I paced the World of Darkness website like a child waiting to open Christmas presents. It's been awhile since I've been this excited. Like all expectations though, I kept myself tempered as best as I could so I'd leave room in my mind for all the things that my expectations might taint.
After an hour of fighting with the website to get the pre-order code to work, I figured out that Chrome was blocking pop-ups on the site, but not giving an error that it was doing so for the code segment. I figured this out by using Microsoft Edge. Just goes to show that using multiple browsers isn't a bad thing, and Edge can be a bit useful at times (definitely more so than IE).
Okay, on to the review.
It's 2018, and what the heck happened to our three favorite conspiracy organizations!!!
The setting in the book definitely does a fantastic job of catching up the game to the modern world. When we have instant information, and a single slip up of the Masquerade can be posted on YouTube with frightening speed and regularity, how is it that vampires have remained secret? Even under the might of the propaganda machine that is the Camarilla.
Regular humans still do not want to know that they aren't the top of the food chain. They go to their hum drum jobs, and do their normal things, and cling to it...desperately. However, the not so regular humans, that sell souls and information, and end lives with frightening regularity, have gotten the sent of blood. All the spook organizations were given carte blanche to persue terrorists where ever they find them.
The Good: The Second Inquisition isn't a super powerful grand conspiracy that is ultra united, and working in unison to end vampiric existence. They are an agent here, a handler there. Working more like cells in a world gone mad, they manipulate, and investigate. When they feel they have an opening, they strike.
The almost Bad: This all revolves around events that shifted the paradigm in 2007. I could easily see this balancing a bit more in the modern nights of 2018, as the public becomes more suspicious of clandestine surveillance, and these organizations very illegal methods get exposed. Which even then you could say is the Camarilla and the Anarchs fighting back. Using the political social machine to push the Inquisition further back into the shadows, and keep its meddling a bit more in check. Instead though they are left as a boogey-man that the storyteller ultimately is the arbitrator of. They aren't given lots of detail, and allowed to be sculpted into a force to threaten the night. They feel a little heavy handed, but in the end, it is up to each chronicle to determine their presence.
Getting tired of that 500+ year old Primogen representing your clan with ideologies that have been outdated for at least 2 centuries? Well he ran off, and left his position vacant...or he got a case of final death at the hands of the Inquisition, because he tried to buy a Russian bride off the internet for a late night snack. Either way..he's gone..and you're in.
The Ivory Tower has taken an expected knee jerk reaction to the 2nd Inquisition. Stop using technology. Fear it. Avoid it. The old techniques work better. Tremere magic is safer (what the hell did I just say?!). Don't expose yourself. Enforce the Masquerade!
This stance has done a few things. Elders that once ruled the night have either died, or left at the calling of the Antideluvians(?). This power vacuum has allowed younger (Ha!!! now your boss is only 250 years old!) vampires to take up the reigns. (get it...reins...reigns...)
So your neonate doesn't feel as oppressed, and might find the stability and order they've been looking for in the unloving arms of the Camarilla. The oft contradictory noddist and anti-noddist organization is still a force to be reconned with, but their fangs have been pushed back. They are now a little closer to the meritocracy we see in the Invictus of Requiem. They use blood bonds to enforce loyalty when needed, and other methods to enforce the Masquerade. Survival is the theme of the night now.
The Anarch Movement
WHY DO YOU OBEY??
As always, the Anarchs disadvantage is their lack of unity. No two have the same idea on what it means to be a vampire, and how they should go about being it. This also serves as a powerful advantage in the modern nights. Where the Second Inquisition has keyed onto the standard vulgar argot of the Camarilla and the Sabbat..the Anarchs are smart enough to know not to text your sire, "Hey dad, where is the nearest blood doll dispensary I can hit up?" or "Can I borrow your ghoul?".
Shreknet is dead...long live shreknet
If you've read the Anarchs Unbound sourcebook for V20, you'll know about the Red Dot Network that evolved from Shreknet. With it, you have a semi-thaumaturgical dark web layered right over the regular one. You could use social media to post blantant masquerade breaches, and none would be the wiser. Or at least so you thought. Being an I.T. nerd myself, I understand that the magic makes muggles unable to see your post, but that is still digital code. Skimming software that scours the internet looking for key words is neither a vampire nor a mortal. It will pick that post up, and flag it in a nice RSS feed to the NSA's little watch dog program. Then run it through an algorithm that assesses the probability of it being a vampire. Once that little bit of machine learning is done exposing the hell out of you, you've got a swat team busting through your apartment door, and blasting your to ash. Another drug dealer down. Nobody cares.
The sewer rats quickly dismantled their network. You can thank them later. When they are done running like hell.
That being said, the Anarchs are savvy. They know how to use technology. Many of the neonates that make up the movement were born with it. They show their elders, and their elders learn. They learn because anachronism is worse than final death in the Anarch Movement. And that is the difference between them.
Camarilla - Use what has worked for centuries. The tried, and true methods will save us. Let go over this "modern innovation", and come back to the darkness.
Anarchs - Adapt. Learn. Do it better this time. Keep going forward. The risk is greater, but so is the reward.
But where are the Sabbat?
With the rise of the Second Inquisition, they did not fair well in the west. This should be no surprise to anyone. When you blatantly act like a monster, and kill people in public, the boogey men target you first. Their ranks have been DECIMATED! This hasn't removed them from the board. It took them back to the monsters they were originally written as.
If a Sabbat pack shows up in your city, they are there to do one thing. Destroy you, your sire, your sire's sire, and your famulus dog too.
The Middle East
So there is this thing going on in the cradle of life. The old world is literally up in flames. This resonates really well with modern nights, as I can't recall a single day in the last decade that I haven't seen news about war in the middle east somewhere. Well, you can add that as an even more frightening back drop (as if it needed that), by adding the hint that the clan founders have called their eldest to fight on the front lines. The rest of the Sabbat is over there trying to kill them all, and your grand sire has felt the unresistable urge to go protect his super duper ancient grand sire. It's left vague, and that's good. We don't talk about the Gehenna War. We just dread what it means.
FINAL RANT SECTION
I could go on and on and on, but really i'm just going to encourage you to buy the game. It's had some controversy lately because the alpha packet hinted at playing a possible pedophile, and also some alt-right nazi groups decided to declare they enjoy playing it too.
This game is a dark game. You aren't playing good guys. That being said, there is quite a bit of information on how the group you play with should discuss the feel you are all comfortable with. Communication is key, and acceptance is key. Find the middle ground that everyone is comfortable with, and play that.
WHO EDITED THIS THING?!
White Wolf should have taken a page from Onyx Path, and released the PDF early. It's a hot mess of errors and bad layouts. The hard copies are being given out at GenCon, and I can't imagine being happy with the quality of that book if the PDF is the same version (which I assume it is). There are tons of grammatical errors, and the amount of wasted space is shocking. There are massive blanks all over the place where text could have filled the gap, and then right in the middle of a topic, they'll interrupt you mid sentence to put up a few pages (yes..pages) of other information. Then pick up that sentence again as if it was never interrupted. So you flip back a few pages, and then forward a few pages trying to keep on topic.
As a game, its brilliant, and wonderful, and I look forward to running this game for my friends.
As an RPG book, its a mess. I can't believe this is the released product.