The Council Episode 5 Review

By Mark Delaney, 1 month ago
Finales are almost inherently divisive. However you end a story, it seems there will always be a contingent of people that don't like what they're given. Even generally well-received conclusions like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows or Breaking Bad have their boisterous critics. The fifth and final act of The Council, "Checkmate," is unlikely to garner only a minority of displeased fans as it's starkly the worst episode of an otherwise good to even sometimes great season. There are still bright spots, but overall this new series sadly fails to stick the landing.

The Council Ep 5 Checkmate

For three-fifths of the season, The Council grew its confounding mythology in fun and intriguing ways while layering its interesting chess match dialogue mechanics with great RPG elements. These gameplay moments have been consistently engaging, but the story around which they're wrapped began to slip at the end of episode three where an off-the-deep-end cliffhanger meant a fork in the road had appeared for The Council. The subsequent episode seemed to take the wrong route from that fork, and the finale fails to backtrack and find its way back to greatness.

Like episode four, this last episode feels rushed. It's evident in some tell all, show nothing moments between characters, as well as more technical issues such as characters stranded in T-poses or frozen standing and sinking into their chairs. One faulty scene in particular comes at the climax of the story, which means all immersion and intrigue, the story's forte for a while, are completely shattered when it matters most. Character moments make little sense at times, and even in a game where players make their own choices, you're often left with only several options that make no sense no matter what you choose. Some feel dishonest for the Louis you may have been building until now, while others don't always align with what you may have expected when you chose them. It's a mess, sadly, and squanders a lot of goodwill the game had earned for much of the year.

It really feels like the writing team bit off more than they could chew. There are a lot of exciting plot points to consider in every episode, but toward the end, they seem to have run out of time to tell them. That aforementioned fork in the road took this game from a well-told political thriller to a supernatural story, and that move, although it seemed exciting two episodes ago, was clearly the beginning of the end for the narrative in retrospect. Episode five just didn't have the time to tell the story, and as a result it is rushed, lacking continuity, and at times even inane.

The Council Ep 5 Checkmate

That's not to say all is bad with The Council's finale. As has unrelentingly been the case for this new series, the puzzles in "Checkmate" are great, demanding once again an acute attention to detail that other games simply don't attempt, most notably even within this genre. They feel greatly rewarding as a result, and the answers are always in front of you if you have the patience to work them out and decode what's there.

There's also a good sense of this last episode taking into account all of your choices to this point. Dialogue chess matches are really hard here as you're likely low on all buffs by now, but you can play off all you've learned so far in a way that this genre really needs to get right, and "Checkmate" does that. Similarly, there are many alternate scenes in this episode based on what you've done until now, and even within this episode there is a lot of missable content for those who aren't scanning every area or have made certain choices. The Council's narrative accolades have certainly faded at the end, but a lot of what it introduces to the genre in terms of new RPG elements and detail-oriented puzzles and dialogue should become trendsetters for anyone else looking to fill the Telltale-sized hole in the gaming industry. These parts remain awesome no matter how rough the story gets.

The achievement list is once again just three unmissable chapter completion achievements, so if you've done all else you need to do from the base game's heftier list, you should finish with the 1,000 G here. Do make sure you use these last few chapters of XP to get a skill to level three if you haven't yet, but otherwise you should be well on your way to a pretty easy completion.

Summary

The Council sadly saves its worst for last. After three great episodes, the plot took a wrong turn and never recovered for the final two, ending with the most rushed and disappointing episode yet. For a game built on narrative, that's a major criticism. Thankfully, the episode does once more make a strong case for The Council being remembered fondly for some other things it never messes up, like its exciting RPG infusion or super-detailed puzzles. At the beginning of the season, I called The Council the new benchmark for narrative adventure games. In some ways that's definitely still true, and with any luck we will see this series inspire other studios to go deeper. Sadly, those developers will also come away with a clear example of how not to close out a storyline.
2.5 / 5
Episode 5 in The Council
Positives
  • Once again includes some interesting, detailed puzzles
  • Satisfyingly takes into account player choices from the whole season
Negatives
  • Feels very rushed, resulting in bugs and some dishearteningly bad dialogue moments
  • Fails to provide a meaningful or even sensible finale to the story
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent two hours back in Mortimer's mansion for one last go, gathering the three DLC achievements and mopping up a few others after the credits rolled. An Xbox One review code was provided by the publisher.
Please read our Review and Ethics Statement for more information.
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He's the Editorial Manager on TA, loves story-first games, and is the host of the community game club TA Playlist. Outside of games he likes biking, sci-fi, the NFL, and spending time with his family. He almost never writes in the third person.