The Council is the debut game from studio Big Bad Wolf—and what a way to introduce themselves. From its opening moments, episode one, titled The Mad Ones, grabbed me, not releasing its grasp until the credits rolled. The Council initiates intrigue by taking famous people from history and inserting them into a twisted narrative. Familiar faces like George Washington and Napoleon Bonaparte not only make appearances, but they interact with your character, Louis De Rachet. Rachet is a member of a mysterious organization that spans the globe.
At the start of the game, you are immediately tasked with investigating the disappearance of Sarah De Rachet, Louis’ mother, who went missing on Lord Mortimer’s massive estate nestled on an island and shrouded in mystery. Upon landing on the island, a myriad of characters also arrives to gather with the Lord, each of the guests having their own motivations for being there.
As Louis, an outsider to the estate, you have to tread carefully when making decisions and moving forward with the narrative. While Big Bad Wolf’s game may seem like a typical episodic narrative adventure, The Council does a lot to change up the genre’s formula. Although not apparent at first, The Council is a surprisingly deep video game that left me in awe. There are a lot of ways to play the game, so much that I actually went through the episode twice.
After an early conversation, Louis can choose a profession; a diplomat, occultist, or a detective. Each of these classes has its own set of skills that will provide Louis with different ways to interact with the world, and with the other characters in the game. If you’re an occultist, you have the option to decipher art and history more easily. You can also manipulate people in conversation. As a detective, you can use psychology on other characters and utilize logic. With the diplomat, you can learn other languages, understand proper etiquette, and even persuade people to see things your way.
There are other traits in each profession but knowing the appropriate skills to master is a daunting task in itself. You can learn skills in any trade as you see fit, but you’ll be able to level up abilities tied to your class a lot faster. Prioritizing one skill will make other tasks a lot harder. For example, I decided to tell people I was a detective. This meant that my skills in deciphering people’s’ emotions were a lot easier, and I could use that to my advantage. Unfortunately, at a breakfast scene, I missed two events because I wasn’t vested in etiquette and politics.
The gameplay is a unique twist on the narrative genre. In addition to the class system, Louis also has skill points that will allow him to use the abilities at his disposal. Every skill you use will take up at least one point. If you run out of points, none of the abilities you have will work. Additionally, every single character has vulnerabilities and immunities that can alter the way conversations go. Vulnerabilities are traits that can be exploited during specific moments. Successfully using a vulnerability on a character will open up new opportunities while immunities will add negative ailments to your character. Vulnerabilities and immunities can be what makes or breaks events.
Whether in conversation or while walking around the manor, most actions you do will consume points. Fortunately, there are consumables to help. One item will replenish your points by 2, another will “cure” negative ailments, and one will even let you use the next skill for free. Players can carry up to five of each item, and while it seems like these items are few and far between, I actually found them quite often. There are also pieces of amber that can be found. Every four pieces will give you an additional skill point slot.
There are plenty of paths to take in The Council. After each quest, the game lets you know what you accomplished, what you missed, and what alternative paths you could have chosen. Seeing the things listed in front of me that I didn’t experience deeply upset me, and that’s why I went back and played again. The replay factor is huge particularly due to this being only the first installment in the episodic adventure.
While I thoroughly enjoyed The Council Episode 1, it wasn’t without some minor flaws. The visuals are hit or miss, the environments being one of those areas. The environments are stellar at times. The island has a vibrant look and the corridors emit a creepiness that compliments the mysterious tone, but the character models don’t always look appealing. There are also some inconsistencies with the framerate in the latter part of the episode. While I didn’t find it overwhelming, there are a lot of gameplay elements to learn at the start of the episode that can be off-putting to some. There is a learning curve that normally doesn’t exist in games of this genre.
The Council Episode 1: The Mad Ones is a stunning opening to what seems to be a gripping five episode series. Developer Big Bad Wolf took the episodic narrative genre and reinvigorated it with some fresh gameplay mechanics, fascinating characters, and a mystery that has been stuck in my head long after the credits rolled. The Council has its faults, but I thoroughly enjoyed the time I had playing the game. I like Louis as the main character, and all of the supporting cast wonderfully drives the narrative forward. The gameplay is ambitious, the choices feel like they actually matter, and it’s one of the most immersive episodic games I’ve played since Dontnod’s Life Is Strange. I cannot wait to see where Louis’ adventure takes him.