The Council Episode 1: The Mad Ones Review – An RPG Twist On Adventure Games

Mad Ones

Have you ever wanted to participate in a murder mystery involving George Washington and Napoleon Bonaparte? Is this a question that has ever crossed your mind? Regardless, the idea crossed the minds over at Big Bad Wolf Studios, and they’ve developed it into the episodic adventure game, The Council Episode One, The Mad Ones, follows secret society member Louis de Richet in 1793 England

Louis is chasing the trail of the organization’s most important member: his mother, Sarah The chase has lead Louis to a private island manor owned by Lord Mortimer, who is hosting his yearly party of which only the most prestigious of guests can attend, and one from which Sarah has mysteriously disappeared These guests include newly established President George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte, and story-specific fictional characters of equal reputation Each character has their own reasons for being here, and none are to be trusted As a master in the art of conversation, you must confront the different characters to gather information on Sarah’s whereabouts

Louis begins to have visions of the past, present, and future, all appropriately ending with a nosebleed a la Stranger Things These visions further complicate how you view each character, but it remains to be seen how well Big Bad Wolf Games will utilize this device to flesh out the story None of the Episode One mirages have been particularly eventful, only offering small insights on the bigger picture I expect these visions to have more relevance later on The story is intended to be shocking and dark, which has me wondering why Louis yelps “You scared the pants off of me” instead of reacting calmly to a situation like the secret service member he has supposedly been trained to be

Why are his questions inflected like fourteen-year-old Sora from Kingdom Hearts instead of like an early 1800’s prestige? For a plot that explores elements of suicide, mental health, and torture, there are many of these “goofy” lines that pull me out of the otherwise engaging overall tale Most of the characters have this problem, with each one reacting in the same tone no matter the situation The only exception so far is Sarah, who’s actress inflicts far more range and tone in her few minutes on screen than any other actor in this two to three-hour opening act This issue is the fault of the voices phoning it in paired with the writer’s stereotypical quips and phrases Despite this, I still was engaged by The Council due to its RPG twist on the standard Telltale gameplay mechanics

A majority of the game has you maneuvering dialogue trees, with characters having Immunities and Vulnerabilities to expose One might be resistant to Logic but weak to Manipulation, while another is fluent in Politics but knows little of Science Louis can be one of three classes, the Diplomat, the Occultist, or the Detective Similar to Dark Souls, your class choice doesn’t lock out any skills, but it will determine which ones you excel in The Diplomat will see added points to Etiquette and Politics but will be weak to tactics like Psychology and Manipulation

Other skills, like Lock-Picking or Linguistics, are beneficial when exploring the world You can only have so many, however, with some areas and conversation trees locked behind specific masteries You have standard conversation topics, and then you have conversation skills which are limited by “Effort Points” Each skill costs a certain amount, and only some will work on specific characters Playing into one’s Immunity will cost you points with no benefit while speaking to one’s Vulnerability will refund your points back

Trying to Manipulate Emily may piss her off, but appealing to her love of Psychology will bring her back to me Some of these choices lead to character traits and talents for Louis Each of these provides a small bonus towards one of your stats, with all of them visible ahead of time so you can plan out your build I appreciate how customizable Louis can be, with consecutive playthroughs having the potential to be drastically different regarding conversation As you study the world and talk with characters, you’ll learn their visual and vocal tells

You can even check gathered data on a person in mid-conversation to give yourself the upper-hand These characteristics stay the same between play-throughs, and having each character memorized evokes a powerful feeling during dialogue During my second save slot, I spent much more time experimenting with different topics to get a more unobstructed view of persons and their intentions Between conversations, you can explore limited segments of the mansion Unfortunately, there isn’t much surprise to these investigations

I would have loved to run into side story moments or quirky situations that add to the game world Instead, these segments serve only to find collectibles and items, with a sprinkle of lore here and their Confrontations, are The Council’s version of boss fights, which give you limited chances to win the person over at risk of drastically altering the plot These should be intense, witty battles, but I won these by merely appealing to the person’s interests Napoleon and I got into it over who’s more trustworthy, but I subtly told him what a great leader he could be which had him suddenly fawning at my shoes

No adventure game is complete without branching narratives, and so far these choices deliver One moment has me choose between following the case or ignoring the tearful pleas of a woman in need I will say that characters react a bit drastically, however I had the option to help President Washington with a task, or listen in on a conversation between two principal characters I chose to listen in and learn more about my missing mother, which left George way too angry with me, him leaving the room with a threat never to ask him for a favor

Apparently, we became best friends in the couple of hours we’ve known each other, and I betrayed that powerful bond Sorry for going after my family, Mr President The character models are a bit too stoic for my liking Even paired with the Dishonored aesthetic this game takes after, the stiff animations and deadpan facial expressions remind me of the original Mass Effect, and that isn’t a compliment

Add on the unremarkable voice acting, and you have some scenes that are difficult to take seriously That said, these issues add some unintended lightheartedness that makes the more gruesome scenes easier to bear The success of The Council weighs entirely on how Sarah is revealed later on It turns out that every character has some influential relationship with her, which somehow baffles our young detective more and more whenever this is divulged to him Despite the glaring problems with the script and the voice acting, the well-implemented RPG elements and brooding story have me looking forward to future episodes

What’s here is a decent first entry, but it’s too early to tell how the rest of the series will play out Episode Two needs to have some big payoff, or I fear that will be a premature drop-off point in what could turn into a thrilling experience

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