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Warning: Spoilers for The Council within.
The launch of Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines II is still six months away, which must feel like forever to fans, but the good news is that a game is already available that might fulfil those cravings until then.
The Council is an episodic game that first began its release back in March 2018. The game is now complete, with all episodes available at a price of GBP £25.99/USD $29.99 on Steam. Ostensibly, The Council is a narrative RPG, with a structure resembling titles formerly produced by Telltale Games.
However, beyond this surface level is a system that borrows heavily from classic tabletop RPGs, and seems to take particular inspiration from the World of Darkness system, which is something that might make Bloodlines fans pay close attention. Not surprisingly, developer Big Bad Wolf recently announced that it is working on a new narrative RPG based on Vampire: The Masquerade.
The studio says on its website “After The Council, we are pleased to announce a new narrative RPG based on the licence Vampire: The Masquerade.” This indicates that the studio is intending to use its experience of creating The Council to craft its upcoming title. Therefore, to examine the similarities between The Council and the World of Darkness systems may be educational to see how a Vampire: The Masquerade game from that studio might take shape.
Similar to World of Darkness, in The Council, skills are divided into three sets, with players able to focus on Physical, Mental or Social statistics. In The Council, the aforementioned statistics are labelled as Occult, Detective and Diplomat. Each area has its own corresponding set of skills, such as the Occult speciality granting the ability to mystically unlock doors. The skills can be upgraded and used to accomplish certain actions, which can, in turn, change what route the player takes throughout the story.
Certain dialogue choices and actions award the player with Traits, which work in a similar way to the Merits in World of Darkness’s system, in that they bestow certain bonuses, or even penalties. Traits can increase a particular skill, or make certain skills harder to use, which can open up or block off story routes.
Another system at play is Talents, which have subcategories that can be levelled up to also offer a bonus to Skills. For example, completing the Subtle talent awards 2 points towards the Psychology skill, allowing the player to more easily discern motivations or weaknesses in the other characters.
Some actions and Skills require Effort Points to be spent, functioning like the Blood Points in Vampire: The Masquerade. Upgrading skills can lower, or even remove the effort point cost, allowing the player to conserve points for crucial actions. Effort points can be restored by using a consumable item, or by fulfilling particular Talent requirements. More Effort Points can be added by collecting an item, in this case working like the Heart Containers in Legend of Zelda.
Though The Council starts out as an interpersonal and political drama, the game eventually takes a left turn as demonic forces suddenly emerge from the shadows. From its opening moments, The Council establishes a reference towards the supernatural, with ‘Occult’ being one of the skill sets. However, within the late-game, comparisons to the World of Darkness become apparent.
The Council is entirely focused on the intrigue and political manoeuvring of its characters, eschewing the combat of Vampire: The Masquerade — Bloodlines. Fans of the tabletop games can attest that many games play out this way, featuring minimal or non-existent combat. Therefore, players who prefer this type of gameplay will definitely appreciate The Council. Focusing on the politics and drama of the characters instead of the sprawling environments and plot of Bloodlines and its upcoming sequel also demonstrates how a Vampire: The Masquerade RPG from Big Bad Wolf might take shape.
The cast of characters in The Council are flamboyant enough to satisfy most World of Darkness fans, though at times the performances can approach caricature. Those who enjoyed the over-the-top personalities in the first Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines game will likely find this appealing as well, as it provides an indication of what players might expect to encounter when the Vampire: The Masquerade game comes on the scene.
Games Masters, known as Storytellers in World of Darkness lore, come in many forms. One has lots of different styles of play, so room is available for more than one World of Darkness video game in the world. That a Vampire game from Big Bad Wolf would be a very different beast to Bloodlines II is evident. A more interesting experience would be Big Bad Wolf’s take of another World of Darkness properties, such as Mage: The Ascension or Changeling: The Dreaming. In the meantime, World of Darkness fans could do much worse than check out The Council for a dose of supernatural intrigue as the wait for March 2020 stretches on.