I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised reading this one. Sure, it's hardly anything particularly novel in regards to the "You're a normal human in a scary ass world" genre, but the sheer vacancy in the main book in regards to what else is out there is extremely liberating for a Storyteller. The stories in the prologue demonstrate such a wide range of possibilities that could happen to a group of characters, that I couldn't help but be flooded with ideas for involving chronicles.
The Secret History of the World is a must read for anyone who will be running ANY World of Darkness chronicle. This chapter simply exploded my mind with sheer genre, the weight of which virtually leveled me. Read this chapter front to back before you go any further, and you'll have an excellent grasp of just what is going on out there. Particularly, the story from the Angel to the young boy in India... if that story alone doesn't trigger at least 3 or 4 long-ranging stories in a prospective Storyteller, I'd suggest taking a break from behind the screen.
As for the system itself, it fits rather well with the Mortal genre. 8 is an absurdly difficult target number when dice pools will be routinely reduced by environmental factors, which only emphasizes the fact that yes, you are mortal, and you very well may die or suffer serious injury because of an unlucky roll in a very desperate situation. The Attributes and Abilities chapters are very sensible, though the layout of the individual entries could be better. Adding the sample dice rolls in this chapter with the titles' font sizes almost identical to the skill header unnecessarily clutters the chapters. I think any Storyteller can come up with a suitable dramatic failure or exceptional success without assistance. I suppose that this adjustment could get used to, but I still feel that having the sample rolls here instead of in the systems chapter is a mistake.
The Virtues and Vices system is also an interesting new way to deal with character depth. I had no problem with the old Nature/Demeanor system, but there is one reason I prefer this one: It requires you to not be perfect. Your Virtues and Vices will cause you to act in ways that go counter to the most productive course of action just like we all do in real life. Sure, it's not a perfect way to reflect humankind's inclinations towards those seven deadly sins, but it is definitely a start.
As for Merits, as is, I have no problem with them. However, I have this nagging concern that they'll turn into d20 style feats, with overwhelming amounts of expansion material detailing newer and more ass-kicking merits to take. Seeing the three fighting styles ("I know Kung-Fu") listed there gave me a shudder. There is nothing to prevent the same sort of merits to appear for every single ability. The thought of hundreds of merits spanning several dozen books all for a supposedly simple mortal game disturbs me greatly; I can only hope that White Wolf has the foresight not to bog the system down unnecessarily.
The Storyteller section is pretty predictable for the most part, couple campaign ideas, some theme and genre advice, and a couple sample NPCs to play with. The only "Monster" revealed in the main book are ghosts, and this I like. They're extremely vague in power and scope, giving them a wide range of sample abilities, with a couple basic spooks to play with in the back. What I really like about this chapter is that it emphasizes that you don't have to be limited by what's in the book. Ghosts, or other critters you make up for that matter, can do whatever you need them to do, it's the Unknown out there, make it Unknown.
Final Thought: An excellent gothic mystery/horror game system on par with systems like Unknown Armies. My only real qualm regarding the system is the fact that it will be tied inexorably to the Vampire, Werewolf, and Mage (and likely others as well) games from White Wolf, none of which, in my mind, can effectively capitalize on the supernatural horror genre emphasized in the core WOD book. So long as the game isn't overrun with extra "campaign options" in the coming years, this new WOD makes an excellent game for a classic "Us against Them" supernatural thriller.
Score: 9.0 out of 10.
Vampire: The Requiem
Some mighty big shoes to fill, this one has. And it, quite expectedly, ends up falling short. If you're looking for the "I'm an immortal puppetmaster who manipulates the masses to achieve power and prestige" sort of game, you'd be far better off with previous editions. But if you want to be a rebellious neonate with no real aim but to increase your blood potency as quickly as you can by diablerizing unsuspecting elders, I'd say this one works very much better.
So we've gone from six traditions down to three, two of which everyone ignores completely. As often as not, the Prince of a given city is the most frequent offender, embracing and diablerizing his way to the top of the heap, and continuing to do so at the top to keep any would-be threats out of his way. Hell, once he reaches blood potency 7, there's no stopping him as he has to feed off other Kindred to survive. And now, with no Archons or Justicars above him (never mind the fact that if they did exist, Predator's Taint would make everyone frenzy at them immediately when they show up in a domain), why is he to even care about the slaughter and tyranny that will inevitably reign?
Speaking of that, one word for Predator's Taint: Why? I'm perfectly fine with being able to recognize other Vampires on sight, in fact I like that idea. But to incite a frenzy? How on earth is Vampire society to function when every newcomer is subject to every Gangrel in the city trying to tear him to bits? If your Resolve + Composure pool is 5 or lower, you might as well kiss your ass goodbye, cause you need FIVE SUCCESSES at that target number of eight to put the Beast in his place when you meet a new Kindred.
Which brings me to my next issue (funny how they're all linked like this). The eight target number system makes tasks unnecessarily difficult for supernatural beings of great power (and quite frustrating as well). I like it fine with mortals, they're supposed to be dreadfully impotent in the face of a nasty supernatural world out there, but Kindred are that nasty supernatural world. If you roll nine dice and pull two successes out of it, you've beaten the odds.
So let's see... Prince needs to eat you to survive. You need to eat other Kindred to stand a chance against him and the 5 vitae he can spend per round. And that's before you add in the strife that five different sects that hate each other (save the two that get along so long as they stay in power) will bring. Oh, and don't forget the painfully one-dimensional threats of Belial's Brood and VII. Come on, Satanists? Can we get any more cliche than that?
And I haven't even gotten to prestige classes-- er, bloodlines yet. Great of them to recycle and desecrate Malkavians, Toreador, Giovanni, and Brujah though. Very smooth folks.
Final Thought: A rather flagrant departure from the old V:tM. This game makes vampiric society far less of a supernatural social club, and much more a mishmash gathering of xenophobic monsters with very little reason not to kill one another. It doesn't even remotely lend itself to cooperation between Kindred, which will make coterie formation difficult, and the lack of a definitive and stable power structure, like the Camarilla of old, will make its adaptation to a LARP environment difficult at best.
Score: 2.5 out of 10.