Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

The Council Episode 4: Burning Bridges Review

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If you have not read our review containing the previous episodes, it’s highly recommended as it’s not only referenced, but we may not discuss many of the mechanics present in previous episodes.  This was to prevent redundant comments and move directly into the changes in the current episode.  Eventually the link above will serve as the location for all episode reviews.  This review contains no spoilers.

Going into episode 4 of The Council I had absolutely no expectations.  The story was stagnant, the character development was marred by writing away plot holes with twins and the supernatural, and the gameplay was almost flat out boring.  I had grown tired of Louis and this fun alternative take on history because it seemed like the development team was out of ideas.  What started as an experiment in alt history along with a modern take on the adventure genre had become a series of fetch quests surrounding a main, but rock solid, puzzle with all plot points stressing answers to “a mystery.”  I didn’t think there was anything developer Big Bad Wolf could put in as an explanation that would live up to this fabled mystery.  In that regard, I will admit I was wrong, because Episode 4 throws you a massive curve ball and begins to answer questions left and right.  Events transpire at a lightening pace compared to what we’ve seen previously and some major events are given out like candy.  It also was apparently a good time to introduce a whole new mechanic that seems to heavily null some of the old mechanics, and the confrontation system has become a minefield for your usable resources.  The whole game was dialed up to 11 and it all seemed rushed out, which I’m betting it was.  While I have to admit I enjoyed playing through Episode 4, it’s frantic attempt to get things back on track came at the expense of it’s largest asset: the previous episodes no longer matter.

Episode 3 came to a close at what appeared to be a potential conclusion to the entire plot.  While the goals of the council itself had not come to pass, Louis and anyone accompanying him had little interest in those matters anyway.  When you enter into episode 4 a vast new location is revealed and I was wondering how they were going to avoid having him pick up the item he needed and calling it a day.  Of course, multiple fake versions of the item necessitated a fetch quest that has you leaving your new venue just after arriving to yet again navigate the grounds talking to people and hunting down helpful documents.  To my surprise, after running these errands and selecting the right item, the story very much does start to wrap up.  It gets so close, in fact, that I wonder if this was originally how the story was supposed to end in episode 5 because the second half of the episode comes due to an out of nowhere twist.  The Council literally throws out the context for all of the previous plot (and even relieves itself of some characters in the process) becoming a new game, complete with a new mechanic and overarching goal.  I have to admit that a risk like this takes balls, but if I had invested any strong opinions on the world I was introduced to at the beginning of the game, there’s little reason to keep playing after this twist. The developers just threw the baby out with the bath water.

On the other hand what we do receive is a crazy take on alt reality as opposed to simple alt history and the game seemingly begins anew with Louis – and you the player – having to shift everything he knew into this new perspective.  At this point I do want to see where the story goes, but all of this focus on plot can’t distract you from the gameplay, which is the central focus of activity.  In that regard, it’s all a mess.  Points you have put into strengthening the skills to Louis can be canceled out so easily, and frequently, in this episode that its as if they no longer matter.  If you brought a bunch of logic points along the way then you can easily cash them all in now as this abundant resource from the previous episodes has received a massive inflation jump. A good example is in previous episodes I’ve only seen 4 logic points as a high cost with a few asking 5 or 6, but the brutal puzzle in this one wants a whopping 10.  If you don’t have a stock in the chamber from multiple other episodes, you will not be making it through that puzzle the easy way.  Additionally the main puzzle itself, which is usually a highlight to each episode, is abstract and hard to read.  If you want me to solve a problem involving a series of symbols, letters, and numbers on an item it’s probably best to keep that item well lit and in the central focus.  This is not the case in Episode 4, where the item is sometimes not shown, it’s dark and hard to read (on a 65″ TV), and it can be obstructed by text at the bottom.  Once you figure out the puzzle, it’s pretty simple to get the answer you need, so on top of it all it’s a lazy implementation rather than the 30 minute head-scratchers from the previous two episodes.  This is most likely because like everything else in this episode, it was rushed and not given enough time to fully develop.

I have to admit that going into this episode I thought The Council was in a dire position and really couldn’t recover.  Turns out I was wrong and if you’re willing to tear down the whole foundation you’ve built and start anew then you very well can, in a certain way, recover.  I guess I just can’t believe the development team actually did it and I’d be shocked if this was in the design document from the beginning.  Beyond the crazy pivot of the plot at the expense of characters and all the story that had come before it, episode 4 is a rushed hot mess.  The mechanics are being re-worked, the important factors completely retooled, I think the plot can go in all sorts of wild directions depending on your previous and current choices, but it seems like way to much work to do all of these episodes twice.  You’ll even see bugs and spelling errors, proving that everyone was in a hurry from the coders to the testers to even the localization editors.  I don’t think a score is even appropriate because I have no idea how each player will view the big shift, but I’ll assign one that demonstrates how I feel about it.  If nothing else I’m ready and willing to get my hands on episode 5, if only because there are a ton of loose ends to tie up and I have no idea how in this confined space The Council is ever going to pull it off.  I guess we’ll see.

Final Score: 3 out of 5

A review code was provided by the publisher for this review.  Ripples is available now for season pass holders and later as an individual episode.  It took approximately 2 hours to complete.  The Council can be found on Playstation 4Xbox One, and Steam for $29.99 as a complete season package.  On consoles only, individual episodes can be found for $6.99 apiece a week after it releases to season pass holders.

Written by Fred Rojas

October 1, 2018 at 11:00 am

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