"The Council continues to be a game full of innovative ideas with a mixed quality of execution."
The debut episode of The Council delivered on Big Bad Wolf's promise to inject new life into an increasingly stale genre by integrating RPG-like elements with typical narrative adventure mechanics. The introduction of classes and skills that tie directly into the game's core Social Influence system add a unique level of depth to both character growth and player progression through the mysterious Illuminati-esque narrative. Put simply, and despite some hiccups, the first episode of The Council was a resounding success.
Episode Two, Hide and Seek, starts on the morning after the events that rocked Lord Mortimer's manor at the conclusion of Episode One. The situation in which Louis de Richet, The Council's main protagonist, finds himself is entirely dependent on the choices the player made in the first episode. He may be at the receiving end of an aggressive interrogation or heading up an investigation, depending on where and with whom the player decided Louis would spend the night. In this sense, The Council's claim that choices matter rings true. There's an entire branch of story and exploration here that the player may or may not get to experience based on their prior choices. There are also passing references to seemingly innocuous events, like Lord Mortimer chastising Louis for breaking a gate at the dock in Episode One, that are nice touches but may ultimately not matter in the end.
Nevertheless, I still found myself taking the same major actions and solving the same puzzles no matter which choices I made. It's still early, of course, so it remains to be seen just how much of an impact those choices have on the main narrative. My experience so far indicates that they affect Louis' role within major events (and how other characters treat him) rather than influencing the direction of major events themselves, however.
The secret society and political intrigue theme that serves as the backdrop to Louis' search for his missing mother remains another highlight of The Council's overall story, though the pacing of Episode Two leaves a lot to be desired. Real world events of the time, like the French Revolution and threats to the world's absolute monarchies, seem to tie deeply into the game's overarching story and character motivations. Sure, it's still weird to see George Washington loafing about the manor with Napoleon moping in the next room, but Hide and Seek starts providing context to the mysterious congregation of these disparate historical characters. You can roll your eyes or roll with it; either way, The Council is all in on its fictitious spin on historical events.
The Council's most notable feature continues to be the skill-based character progression and gameplay systems, though they can be a bit frustrating at times. For example, it's impossible to know which skills will be more important for any coming situation. Although the game does often provide a path forward for each of the three selectable classes, there are certainly times I felt like I was flailing with puzzles because I didn't have the right skills, couldn't make sense of clues, or simply ran out of the Effort Points needed to reveal additional clues. Some of that may certainly be an indictment of my own problem-solving ability, of course, but the hints of awkward puzzle design in the first episode seem less like isolated incidents and more indicative of the game's overall puzzle design methodology. I'd characterize many of the puzzles in the first two episodes as needlessly obtuse while precariously straddling the line between challenging and tedious.
The audiovisual quality of The Council, with its beautiful (though somewhat boring) environments and eerie character models, remains mostly unchanged. There are still minor glitches sprinkled throughout, including intermittent clipping and audio drops, and the stiff character models with unrealistic movement during conversations is somehow more noticeable this go around. Frustratingly, there is still no skip option available during dialogue. This is a glaring omission for a game that encourages multiple playthroughs.
The Council continues to be a game full of innovative ideas with a mixed quality of execution. Episode Two presents players with more of the same in ways both good and bad, though the benefit of novelty afforded to its predecessor is no longer a factor. The story remains intriguing, the Social Influence and skill progression systems are still fun mechanics, and the puzzles border on frustrating. I wholeheartedly recommend giving The Council a chance because of what it has to offer, but there are certainly areas in which Big Bad Wolf can turn this diamond in the rough into a gem. Technical fixes and better puzzle quality, as well as a dialogue skip option, should be at the top of the list of things that can be fixed mid-series.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.