The Council Hands-On: George Washington Is Your Mom's BFF

The Council is full of intrigue, powdered wigs and intrigue.
The Council is full of intrigue, powdered wigs and intrigue. Big Bad Wolf / Focus Home Interactive

Remember when you were a kid and you’d dump all your toys on the floor and have massive crossover adventures where He-Man would smear Gak on My Little Pony? The Council more or less takes this concept and replaces the toys with 18th century history. The story centers around Louis de Richet, a young investigator on his way to the sprawling estate of one Lord Mortimer. Louis is looking for his mother, a treasure hunter/secret society member missing for several weeks. Foul play is not suspected (yet) as search parties keep finding bits of food and toiletries and other hints that ths cagey old gal is still around. You’re there to ascertain why she disappeared and, if possible, find her yourself.

Your mother's disappearance is only the start of the mystery.
Your mother's disappearance is only the start of the mystery. Big Bad Wolf / Focus Home Interactive

Populating the estate are a number of enigmatic characters and a handful of historical titans. George Washington is chilling in a foyer when you arrive, all too eager to share details about your mother from their time together in the Order of Some Secret Society Thing I Can’t Remember. Apparently they’re good friends, and he might have a lead or two for you that he’s willing to share later. There’s also a prominent Catholic cardinal and an English Duke and a royal heiress and, eventually, Napoleon. Your investigation centers around how well you can manage conversations that contain numerous skill checks. There are deep RPG mechanics: your starting class of diplomat, occultist or detective set the course for your early game development, as well as a rich environment full of clues and loot. The opening of the game forces you to find clues about your mother before it even lets you ascend from the docks to the castle, for example.

The developers explained during my hands-on this was a “consequence-based game” and that was evident even in my early interactions. Whatever starting class you choose will automatically make certain options unavailable, and the dialogue threads vary wildly depending on which of the 15 different skills you pursue. Conversations occasionally have QTE events as well, requiring you to focus in on a detail like a necklace or bandage to get more info, provided you have the skill. Glance at the wrong thing and you might miss your chance. There are no fail states in the game, though, and the episodic releases will track your consequences throughout the entire story. Essentially, The Council is a game meant to be played and replayed, there is no way to save scum your way around blown opportunities.

Creepy English lords are definitely wrapped up in some of this shit.
Creepy English lords are definitely wrapped up in some of this shit. Big Bad Wolf / Focus Home Interactive

An episodic mystery runs on narrative and, fortunately, The Council doesn't disappoint. Despite its elaborate environments the game follows a digestible narrative that doesn't overwhelm. A pair of odd, but vivid, flashback sequences fed my speculation that some mystical forces may be at play. But key details were easy to recall during conversations, and Louis’ Mother is as interesting a character as I've seen in a while. She's a wizened badass, equal parts Murder She Wrote and Tomb Raider. I can’t wait to find out what this spelunking Victorian dowager has been up to on an island owned by a nobleman who chums it up with Washington and Napoleon.

My only critique from my hands-on time is that the voice acting can be inconsistent. As interesting a character as Louis’ mother is the voice she has doesn’t feel quite right. She’s an old woman but sounds much younger, or at least not what I expect her to sound like. Louis himself can also sound quite stiff and detached, at odds with the deeply intriguing dialogue fueling the gameplay. It’s unfortunate, and in no way a deal breaker, but I’m chasing the immersion in The Council because it’s a world I want to be in. And with a release slated for February 2018, I won’t have to wait long to go back.

The first episode of The Council releases this month for PC, PS4 and Xbox One.

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