Now that all five episodes have been released for The Council, I think it’s only right that I come back and take a final look at the nine-month journey Big Bad Wolf have taken us on. This rather unique blend of RPG, Narrative, and Adventure all came together perfectly, for the most part, to create an exciting, thrilling, and all-around solid story of deceit, intrigue, murder, and trust.
With the sad demise of Telltale games, The Council proudly fills a hole which has been left within the industry, but the question is, is The Council: Complete Season worth picking up if you haven’t already got your toes wet?
First of all, I would like to congratulate Big Bad Wolf for their timely release of all five chapters. The main reason I don’t usually like episodic releases is that they are released inconsistently and too far apart. Take Life is Strange 2 for example, part one came out in September and there still isn’t a release date for part 2, three months since release. However, The Council episodes were released almost eight weeks apart – I say almost because some were nine weeks. They let us know that we were expecting a new episode every two months and it never failed to deliver – so congratulations on that. Unfortunately, sticking to the deadline meant certain bugs and issues were never fixed, something I hope is rectified now that the game is feature-complete.
The Council is the story of Louis De Richet, a member of the elusive Golden Order and concerned son. His mother had travelled to a remote island which houses but one mansion, a mansion which belongs to the rather mysterious and creepy Lord Mortimer. She went there in search of the Azif, a sacred book which contains many ancient texts which need to be locked up safely to stop it getting into the wrong hands. However, Louis is contacted by Mortimer and invited to take residence on the island due to the fact his mother has vanished without a trace.
Louis is not alone, upon arriving he discovers he is one of many invited guests, guests which include the likes of Napoleon Bonaparte and George Washington, not to mention a rather seductive Duchess and a crafty looking priest. Their presence is unknown to him but one thing is for sure, it’s not a coincidence that everyone is there at the same time, Lord Mortimer is clearly planning something if he is to invite such prestige guests. As the story goes on, the choice you make, the people you talk to, and the answers you give, all come together and mould your specific journey.
Telltale games always told you that your choices matter and that anything you do will be reflected within the story, but we all know that was never anything more than a skin swap on who lives. The Council offers new conversations, new pathways to discover, new events and cutscenes, and multiple endings based upon how you played the game throughout all the episodes. The one negative at this point – The Council: Complete Season has only three save slots – that’s not enough to experience everything on offer here…
The first thing you’ll notice upon starting The Council is it’s rather unique skill tree mechanic. Now, I know what you’re thinking – “lots of games have skill trees and experience points these days” – True, but you don’t usually see that mechanic in a narrative story-driven adventure game. This single mechanic is what helps set The Council apart from all the other narrative games out there. Sure, in Until Dawn you have choices which pushes you in slightly different directions, in Telltale games you pick who lives and who dies, in The Council you’ll be presented with new and varied pathways based on the skills you choose.
I played the entirety of The Council three times, I used up all the save slots and kitted out each of my versions of Louis with different skills from the start. In one pathway I gave myself a physical defect at the start and proceeded to become sneaky and opt to make it easier to read people and analyse what’s going on. My other save file had me opting to talk to the ‘good’ guests and choosing to place my skills into being more political and trustworthy. My final save was a YOLO save, I dabbled in everything from the occult to honesty as I took no sides and asked everyone everything regardless of how they felt towards me.
This mechanic started off interesting and crucial to what information you uncover, what events take place, and who would actually talk to you. A few episodes in and it didn’t feel as important anymore as you had learnt enough things to make you a jack-of-all-trades regardless of your chosen path. However, towards the end, your skills start to come in useful again as they don’t only open up new conversational pieces but the higher your rating, the less amount of ‘action points’ it takes to ask such questions. For example, in a scene shortly before the end of the game, you’re given four options. One of these requires a certain skill, yet it will use up around seven action points – something you most likely won’t have at this point. If you’ve invested skill points wisely, then it will only take two or three to ask the direct and correct question.
Again, this is another feature you wouldn’t expect in a narrative-heavy game. Sure, we’ve seen you pick up items in point and click games and your standard Telltale games, but the items you pick up in The Council aren’t inventory items you use to solve puzzles. There are four items you can find which are useful for your cause. These are used with the D-pad to either restore some action points so you can use your conversational skills, make the next conversational point ‘free’ to utilise, remove any negative traits you have looming over yourself, and make it easier to spot the weakness of the person you’re talking to.
As you can see, everything revolves around the interesting and rather unique skill and conversational mechanics within The Council. In regards to the negative traits and the weaknesses, as you talk to people you’ll uncover what makes them tick and how to manipulate them. For example, if you uncover that one character is strong against political issues, don’t talk to them about such matters unless your skill set is high. If you do, you’ll give out wrong information, be shot down, and you’ll receive a negative trait which increases the action points required for a period of time. On the flip side, if you know someone is easy to manipulate, picking such conversational choice will allow you to convince them to follow you and do as you say.
There is one other collectable within the game, Golden Coins. These are scattered all over the place, I found 25 of them, yet they serve no purpose and aren’t related to a trophy, mechanic, or story element. So I honestly have no idea what they’re for!
What would a narrative adventure game be without puzzles? Well, I can think of a few which doesn’t have any, but still – The Council has you covered. I’ve explained how I felt about the puzzles in each game as the series went on, spoilers – it was on a steady decline. However, when you look at the whole package, as I am doing now, there is a healthy amount of puzzles and no two are alike. Also, they aren’t your standard sliding puzzle or fetch quest, you have to logically think about these as most of the time you’ll only get one shot at getting it right. Quite a few of the puzzles you won’t even find out if you’re right or wrong until the next episode where you learn of the consequences for your actions.
I really enjoy this style of gameplay as it once again adds to the replayability. If you get a puzzle wrong you may lose your limb, it may cost someone their life, or it may even mean the final confrontation is pointless as you don’t have the right item. Yet, you just don’t know until the last minute. I will admit, some of the puzzles are quite difficult and some of them may take you a while to work out – especially the ones towards the end of the game, but everything can be solved logically if you think about it.
My main criticism was that there were fewer puzzles as the story went on. In hindsight, as the puzzles reduced, the narrative and exposition increased. So, even though some episodes seem like ‘filler’ as it’s clearly preparing you for the next major milestone, when you play the entire season in one go, with no two-month breaks, it flows really well together. I’m hoping the next game Big Bad Wolf comes out with also includes well thought out puzzles which match, or better, those we saw in The Council.
The characters and more info
After the brilliantly implemented mechanics within The Council, what are we left with? I would say the interesting and mysterious characters. Sure, I hate some of these characters but only because of the way they act and prance around like they’re in charge, not because of the character design. Each and every one of them has their own backstory, motives, agenda, and personality. For example, the Duchess Emily Hillsborrow is a seductress who knows exactly how to get what she wants. However, she also has a few dark secrets, some of which she’ll only discover whilst on the island. Will you uncover what they are during your playthrough? On the other end of the spectrum is your mother, Sarah De Richet. She’s here with a purpose but why did she disappear? Has she found what she came for or is her life in danger? Also, what was that strange vision you had of her upon stepping foot on the island…
To balance out the positives, the lipsyncing isn’t very good, a lot of times some characters don’t even move their mouths when talking, and various characters seem to pronounce Louis as Lewis – even Louis does this himself early on in the game. However, the actual voice acting seems pretty good with only a few issues of dips in quality. The most noticeable for me was various actors clearly trying to put on a fake accent which breaks when they say certain things, and Louis’ voice during the final encounter depending on the path you take. Other than that, I really enjoyed what the team had put together.
If you would like a more detailed review on each individual chapter (which may contain spoilers on the chapter prior to them) then check out my individual reviews for: Episode 1:- The Mad ones, Episode 2:- Hide and Seek, Episode 3:- Ripples, Episode 4:-Burning Bridges, and Episode 5:- Checkmate.
Throughout my reviews of each episode, I stated that I liked the look and feel of the game, despite other publications saying it looks like “PS3 graphics” – a statement people use when something isn’t ultra-realistic. Personally, I think the team did a great job – the environments look great, the character models look good, and the overall aesthetic seems spot on for the time period and setting they were going for. The only thing I didn’t like in terms of the graphics were the slightly annoying issues I had with the lips not moving or syncing correctly, the bright whites washing out the white subtitles, and Louis going cross-eyed (although that one was funny)…
As mentioned above, the audio is great in my option. Bar the small number of quality dips in the voices due to accents and Louis’ final voice, the sound design was well done, so was the music and the atmospheric sounds.
The major issue I had with The Council comes in the form of its many bugs and glitches which weren’t fixed from episode one, although I didn’t notice them until the second episode. These include, but aren’t limited to, the aforementioned lip syncing and not moving, the camera resetting to staring at the ceiling as you go into each new room, certain puzzle animations not resetting correctly, the voices not matching the subtitles, and a certain puzzle solution not matching the answer you have to give. These aren’t major or game-breaking, but they are annoyances which have bled from episode to episode, just like the choices you make. I presume they were left so the game could come out on time every two months, I just hope the game is patched now the story is complete.
The final complaint, and it’s one I’ve been very vocal about, is the abysmal trophy support. I’m happy the game got a platinum, as some don’t, but the variety of trophies was terrible at best. The first episode had trophies based on choices, actions and consequences – which is great. There were no specific trophies for episodes two to five to avoid early spoilers, just “complete chapter X, Y and Z” for each episode. I was expecting ‘DLC trophy list’ to drop with each episode which adds on the episode-specific trophies as we saw in episode one. However, we never got any – the trophies from episode two to five were left as bare-bone placeholders, like how the Telltale game’s trophies went from being inventive and fun to boring and by-the-numbers.
I wouldn’t mind, but it basically removed the need for multiple playthroughs and to experiment. I spent about nine hours in episode one, the 2.5 hours episode, as I tried out each and every path, unlocked all the choice-based trophies, and experimented. I kept up the three save-slot process with each episode but by the end of the game, I questioned myself “why”. I did it because I was enjoying the game and I personally wanted to find out everything. However, there is a lot of story and scenes the vast majority of people out there won’t even get to see, all because the developers opted to do a detailed list for episode one and then go to the ‘easy platinum’ route of Telltale games. It will certainly pull in more consumers, as they will complete the game which a guide nice and quick, but it really didn’t please me and it felt like the developers just didn’t care that people didn’t see all of their game past episode one.
That is my biggest complaint and one I have with games from another publisher as well. They don’t seem to want you to play their entire game to get rewarded with the platinum, a trophy which should be for those who see and do everything. this may be an issue I have personally, or maybe you feel the same as me? Either way, I really wished they had dropped small DLC trophy packs with each episode so we had a reason to experiment outside of doing it based on our curiosity.
So, the question I asked at the beginning of the review was “is The Council: Complete Season worth picking up if you haven’t already got your toes wet” – my answer to this would be an outstanding “yes”. With the demise of Telltale and a clear gap in the market, there are a few games I would highly recommend people check out, smaller games which they may not have even heard about before. These would be Black Mirror, State of Mind, Dream Chapters, Kings Quest, The Journey Down, Syberia 3, and The Council. There are more, but these are the ones I feel people may have overlooked and not given a second chance to. Each one is their own adventure into the fantastical whilst following a compelling story with many twists and turns as well as a few with branching stories.
The Council was a breath of fresh air for me in the stale Telltale-ran genre. Sure, Telltale used to make good games, but the constant release of the same game only with a new skin started to get old. They had put behind them the ‘adventure’ part of their games as The Walking Dead became popular, and opted for a more story-driven ‘interactive’ storybook instead. The Council gives you a lot more interactions, choices that matter, pathways that open and close based on your style of play, and it shows how you can combine narrative and puzzles together to create an interesting and intriguing story without turning into a visual novel. Btw, I don’t have anything against Visual Novels, one of my favourite games of the year is one (428: Shibuya Scramble), but that’s a different genre.
To sum it up, yes, I do recommend it and I would say that anyone who enjoyed early Telltale games, and their final Walking Dead episodes (as they were good), will really enjoy The Council. Everyone else, if you like a good narrative story which has you wondering ‘what if’ all the time as you get the urge to replay the game to find out what happens when you try something else out, then you should certainly pick up The Council: Complete Season today.
Official Trailer (The SquareXO score is mine):
If you like narrative-based adventure games, you need to have The Council: Complete Season in your collection. It’ll be hard to find another game in the same genre which tops the suspense, intrigue and excitement you’ll have within this 12-15 hour adventure. Sure, there aren’t as many major branching pathways as games such as Detroit: Become Human, but there is a lot of minor changes and certain things you can and can’t talk about or see if you’ve not invested your skill points accordingly.
Despite its recurring bugs and glitches, The Council provides an experience you won’t forget combined with thought-provoking puzzles and a whole cast of interesting people. The only question I have is, where does Big Bad Wolf go from here…
**The Council: Complete Season is on sale on PSN until 20th December for £14.99 to PS+ subscribers. Don’t miss this deal**
The Council - Complete Season£24.99
Episode 1:- The Mad ones9.5/10
Episode 2:- Hide and Seek8.8/10
Episode 3:- Ripples7.8/10
Episode 4:-Burning Bridges7.5/10
Episode 5:- Checkmate8.7/10
- Very interesting story which has you hooked from the start
- Great use of RPG-like elements in a narrative-based game
- Lots of branches based on you play style which leads to new encounters and events
- The puzzles are all very logical and thought worthy
- One of the best narrative adventures of the year
- The voice acting had a few issues here and there
- There are recurring bugs which never got resolved (non-game breaking)
- The trophy list is a joke from episode two onwards when it changes into an easy platinum format