Everyone loves a good mystery don't they? Using the power of deduction to break down a complex series of questions to reveal that all important conclusion. Gaming is the perfect media for developing a compelling mystery as you can use a host of mechanics to problem solve and there's great opportunities for developers to add craft a game with multiple options if needs be. Big Bad Wolf are bringing us an ambitious title that sets to deliver exactly what we've been waiting for.
The Council opens with an intense encounter, where a dynamic mother and son duo are threatened with death if they don’t spill the beans on “The Golden Order”. Louise de Richet is our leading character and his mother, a brilliant mentor is both members of this secret organisation. The tone and mechanical aspects of the game are established early on, with choice being playing a major factor in how events unfold. From here The Council unveils a captivating mystery as Louise’s mother goes missing while visiting the home of Lord Mortimer. Louise is invited to Lord Mortimer’s island where he can help find his beloved mother. At the same time, Lord Mortimer is hosting a mysterious gathering where the world’s most influential and powerful figures come together all in same place. This setup sounds dangerous and a receipt for disaster if you ask me.
Our hero begins his journey but what all good party guests would do and mingle with other guests and learn of their dark secrets and find out more about your beloved mother. Soon enough some dark secrets come to light and the game allows players to discover certain attributes to the story.
The Council offers a very engaging story filled with plenty of interesting characters, an adventurous location and a set up that’s perfect for a great mystery. While this is only episode one, the pacing for The Council is a little slow to begin with, a slow burner if you will. What gives The Council that level of intriguing depth is method of storytelling and narrative structure that compels players with interesting branching options, allowing the story to expand through multiple paths. Players will engage various complexities that only make the mystery much grander in scale. An example would be if Louise decides to help one of the other party guest find information on a friend’s deceased daughter or search for clues regarding your mother. Even these choices have sub-choices in them that open altercating paths and each path reveals a piece of the bigger picture. Some reveals can be rather minor while some will flip everything upside down.
I did find our leading character having convenient visons that guide him a little gimmicky, forcing the story along in a manner that felt unnatural. It shows a clear brick wall the writer had come across in developing the story and resorted to the underwhelming cliché of physic visions which come from nowhere. This might be addressed in later episodes but as it stands, it’s a poor plot device that makes things too easy.
However The Council is strengthen by the plentiful choices you have in conversations with other characters and the intense structure to dialogue trees which open relationships or create hostility. These segments are greatly influenced by the skills you craft. At the start of the game you’ll choose from three distinct fields, focusing your traits mainly on one field but be allowed to venture and develop others. You can specialise on the Occult, Science or Detective, each opening dialogue options, abilities that’ll help you with the lateral elements of the game and may help you climb over certain obstacles or allow you to pick a lock to a box full of loot.
All of these actions rely on event points which are the game’s form of currency to perform certain actions. To use certain skills or dialogue options, you’ll have to sacrifice a couple of these points to proceed. Much like the energy token or action points in various, old school RPGs you’ve played (or not if you were born after the 90’s). You can replenish these through consumables, along with curing negative reactions, sickness and gain insight to help you observe and find subtle clues in the environment. There’s plenty of interesting and complex mechanics at play and while it may seem overwhelming, the game paces everything very well. The Council offers a grand experience that’s smart, captivating and easy to immerse yourself into.
There were some issues that felt held back The Council even in these early stages. Our leading character is rather dull, bringing very little to make him an interesting character. He lacks depth, personality and comes across a little too wooden in his presentation. This is not helped by the inconsistent voice work which varies from decent to flat out uninspired. Don’t get me wrong, everyone delivers their lines fine but it’s just the lack of presence or personality that overall affect the impact of the characters.
For a game that is heavily reliant on character interactions, personality and presence, there are gaping holes in these areas of the game’s aesthetical charm. The voice acting can feel underwhelming at times, making the more intimate, intense and dramatic moments of the story feel slightly ham-fisted.
The Council is highly motivated by its ambitious, dynamic storytelling. There are plenty of ideas that work in favour of expanding the scale of the story and the sense of choice feels meaningful. This offers an interesting means to engage the narrative and opens a vast amount of replay value. While there is a great game at its core, the developers have under minded what makes a great mystery, it’s characters. At this early stage it’s hard to root for any one character to build a bond with any of them. The Leading role and supporting cast are not very interesting at this stage, lacking in personality and their voice actors (while not bad) just don’t feel invested.
While not the best of starts there’s plenty of interesting elements at play, with meaning story progression, intelligent gameplay mechanics and a decent story. The Council is definitely worth checking out but I feel later episodes will make this game much more captivating in the long run.
++ Compelling aspect of freedom and choice
+ Dynamic method of story telling
+ Great sense of progression
- Leading and supporting character lack personality and depth at this stage
- Pacing of story is slow
An Xbox One review copy of The Council: Episode One - The Mad Ones was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review