The Council Episode 1: The Mad Ones is the first episode of what is sure to be a milestone in the episodic narrative adventure game genre.

The Council uses the formula most of us associate with Telltale Games – a story the unfolds over multiple episodes with plenty of choices along the way – and takes it one step further.

How? By adding RPG elements and giving us choices that actually matter.

We play as Louis De Richet, a young aristocrat and the newest member of the not-so-secret society The Golden Order.

Louis is invited by the mysterious Lord Mortimer to attend a small gathering on an island off the shore of England, where he can rub elbows with world leaders, clergy and royalty. However, the real reason Louis decides to go is to look for his mother, who disappeared on the same island days before.

Since The Council is an episodic adventure, we aren’t presented with the full story straight away. We only have a vague idea of what’s going on at first, and it’s up to us to uncover what is going on.

We do so by talking to people: lots, and lots of talking.

Conversations are the primary way to advance the story. You meet people, size them up and try to get them to reveal secrets, yield a piece of vital information, or not shoot you in the face.

The game refers to these conversations as “confrontations,” and that’s a fitting name. Each conversation is like a small battle of wits between you and whomever you’re speaking to. Some respond well to logic, others are impressed by political knowledge or can be easily manipulated.

Studying the individual and learning their immunities vulnerabilities isn’t all that challenging, but it is immensely satisfying. You are, after all, chatting with some of history’s greatest leaders. Napoleon, George Washington and the Prussian Minister of Religion are just a few of the people you’ll need to impress and outwit, and that’s never an easy task.

The Council Episode 1: The Mad Ones review - Confrontations

Here is where your skills come into play. When I say skills, I mean it in the RPG sense. Louie has different skills for you to unlock, upgrade and utilize when the time is right. Some of these skills are very useful in conversations, like the Logic and Manipulation skills, but others are more useful while investigating the mansion for clues.

For example, Subterfuge allows you to pick locks or steal items undetected, while Agility lets you reach hard-to-get places and enhances Louie’s physical abilities.

The skill system is one of the ways The Council manages to differentiate itself from most of the other games in its genre. The skills you choose to invest in actually change the way you play the game. I selected the Detective class, which means my skill set focused on interrogation. I managed to get through Confrontations rather easily using my Psychology, Logic and Questioning skills and was able to spot characters’ subtle tells thanks to the Vigilance skill.

However, when everyone later sat for dinner, my lack of Etiquette and Politics meant I missed plenty of opportunities to leave a good impression among the guests. I was also unable to recognize a specific text due to a lack of Occultism knowledge.

The Council Episode 1: The Mad Ones review - The mansion

The game always makes a point of telling you when you seize or missed an opportunity, so you can know where things could have played a little differently. This is kind of frustrating but in a really good way. It made me want to go back, choose a different skill set and replay the episode just to see what I missed.

But don’t worry, even if you lack a particular skill, you can still unlock it later. Like any game with RPG elements, Louie can earn XP by successfully navigating confrontations, completing his objectives and discovering clues. You’re not locked into a specific play style, and it’s up to you to decide which way to evolve your Louie.

Choice, as we all know by now, is a major part of a narrative adventure game. Unlike some, more popular games in the genre, choices in The Council feel significant and with lasting consequences. I found myself in a constant conflict between trying to further my own investigation, doing what I felt was “the right thing,” and winning the favor of the other guests.

There are already several forks in the road during The Mad Ones, each one leading to a different sequence of events. These events will still take place whether you’re present or not, so you’re not only choosing what to do – you’re choosing what to miss out on.

The game makes sure to let you know that, vaguely teasing you with “what could have been” at the end of each chapter. I never ended up regretting a choice, but I again I felt the need to start a new playthrough and go a different route.

Right now it’s too early to know for sure how far the repercussions of your choices go, but you can already see the last effects they have on the characters you get to interact with (and the ones you don’t). I genuinely believe that these choices will have a lasting effect on the story in future episodes.

The Council Episode 1: The Mad Ones review - Choices

Another thing I’d like to see in future episodes of The Council is a little more action. Yes, this is an adventure game, but for all the political intrigue and clandestine gatherings, the pacing is quite slow.

I’m not suggesting I want to see those quick-time event fests Telltale Games pass for action, but it would be nice to see more physical puzzles that require more than clever dialog to solve.

An early puzzle in the episode shows that Louie can pick up items and use them in the world around him. He can even jump and unlock doors, so why not let him do that more? The Mad Ones is the first episode of the season, so it makes sense we’ll only get to see tiny bits of everything in store for us. However, I’m hoping the rest of the season will be a tad more diverse with its challenges.

The guests, as I mentioned, are all these powerful men and women (mostly man though), and each of them has a somewhat unique look to them. The game’s style, in general, seems to take inspiration from the many classical oil paintings hanging around Lord Mortimer’s mansion. It’s a unique choice – one that I really like.

The exaggerated features of the characters, combined with the mansion’s grandiose architecture, give the game a dark and heavy vibe and add a lot to the air of mystery.

Everything is slightly over the top, and that includes the voice acting. It’s not excellent, but it suits the art style and character design. The overall presentation is a bit of a “love it or hate” situation. If its grotesque nature doesn’t immediately appeal to yoו, the voice action and music won’t make you change your mind about it.

The Council Episode 1: The Mad Ones review - The guests

The Council – Episode One: The Mad Ones is, so far, pretty great. Not only does it tells an interesting story, but it also brings some much-needed innovation to the Telltale style adventure genre.

The RPG elements and weighty choices add a lot of replay value to this first episode and let you carve your own path through the game’s mysteries. When you talk about the game with your friends, you won’t only compare the choices you made, but also the information you uncovered, which is way more exciting.

If future episodes add more variety to the challenges you face, The Council can be one of the most rewarding and thrilling adventure games of 2018.

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