At Focus Interactive’s What’s Next event held in January, Big Bad Wolf’s The Council felt like a breath of fresh air. In the midst of the publisher’s ambitious RPGs, which all have lofty promises that could be difficult to live up to, The Council’s concept was clearly defined and the hands-on delivered exactly what the presentation promised.
This narrative adventure, whose first episode released this week, lets players embody Louis de Richet, member of a secret society whose partner in crime is none other than his mother. Unfortunately, the hard-as-nails lady has gone missing and the player’s journey starts as De Richet goes searching for her in a mysterious manor on the private island of a certain Lord Mortimer. Set in the 18th century, The Council offers a diverse and engaging cast of NPCs, ranging from George Washington to Napoleon Bonaparte.
What sets the title apart from most narrative-driven episodic adventures is its RPG mechanics. The main character can choose between three classes: diplomat, occultist or detective, which will impact the way he unravels the mysteries surrounding the manor. There’s also an impressive set of skills to choose from, which will define the way the lead character interacts with his companions. From sweet-talking to brutal confrontation, from analysing scientific proof to following intuitions: The Council offers many ways to get to the truth. Or rather the truths, as the title offers multiple endings. Every decision has a deep impact on the story and it actually feels like it when you play the game, without giving away what other path you could have taken, which makes for a very enticing game with great replay potential.
Think The Sexy Brutale (for the manor and the masks the staff wears) meets Agatha Christie (Big Bad Wolf actually named And Then There Were None as an influence) meets Telltale Games (which, again, Big Bad Wolf said was an obvious influence).
When talking to Sylvain Sechi, game director at the studio, he also mentions books like Dan Simmons’ Carrion Comfort, movies such as The Devil’s Advocate and old-school RPG games like Planescape: Torment as influences. Even classic family board game Cluedo.
“We’ve been used to making role-playing games before and our main strength was story and consequences and that’s what we decided to focus on. The big thing we decided to drop was combat because it’s very costly in production,” Sechi explains. “But we didn’t want to drop the gameplay mechanics so we actually found a way to create social dynamics, which we call confrontation, which are basically dialogue combats. So you don’t hit people, you confront them with words.”
The Council is not perfect, with some art choices leaving me slightly sceptical. Some characters have cartoonesque facial features, almost caricatures, but they cohabit with highly detailed faces, like the one of character Emily Hillsborrow, whose resemblance with Penny Dreadful’s Eva Green is so uncanny it left me wondering if it was an intentional homage or a rookie’s mistake.
A French publication also pointed out some historical inaccuracies – a painting in the manor that didn’t exist yet in the 18th century, for instance.
But the story, and its numerous ways to engage with it, coupled with its claustrophobic atmosphere and its RPG mechanics make me quite forgiving towards this debut title. Of course The Council is not going to sell millions of copies, but the team took a risk with a game that gives the genre a much needed twist. The episodic format, provided all the episodes deliver on quality, is also perfect to maintain the momentum and word of mouth for the title, which is all we can hope for the young team at Big Bad Wolf.