The Council is a game that I have been interested in since it was announced. Developed by Big Bad Wolf and published by Focus Home Interactive the game is a 5 episode series that was released between March and December of last year. I had planned to wait for all episodes to be out so I could binge them, but then my prayers were answered and Focus Home announced that all five seasons would be released as one collection. After having played Call of Cthulhu, a game also published by Focus Home, I was hopeful for The Council. The game promises mystery and a game with a murder-mystery vibe, this being the thing that peaked my interest.
In terms of plot the game begins with our protagonist, Louis De Richet, and his mother tied up as hostages. From the dialogue we learn that Louis and his mother Sarah were on the hunt for a rare book known as Al-Azif. Louis and his mother then attempt a daring escape, and manage to overpower their captor. From this scene we learn that Sarah is the head of The Golden Order, a powerful secret society that collects occult objects. The game then progresses a short while into the future, when Louis reveals to the player that he has been summoned to the island of Lord Mortimer.
Lord Mortimer has written to Louis that Louis mother had come to visit Mortimer’s island as part of a conference, but has since disappeared. Lord Mortimer would like Louis’ help to find his mother, and so De Richet heads to the island. Once on the island, Louis meets some of the others that have been invited to Lord Mortimer’s conference. These include depictions of some rather notable people, such as George Washington and Napoleon Bonaparte. The more Louis investigates his mother’s disappearance, the more secrets he discovers. The game’s plot is full of twists and turns, and kept me entertained throughout. It isn’t a plot I can explain in more detail without unleashing some major spoilers, and it is also one that depends on the decisions that you as a player make.
The Council places heavy emphasis on the way in which the player interacts with each character on the island. Early in the game, the player is given the choice of 3 types of characteristics for Louis. You may only choose 1 characteristic, and each one offers Louis different abilities in his skill tree. Diplomat gives Louis an edge in Etiquette, Conviction, Politics and more whereas Occultist grants Louis an edge in Occultism, Manipulation, Science and more. Detective grants Louis an edge in Questioning, Psychology, Logic and more. While these may seem trivial, they are more important than just determining the means in which you investigate your mother’s disappearance.
The Council employs a very smart strategy when it comes to decision making and dialogue with the characters. Each character has certain immunities and weaknesses that you may exploit or avoid during your conversation with them. The true beauty of this system comes from the fact that Louis does not know what these immunities and weaknesses are until he encounters them in conversation. So you may discover that say George Washington has a weakness to diversion, however you may not be strong enough in diversion to exploit that weakness during conversation with him.
One the other hand, Washington may have an immunity to politics, and so using politics to persuade him will always fail. It is possible to monitor the immunities and weaknesses Louis has discovered using the journal, and this is something I highly recommend for anyone who is considering playing this game. Without exploiting weaknesses and avoiding immunities, The Council would be almost impossible. Something that, while amazing, is also a shame as in some ways it holds the game back.
The rest of the game plays pretty much like what I would call a typical detective game. You have an objective, say talk to Washington about your mother’s disappearance. You walk to wherever he is, chat to him, and then progress to the next objective. This tends to involve more walking, during which time it is possible to chat to other characters and learn other details that will help you in your investigation. All of this can become a bit tedious as sometimes people are rather hard to find. For instance when attempting to find Washington, I would head to his bedroom in the manor expecting to find him there.
However sometimes people aren’t where you expect them to be. This results in you running around the manor trying to find them, something that becomes very tedious. This theme of constantly running around the manor is a theme that is present throughout the entire game, and something I found myself growing very tired of doing by Season 3 of The Council. It can’t be helped, and sometimes exploring the manor can be helpful. This doesn’t help the fact that running around a giant manor is very tedious.
When talking to someone you use something called Effort Points. These points are shown as a diamond shape in the bottom of the screen. Each time you use a certain skill, such as Manipulation or Politics, it will use some of your Effort Points. Depending on the level of the skill, it will use more or less. This can vary from being free (because that skill is high and the level needed to succeed is low), up to 5 Effort Points for a skill use. Find yourself without Effort Points and in all honesty it becomes very hard to progress the game’s story effectively. You slowly learn to conserve these points as they extremely valuable, but the game does offer a way to restore these points.
During your time exploring the manor, or the rooms of the other residents, it is possible to find pickups to help you during your investigation. Royal Jelly will restore 2 Effort Points, but think before you use it; sometimes it is better to save it for later in the game. Another pickup named Devil’s Thorn will expose a character’s weaknesses and immunities while it’s active. Carmelite Water makes the next skill use free, regardless of its skill. Carmelite Water is probably the most useful item you can find, and something I would suggest keeping a hold of and using it only when absolutely necessary. Golden Elixir is a pickup that removes any negative alterations Louis has.
Overuse of items can cause negative alterations such as exhaustion which removes one Effort Point, and is accumulative so this can become much worse if let untreated. Other alterations I encountered included things such as skills costing more points, so Golden Elixirs are very handy little pickups to keep a hold of. Louis may also find books during his time running around the manor. At the end of each scene Louis gain XP and can even level up. Levelling up grants him new skill points that the player may use to level up certain skills, depending on what they wish to do. It is also possible to equip books, each of which will grant Louis with a different buff. These range in the skills that they help, but usually offer a +1 to the skill they represent. It is also possible for Louis to gain buffs, or permanent alterations, in the form of traits and talents. These are unlocked when Louis does something but the requisites are unknown, so there is no way to avoid them.
The last thing to discuss in terms of gameplay is The Council’s confrontation system. These confrontations are by far where The Council shines. Let’s say you have a confrontation with Napoleon Bonaparte. There will be steps to the confrontation, as well as chances. A confrontation may have 3 steps, but only 1 chance. You will have to convince the other person, in this case Bonaparte, of something. This is where exploiting their weaknesses really comes in handy, so make sure you have the right amount of Effort Points and maybe a Devil’s Thorn. Failing a confrontation isn’t the end of the world, but it does greatly alter the story of the game. The Council’s website warns that failing a confrontation may lead to “physical disfigurements or mental traits that help or hinder the rest of your adventure”.
In terms of visuals the game is pleasing to look at. It isn’t ground breaking, but it does a good job of setting the mood when it comes to whatever is currently happening. The manor is magnificent to look at, but somehow eery. There were some minor issues with the game, such as it freezing on some frames. At times in later episodes the visuals would actually lag, and I would hear conversation while the camera was still panning the environment. I’m not sure what caused this, but it shouldn’t be happening in a game that isn’t online and was fully installed. In terms of audio the music matches the mood, and does very well to add to the atmosphere of The Council. The one major issue I have is that throughout my entire playthrough of the full season of the game, not once did the lip movements of the character’s match the audio. The audio was permanently out of sync, something that stopped me from fully immersing myself in the game.
Overall The Council is a very complex game to play. There are so many factors that you must balance: skills, weaknesses, immunities, as well as having to remember things that you have discovered in the past because the game won’t tell you. This, added to the endless running around the manor and the audio being out of sync take away from what should’ve been an amazing game. A good plot, with interesting mechanics and a good progression scheme have been let down by really basic things that it feels have just been overlooked. One to play if you can grab it on sale, otherwise I wouldn’t pay full price for it.
The Council is a game that has a lot of promise; a great plot with some interesting sounding mechanics and a good atmosphere. However it is let down by character audio being out of sync, tedious gameplay and overly complex mechanics.