Council might sound like most other story driven games. The most intriguing mechanic in the game though is the fact that it has added role playing mechanics into a dialog driven game. Just like in an RPG you gain experience and skills throughout the game. You use your experience to upgrade different skills that you will use throughout the rest of the game. These skills might not seem like much at first but they become crucial once you start to really delve into the game. These skills are used to give you more options in dialog and gives you more information about items you find around the mansion. Since you can’t get every skill (at least in the early game) you need to choose what skills are the most important to you. I was skeptical about how adding RPG elements to a dialog driven game were going to work but I was impressed by how well they work in The Council.
While I really liked the RPG elements of the game, I will admit that The Council has a learning curve. The game for the most part does a good job slowly introducing the different elements. There is quite a bit to familiarize yourself with though especially seeing as a lot of the mechanics are not something you really see in these type of games. Some players may feel a little lost at first as the game introduces all of the different game mechanics. While you adjust pretty quickly, I will say that I would have approached the beginning of the game a little differently if I had fully understood all of the mechanics at the beginning of the game.
While I really enjoyed The Council and it shows a lot of potential, I can tell that it is not going to be for everyone. Being a dialog driven game I can’t say that it is particularly action packed. Most of the game has you either talking to characters or slowly walking around the mansion looking for clues. There are only two areas where there is any real action. First there are times where you have to choose your dialog response within a given amount of time. You are usually given enough time where you can analyze all of the options but there are a couple times where you have to make a really quick decision. You are also occasionally brought into a slow motion scene where small squares show up on the screen indicating clues that your character noticed. You have to choose one of the squares within a short amount of time or you lose that clue forever. Other than these two areas you can play the game at any pace that you want. If you like these type of story driven games you won’t mind but if you are looking for an action packed game, The Council is not going to be for you.
One of the biggest takeaways I took from the description of The Council was the fact that every choice matters and they are irreversible. Once you make a decision you can’t take it back since the game autosaves regularly which stops you from choosing a different option. While this is true for the most part, the game actually lets you go back and replay a section that you have already played and choose different options (I used this to see how a decision at the end of the episode changed the ending of episode one). You have to replay everything after that point though so unless you want to replay a whole episode again you are basically stuck with your decisions.
For completionists that like to see everything in a game this might be a little frustrating since you simply can’t see everything in the game in one play through. In just the first episode there are several times where you have to choose one of two options. The option you don’t choose is lost to you forever. These decisions are not insignificant either since each option gives you different information/clues. Each decision you make will give you some information while denying you other information. This idea that you can’t see everything is also supported by the fact that you will miss options because you don’t have the necessary skills. Being the type of player that wants to see everything in the game it was a little frustrating seeing clues and dialog options appear on the screen that I would have liked to choose but couldn’t because I didn’t have the right skills. The game does show you at the end of each section what story branches you ended up missing though which makes it easier to know what options you should explore if you play through the episode again.
With every choice mattering and being irreversible The Council tries to say that each choice made will lead to different branching storylines which will have a significant impact on the story. While this sounds great I have to admit that I was skeptical because games that claim this generally don’t deliver. Your decisions usually only slightly change the story and most paths end up leading to the same conclusion at the end. I feared the same was going to happen with The Council.
I was curious about the branching storylines though so after finishing the first episode I went and replayed the last section of the final episode. This allowed me to just change one major decision in the game. I thought choosing the other option would only slightly change the storyline. I was genuinely surprised that the ending of the first episode was totally different just due to changing one decision. Unless these two endings branch together at the beginning of episode two, episode two is going to be significantly different based on what decision you made at the end of episode one. I am a little skeptical and think the game will bring the two endings together at the beginning of episode two. If The Council actually sticks with these two branching storylines though it will truly earn the right to say that each decision has drastic impact on the story.
On the graphics front I would say that the game does a great job. The game might not be on the level of a AAA game but I really couldn’t find a lot to complain about in the graphics department. The only small complaint I had was that the lip movements on the characters are not always perfect. This could be due to the game playing at a lower framerate on my PC. My PC is closer to the minimum than the recommended specifications though so I don’t see the framerate being a huge issue to most people. With this type of game framerate is not a huge deal anyways since there is not a lot of action in the game where you absolutely need a higher framerate.
Being an episodic game I wasn’t expecting the first episode of The Council to be that long. There are five episodes after all. I would say that the first episode took me around 3-3.5 hours to complete. When I play these type of games though I am kind of paranoid trying to find every clue and analyzing every dialog option for far too long. If you are less paranoid than me I would guess that the episode would take closer to 2-3 hours to complete. Generally I am not a big fan of replaying episodes in these type of games but I might make an exception with The Council. I am curious about how much the game would change if you made significantly different choices in the game since just one change can have such a big impact on the game. If you are the type of player that will try every different option I could see you getting quite a bit more time out of the first episode.
At this point I would say that I enjoyed my time with The Council and would like to see more. The Council has the potential to be a revolutionary game in the dialog driven genre. I know that I am eagerly anticipating the second episode of The Council.
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank Big Bad Wolf and Focus Home Interactive for the review copy of The Council used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review.