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Developed by Big Bad Wolf Studio, The Council is an episodic narrative adventure game with a good deal of RPG elements spicing things up. The game's five episodes were released back in 2018 to some fairly warm reception, which allowed Big Bad Wolf to start working on Vampire: The Masquerade - Swansong, their next story-driven project set in the World of Darkness universe.
And seeing how originally The Council was positioned as an RPG, then later transformed into a narrative adventure, and with Swansong’s announcement was once again reclassified as a narrative RPG, it’s easy to get lost in the intricacies of genre mixing. Instead, it’s much easier to play through the game ourselves and find out first-hand what it’s all about.
Story and Gameplay
In The Council you play as Louis de Richet, a French aristocrat from around the time of the French Revolution and a member of an influential secret society specializing in all things occult. The game opens with you and your mother tied to a chair and interrogated by some unpleasant individual.
This intro sets the game’s events into motion and wouldn’t be out of place in some Indiana Jones movie, with your mother playing the part of The Last Crusade’s Sean Connery, and you standing in for Indy himself. It also does a really poor job of picking a tone and sticking with it. Perhaps the game’s rather weak voice acting is to blame, but I really struggled to figure out whether the intro was supposed to be tense and foreboding, or light-hearted and adventurous, which unfortunately is a recurring issue throughout the game.
To the game’s credit, despite this fairly noticeable shortcoming, it still manages to pull you in and present you with an intriguing story where you want to know what happens next. And after a while even its voice acting starts to grow on you and goes from grating to endearing. At least it did for me.
Once the intro is over and the real game begins, you find yourself on a remote island off the coast of England where a certain Lord Mortimer is throwing a gathering for prominent world leaders, including some notable historical figures like Napoleon Bonaparte and George Washington, in order to help steer the course of history.
Your main objective is to locate your mother who disappeared under mysterious circumstances a few days prior to your arrival. But during your search, you also get tangled in a web of intrigue surrounding the French purchase of Louisiana and its subsequent cession to the United States. Add to that an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery, some surface-level Lovecraftian elements, and a plot twist that happens roughly halfway through the game and sends it completely off the rails (more on this later), and you get The Council.
By now you may be wondering about the gameplay systems supporting a story like this. Basically, The Council’s gameplay can be split into three distinct parts. First, you have these interactive cutscenes where you get your fill of the story, make various choices and participate in occasional quick-time events. Next are the game’s dynamic conversations, during which you can learn more about Lord Mortimer’s guests, find important clues, and influence certain historical events. And last but not least are the fairly traditional point and click sections where you explore Lord Mortimer’s mansion and solve puzzles of varying difficulty.
Soon after you arrive on the island, you’re asked to pick a class. The options include a Diplomat, an Occultist, and a Detective. Each class has access to five unique skills, but you can still learn the remaining ten if you pay some extra skill points that you gain by leveling up. You do that by completing the game’s chapters and secondary objectives. And with each episode containing several chapters, you can also read books between them and get additional skill points that way.
On top of that you have talents that measure your progress and reward you with certain bonuses or penalties. And also traits that act pretty much exactly like talents, but you can’t see their prerequisites beforehand.
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