The Council starts out as an adventure that turns into a murder mystery for a brief period and then becomes a game of world domination and the occult towards the end. It seamlessly blends history, art, culture, religion and the occult into an imaginative tapestry, that unlike something like Fahrenheit, doesn't get lost along the way.
In our review of the first episode, we wrote: "You can see The Council as one of two things. Either a narrative adventure with RPG elements that let you develop your character, using items to explore the narrative. Alternatively, you could see it as an RPG devoid of any combat with a complete focus on narrative. However you choose to see it, there's something very appealing about the premise and it comes across as both novel and innovative."
Having played through the game we'd lean more towards the former description, particularly with regards to how some of the story plays out, but needless to say The Council treads new ground in how it does away with tiresome mechanics like quick time events in favour of meaningful puzzles and how various character attributes allow for different paths forward.
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The Council sees the player assume the role of Louis de Richet, who gets an invitation to join Lord Mortimer on his private island as Louis' mother, Sarah, has gone missing there. The search for Sarah may be your primary objective in coming to the island, but there are greater things at stake as you'll soon realise. Your mother is part of the puzzle, but so are the likes of George Washington and Napoleon Bonaparte, as well as the aforementioned host, Lord Mortimer and his co-host Sir Gregory Holm.
Unlike most recent Telltale titles, The Council doesn't rely solely on choices made in conversation and there is a system of attributes and effort points (similar to the one in Torment: Tides of Numenera) in play here that makes things much more interesting. Knowing when to spend points and when to save them is key as you never know when you might need them. Particularly towards the end, there are some expensive options that could potentially save your virtual backside if you don't happen to have the right attributes for certain options. In each episode, there's typically at least one point where you have to choose one path or the other and so you're going to gain some insight while you miss out on potential information elsewhere.
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Most importantly The Council comes with some great puzzles, all logical and well designed, puzzles you have to think about, yet not the kind that will make you pull your hair out. And puzzles that you could both solve and fail at, taking the story in different directions. What we particularly enjoyed about them was how they were infused with lessons in history and religion, as well as the story of the game itself. It's not like we were just searching from random code words or numbers; everything was integrally tied to the story and the fiction immersing us further into the narrative. For instance, there's a puzzle that taught us more about the myth of the Minotaur and Theseus than Assassin's Creed Odyssey ever did, and that's just one example of the many ways in which the game offers insight and makes you want to pick up a book. There's plenty in here to do with Jesus Christ and Christianity, but with an occult angle that makes it a lot more interesting than you'd think.
The real beauty of The Council is how it allows the story to continue even as you fail to solve a puzzle, or as you fail to save the life of a certain someone. Failure in this story just leads to a different sort of story, offers different branches and different endings. Our ending (spoilers) was most definitely a failure in more ways than one; Louis didn't make it off the island and neither did his mother, and we even managed to get mutilated along the way. Still, it was an ending based on our choices and decisions, although in some ways we could have made it easier on ourselves, and our next playthrough will be informed by the many twists and turns the story took. The occult themes that are only hinted at in the beginning really take full bloom from the end of episode three and onwards, and it this so without ever becoming unfocused. It is a bit problematic that it turns everything you thought you knew on its head and depending on how you chose to embrace that knowledge it kind of makes the things you've worked towards moot. But we didn't feel cheated, quite the opposite, it felt like our eyes were opened to a bigger world.
What we can say is that the extra ability (mind reading) you gain here isn't as useful and interesting as it could have been. We think it would have been more intriguing if it had been introduced earlier, unexplained, perhaps in a less pronounced form.
In terms of the structure of the season, The Council offered a slightly longer first episode compared to the ones that followed, but overall, given the heavy reliance on puzzles and exploration, it offered a rather lengthy experience and we spent around 15 hours completing the whole season. Furthermore, it encourages a second playthrough as you'll no doubt want to make some different choices given the revelations and twists along the journey, and as we've explained there are branches to explore and nuggets of information you will have missed on your first pass. Perhaps you can even save one or two characters from meeting an untimely demise.
There are bits here and there that could have done with a bit of further polish. We came across graphical glitches and missing voice lines. Loading screens can be a bit excessive and there are some issues with the translation (from what we presume was French originally), and places where the voice-over doesn't quite match the subtitles. There were also one or two occasions when it wasn't quite clear what you needed to do in order to progress the story.
The Council is a game that stays with you, and we're a bit envious of readers out there who haven't started on this game and get to play it all in one go. While it works well as an episodic adventure, it certainly benefits from being played back-to-back as you'll have an easier time catching all the nuances, foreshadowing, and subtle hints. While there are parts that could have done with more polish, we're extremely excited to see what Big Bad Wolf tackles next.
8 / 10
A masterful mix of history, religion, occultism, and mythology. Great puzzles that always add something to the narrative. Progression both through success and failure (and sometimes failing may be a success). RPG mechanics work really well.
Lacks a certain amount of polish in places. Some objectives could be clearer. The main story twist might turn some people off as it changes the premise completely.