Posted on October 23, 2008 by Flames
Promethean is a ‘new’ property for White Wolf, rather than a rehash of an older proper as their other new World of Darkness titles have been. This, incidentally, means that they have now pretty much caught up, after over a decade, with Nightlife, another RPG that could really do with a reboot in my opinion.
Promethean, basically, covers the idea of ‘constructs’. The inspiration is most clearly from Frankenstein’s Monster but other ideas are mingled in with that inspiration from golems and homunculi to Egyptian myth, all held – loosely – together by a theme of alchemy and a hint of the old anti-technology vibe that the old World of Darkness often displayed, an underlying loathing of ‘the unnatural’.
In the game you take the part of one of these lonely, soulless creatures and are locked into a quest to regain your own mortality through ‘the great work’.
I really don’t know what to make of this game. Much as Wraith originally was this seems to be nigh unplayable. You take on the part of an insular, emotionally uncontrollable, soulless monster that can’t interact with the world in any meaningful way (people instinctually reject you) and you’re railroaded into a singular, personal quest to become ‘a real boy’. Where’s the interaction? Where’s the motivation? How is this a playable character type really? Sure, it works as a villain or as the focus for an investigation in another game but as a playable character type? I’m just not seeing it.
I think the work also suffers from not really being a traditional type of monster, rooted in folklore and common myth in the way vampires, werewolves, ghosts and so forth are. While an heroic attempt has been made to broaden the remit to include other constructed monsters the Frankenstein heritage is very much on display and this just seems out of step with the overall World of Darkness, as though you introduced The Creature from the Black Lagoon for a walk on part in Nosferatu.
The book also suffers from what I consider to be the same problems that bedevil the entire new World of Darkness. Poor graphic design choices in presentation and a seeming lack of enthusiasm that just makes the whole thing fall flat compared to the old World of Darkness material, as though their heart isn’t really in it any more. That isn’t to say White Wolf can’t still produce good stuff, Scion has some of the same issues but is enthusiastic at least and Exalted still has that crazy enthusiasm that’s so endearing, it just seems to be the new World of Darkness material that this is plagued by.
The artwork is good, as usual, at least for the most part but falls flat on the page, seeming at once to be coldly and clinically presented and to be over designed. I can’t really fault the individual pieces but the overall look of the book just doesn’t seem to work, much as the rest of the new World of Darkness books do the same. The cover is extremely dull and uninspiring as well as lacking the graphic design ‘sense’ of the old books. The book has rampant font abuse rendering some sections of fiction and setting material unreadable and causing titles to bleed together. The whole thing feels, altogether, like a boy racer’s Mondeo. A spoiler and underlighting can actually detract from a mediocre car, rather than enhancing it.
The writing is competent and accurate, well edited, clear and well put together it’s just the material that’s problematic. I don’t feel that the themes of the different groups really work together and the net is cast a little too wide, trying to fit everything into the ‘Promethean’ mould. The alchemical theme doesn’t quite fit with all the character types and, while it is a useful thematic hook, squeezing everything into that paradigm also detracts. On a rules/setting delivery basis the writing works but it’s the overall concept and design of the Prometheans that fails, at least for me.
The rules are competent and work, the powers and themes are a little odd but that reflects the construction of the game as a whole, which could easily be paralleled with the theme of the game itself. Something made out of dispirate parts that don’t really work together and are struggling to find a way to exist and work. There’s no real surprises here, Promethean fits the usual White Wolf game formula and so should be instantly familiar and easy to pick up for anyone.
* Clearly written and presented.
* Feels complete as a game in itself – having detailed its ‘bad guys’ sufficiently.
* Not obviously playable.
* Resembles its own subject matter.
Style 2 (good art, bad presentation of that art)
Review by James ‘Grim’ Desborough