Review – The Council Episode One: The Mad Ones
The story-driven adventure game genre was greatly revitalized by the hit adaptation of The Walking Dead, but the gameplay – particularly the basic formula used by Telltale Games in their titles – has grown somewhat stale and gamers are looking for something new that’s more engaging.
Enter an independent French development house named Big Bad Wolf and their new episodic game: The Council, which features unique roleplaying game (RPG) elements and a conversational combat system that’s a chess match you’ll need to pay attention to if you want to succeed at them.
To start out, players – as secret society member Louis de Richet – need to choose their primary skill path from the three available. Each path (Diplomat, Occultist, and Detective) contains five skills to invest points into to use in exploration, conversation, and Confrontation – the conversational combat system that forms the basis of the game’s encounters.
Diplomat, for example, contains Etiquette, Conviction, Politics, Diversion, and Linguistics, while the Detective line holds Vigilance, Logic, Psychology, Questioning, and Agility. Not every skill will prove useful in every situation, and gamers will need to be careful in evaluating opponents before engaging with them to make use of their Vulnerabilities while avoiding their Immunities.
In additions to the skills, Louis will also benefit or be penalized by Traits he accumulates during the game based on his actions during key moments. Players can also unlock Talents by fulfilling set conditions, allowing gamers even more freedom in how they want to build out ‘their’ version of de Richet.
All this character building proves a major difference between The Council and other modern adventure games by giving the player more of a connection to the action, especially when the way you’ve built Louis proves particularly effective in an encounter. As the game’s consequences system gives you only three opportunities to get a confrontation ‘right’ before locking in the results no matter what happened, there’s much more tension here than Telltale’s ‘So and so will remember that’ flashing briefly in the corner of the screen ever provided.
As far as the story goes, this is a strong first step. Episode One introduces several key characters and provides a few mysteries you’ll want to follow to their conclusion. The dialogue is quite well written, in a few cases better written than acted, and that bodes well for the rest of the episodes.