When a game introduces a topical political or news item as part of the story, it's going to go one of two ways. It can be good an formative, much like how Spec Ops: The Line tackled wars in the Middle East and numerous war related issues. In that way, it almost becomes like The Wire as an entertaining, yet informative piece of media. On the other hand you can go one dimensional – show one side of the issue and be high and mighty about it – even if the issue you're portraying is very important and most people agree with you beforehand. This is where Mage: The Ascension: Refuge falls.
Since a lot of spoilers can come from the setting and characters early on, i'll be a little vague here. You're in Sweden, and guess what? You discovered you have magic! It has the power to change, well, a lot, and as you go through the game from text dialogues, you can either end up with a good or bad ending. While it is a little engorging, it takes the present day refugee crisis, sets it in one of the countries affected and adds that as a bigger catalyst. The story collapsed there. They paint a vivid picture of Sweden (especially the refugee camp), but it orchestrates how we're supposed to feel instead of letting us playing develop that. I'm glad they tried to tackle something important, but the game doesn't let you work it out for yourself – it's black and white, with no room for gray. The story keeps this throughout the game through what characters say, and while interesting, it leaves you with a feeling of it being more of a forced point of view rather than a game.
Just like the other bundled game in World of Darkness Preludes: Vampire and Mage, it's text only – only this time it's a straight story instead of being told through text messages. But yeah read and then occasionally point and click for the option you want when the prompt comes up.
Graphics are...interesting. If I had to describe it in two words it would be “Bleakly colorful”. It is full of color – when you make a text decision, it's going to light up in a blur of color signifying your choice. But the background is of a darker palette keeping in with the tone. It scrolls down like a story, and feels a lot like an abridged book. At most time it looks like it was made a little over a decade ago, but for the game, it works.
Not much to say on gameplay – you read and pick your own path when it comes time to choose an option. I really didn't feel much tension, because everything felt manufactured. Yes, it's a game, but dialogue still needs to flow naturally and choices need to be natural too, and the game doesn't do it. Some decisions left me saying “Oh come on. How could have that choice led to THAT?!”, but not in a good way. Gameplay works, but it won't help the story progress naturally. It's more of a design problem.
Sounds and music were fine. Actually, give a few extra points to the music. It manages to sound modern, serene and tense at the same time, and it helped me continue on with the story. The music made me feel more than the Mage story did, and like many soundtracks, is almost part of the story itself. It's good.
When I played through, there weren't any major problems to report. No lags and no glitches. There aren't a lot of moving pieces here, so it runs just fine. If you're a faster reader you may have to impatiently click for the text to scroll down faster because it's slower, but that may be more of a design thing too. Besides that, no complaints.
Vampire is definitely the superior game out of the two. It is more unique in it's presentation, story and seemed to have a little more of work in it. Mage: The Ascension: Refuge tried to be political and have a black and white series of paths that closed in on being virtually predictable in comparison. It's a unique setting, the music is great and I appreciate what it tried to do, but it's hard to recommend. If you like the series and genre, then it's very much worth it. But if you want a story that's shades of gray like real life and has more of a tighter story, maybe stick with Vampire.
Final Score: 6.2 out of 10
A copy of the game software was provided for the purpose of review.