The old Mage game was a great game. Okay, the system was a mess. Everything depended on Arete, and your individual spheres were almost a formality if you had an active imagination. The game rewarded sinking everything into one trait at the expense of all others .. but beyond that, it was great fun. It was deeply grounded in a cultural zeitgeist that everyone "got" right away. We made characters that were tremendous fun to play because there were so many tags from various movies, books and comics that filled those characters up with some reference to a shared experience. When you made Chun Li, the Golden Child, we just "got" it right away - we'd seen that sort of Kung Fu movie enough times that it was a trope that we all understood. You breathed your own weird life into the role, but you were tapping into a sort of Jungian-Dork Archetype that loaned weight to your character. The same with Mark's coin-flipping Euthanatos Venetian, or Dallis' mad scientist ... these were all great characters that let us do what a good RPG lets a player do -- be that guy that you read about or saw, and thought to yourself, "Yeah, I want to do that!"
New Mage, like new Vampire, jettisons that entirely. Like new Vampire, it does it to create a more complicated and sophisticated political environment. The Traditions are watered down into utterly unrecognizable and largely boring iterations of the same basic theme - a lost Atlantean culture. There's no longer any sense of pop-culture grounding, they all have esoteric names that do ape the kinds of names that real world occult groups have - "Adamant Arrow" in the game, "Golden Dawn" in the real world. But they don't have any particular verve, nor depth, and don't inspire that all-important, "Oh yeah, I want to be that guy!" moment. There's far more room for politics, however - the game creates organically a necessity for mages of different Traditions to gather and try and learn from each other, even while keeping their most potent secrets for themselves. These "cabals" also gather into larger, regional courts - which are also divided along Tradition lines. So, every PC will have an allegiance to their Cabal, their Tradition, and to some faction or another in the regional court. Plenty of opportunity for conflict, and after all - conflict is story. PC's can work together even as they compete with each other, which I admit would probably make for a really great tabletop experience, particularly with a group like ours, where bickering, bloviating and bombast are the order of the day. I'd like to see the game played with the ol' Tuesday group... but I wonder if anyone would find anything interesting about the new game world.
The old Mage was a terrific world with a messed-up mechanical system, and limited opportunities for conflict, except with the NPC baddies. The new Mage is a boring world with a great mechanical system, and plenty of opportunity for conflict. Maybe when they press the reset button on WoD 2.0, and go to 3.0 - they'll do the smart thing and keep what worked, and jettison what didn't. The old gameworld really did work, and wasn't what needed fixing. Adding complexity would have done the trick - perhaps creating a more urgent need for mages to associate cross-Tradition. But replacing the colorful, textured and nuanced traditions with shallow iterations on an uninspired (Atlantean) theme did a distinct disservice to the original game.
On the plus side (to do a Wickian review) the game looks gorgeous. The new artwork has a great style with lots of esoteric looking doodads everywhere. The fonts chosen for the book are beautiful and lend a lot of flavor to the text, and I've found precious few grammatical errors, which is always refreshing. On the other hand, as per the White Wolf usual, its organization is a mish-mash mess. Stuff is just scattered all over the place, and it's largely repetitive even within the first few pages. Also as per the White Wolf usual, the flavor text is skippable and uninspiring. The binding on the book looks sturdy, and it's an impressive tome with a beautiful cover. It kind of looks like a magical grimoire, which is a nice touch.