Reviews// The Council Episode 1

Posted 6 Apr 2018 16:03 by
When the first series of Telltale's The Walking Dead appeared back in 2012, it felt like the start of a renaissance of point and click style adventure games, a genre long considered a niche interest following its implosion in the late 90s.

Titles like The Walking Dead emulated the earlier style but focussed to a great extent on story rather than the esoteric puzzles that confused and confounded earlier games in the genre. Gradually over the last few years there has been an even greater shift towards storytelling, to the general detriment of interactivity. Games released by Telltale and Square Enix's Life is Strange series have, I would argue, more in common with Japanese visual novels than the PC point and click genre with which they are usually compared.

The Council takes a different approach to other recent releases. The game is certainly narrative-heavy, but the inclusion of an RPG-lite progression system and the ability to choose a skillset with which to solve the adventure's various puzzles and diplomatic interactions does indeed set it apart. However, the extent to which the game succeeds in augmenting existing systems is still reliant on how engaging the narrative experience is for players. After playing through the first episode of the series I feel I have a pretty good idea as to whether the game's designers at Big Bad Wolf are on the right track.

The Council takes place in 1793 and follows lead character Louis de Richet, a member of a secret society, as he explores a private island. Louis has been invited to the island by a mysterious and wealthy benefactor. Also on the island are a number of important historical figures such as Napoleon and George Washington who each have their own agenda.

Louis is trying to locate his mother, also a member of the same secret society, who has gone missing and was last seen on the island. Through discussion with the island's inhabitants and exploration of a large manor in the centre, Louis hopes to piece together the mystery of his mother's disappearance. Throughout the course of the first episode Louis is exposed to a series of revelations that potentially change his perception of her background. Whether the player chooses to believe or act on this information is up to them.

In true Telltale style, the decision that the player makes will influence the development of the story. The Council is part narrative adventure and part puzzle game. Players are free to choose their preferred path, which provides ample opportunity for replay to see how different actions could lead to different results.

From the outset, the player is able to choose what type of skills Louis should possess. Because I generally favour conversation over puzzle solving, I chose the 'diplomat' skill tree and was able to unlock skills such as etiquette, politics and perception. By choosing this path, the conversations I engaged in had more options.

For example, I was able to discuss world events with Washington and Napoleon. However, because I had invested so heavily in diplomacy, I was unable to investigate clues adequately or pick locks to explore other areas of the manor. Fortunately, once a skill tree has been chosen, players are still free to add points in other categories, improving psychological and practical skills. As the game is episodic I look forward to seeing how these skill choices are built upon throughout the series.

For a game largely based around a narrative experience, The Council is rather slow to get started. Whilst the dialogue is always engaging, the plot develops rather slowly and some aspects of the story initially feel rather tacked on.

However, by the midpoint of the first episode and the introduction of Napoleon, the game really began to pick up. Despite my focus on diplomacy rather hampering my exploration efforts, I never felt that the game was funnelling me towards a particular solution or conclusion.

The voice acting is generally adequate although unfortunately the same cannot really be said for the technical quality of the visuals. The game stuttered and frequently displayed glitches on my first-generation Xbox One. Although these problems are not enough to ruin the experience they are rather off-putting and are particularly noticeable during dramatic scenes. Hopefully further episodes will fix these technical problems.

The first episode of The Council does an excellent job of setting the tone and player expectations for the rest of the series. The addition of skill trees to the narrative adventure formula is a good one and is very well implemented here. However, I have to reserve judgement as to its overall effectiveness until the consequences of the decisions I have made in this episode are made more apparent in later instalments. As it stands, the first episode of 'The Council' is strong and I am certainly looking forward to further episodes in the series. I only hope that we do not have to wait too long before the next episodes are available.

+ Interesting skill tree system.
+ Engaging dialogue with mysterious characters.
+ Potentially complex plot.

- Technical problems are unfortunate.
- Audio is rather forgettable.
- Voice acting is occasionally rather hammy.

SPOnG Score: 8/10

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