This is possibly the best game I have ever purchased out of hundreds of games. I have read the other reviews and will try and fill in some of the blanks for those who are trying to decide if this is the P. A. game they want.
It is set 300 years or so into the future. No one is really sure what the cause of The End was; but it follows a lot of the tropes established. It is not breaking new ground. It is, however, covering this ground thoroughly without getting stuck in every detail.
Mutants, clones, engineered animals, cyborgs and modified humans make up the cast and a little more make up the cast. No mutant plants though. Choice is left to the campaign on how prominent any particular part is. Mutants are divided into five types ranging from the "Ghost Mutant" which appears human to the Freakish Horror Mutant. While the "default setting" includes a good mix of all of them, the system can easily be tweaked for more or less of a particular kind. Although there would be nothing wrong with either, it is not a mutant fest or a human with some mutants setting.
The rules can seem a little overwhelming at first; but essentially break down to a fairly easy with some optional complexity. TME uses a scaling system so no character is "overwhelmed" by another. The equipment is thorough with out getting stuck on listing every possible type of gun possible. The ones given cover the topic and work as examples for creating your own. Almost every piece of equipment has its own illustration so one can get a real feel for the gear.
One complaint has been game balance. I can see where players who are use to all 5th level characters being roughly equal in power could feel that a Pure Stock Human has no chance verses a regenerating Mutant with laser beams that shoot out of his eyes or an armor plated Cyborg with mini guns for arms. This can be especially true at the end of character generation. Pure Stock Humans receive some nice balancing bonuses, especially with gear; but, no, they are not balanced. A balance is sort of achieved by the way people react to the three of them; but is not really a prejudice based reaction. Also, Mutants and Cyborgs have their weaknesses. This would not stop them from killing off the rest of the party if everyone attacked each other right after generation.
TME provides a good excuse for the players to party together. Excavating the ruins is similar to fantasy's dungeons without being so much "and now on to room 33". Scavenging the ruins often involves days of trudging around in dangerous areas and having to camp in them. The rewards can be just as great as any dungeon. The challenge is not beating "bosses"; but surviving in a hostile environment. It is not just a wilderness adventure with random encounters. Deadly birds may fill the skies during the nights, acid filled ants may crawl most everywhere and flower spores may cause those without filter masks to fall into deep slumbers. The "overpowered" Mutant and Cyborg have no real advantage verses these threats. Any type of campaign could be played beside scavenging the ruins from Mad Max, wandering nomads, empire building, etc. Again, the Cyborg and Mutant may not have any real advantage.
"Relics" are not uncommon in the default setting and they are not usually so complicated that their use comes down to luck on a flow chart. the problem is usually having the ammo or power cells to make them work for more than a short time. The rules point out "no one will sell a Relic weapon that still has ammo in it". Most local tech is near medieval level and augmented by some ancient tech.
The rules do not overly concern themselves with it; but they do make a lot of points about the fact that the various trade towns and villages are vital. Not only are they a safe source of food, water and other supplies; but how much can scavenged stuff support adventurers, especially when they start accumulating more than they can carry. Also, much of this scavenged loot may not have any real value to players. A crate of MP3 players might fetch some nice silver in town; but does not help one survive in the wastelands.
The game also emphasizes the danger of these trade towns. It refers to adventurers carrying empty Relic weapons to make muggers think twice. Cyborgs are a walking source of loot. The wastelands are dangerous; but town can be just as dangerous. Also, local rulers may not want certain items in any ones hands but their own. They may trade nicely for the items or simply try and confiscate them. Many towns will also keep a close eye on heavily armed groups, especially ones with loot that may have been acquired in a less than honorable fashion. Mutants can present an even bigger threat. A village filled with Mutants knows their possible powers, potentially making them far more dangerous that a missile and mini gun totting Cyborg.
The Crossroads Region Gazetteer is a supplement that covers a good area for a campaign. It has its factions and secret organizations; but no super organizations that Gamma World did. They are very organic and fit in with the concept of survival instead of world domination. A community that would burn Mutants pretty much on sight may still have better uses for them.
TME does take place in the future and has high tech items; but it keeps them to an advanced level not a super science one. Again, this can be tweaked in either direction. It works well though because the players don't need to feel like they are in an arms race. Sure laser rifles are really deadly. Crossbows can kill too. Power Armor may be king on the battlefield; but it will need charge and the user will need to come out sometime.
One reviewer mention PA social diseases as possibly an unnecessary step; but it highlights the fact no place is truly safe and nothing should be taken for granted.
TME has charts for just about everything and character generation can seem like a trip down random lane. Really, however, attributes and random mutant powers have been the standard in these type of games. The game does have random generation for race, what it calls "castes", which is the characters background, and skills. Overall, the caste and skills do not matter that much. TME is classless and the skills are primarily augmentation to basic abilities. The game assumes the player can survive and do most of what they need to do. It uses a level system; but advancement just allows increases to basic abilities, usually the attributes. Their is no level cap. the basic chart covers from 1 to 20. 2nd level gives the most reward and they decrease from there. This means that by 20th level, there is not too much difference between levels. Again, a strong point of the system, it scales nicely.
The art work in the basic book and supplements is good; but not masterpieces. It is intended to serve as visual references and more than does so. the one exception to this is the maps, especially of the cities. They are some of the best I have ever seen, usually including a 3D view. They really give the feel of the world.
So wrapping this up.
1) The rules are thorough without needless complexity. First time gamers would have no problem picking this up, especially if someone has spent time really learning them and can explain them. I could almost call it rules light, except that has come to mean "descriptors" and maybe a d6 roll for giggles.
2) The book packs plenty inside of it at 250ish pages. It gives the feel of the world without major treatises on it. If I have one complaint, it would be that they used a little more spacing and let the page count run a little higher.
3) Character Generation has rolls for every step of the process and then a few more. Except for Race, though, very little of it really affects the character. Yes, if one rolls through it, they may have been raised as a slave instead of an Elite Soldier or Assassin; but this is background. Even with a caste and skill rolls one doesn't want they can straighten it out as they level.
4) No two characters are going to be "balanced". Even if they are and one finds a charged Laser Rifle that balance will be lost. However, the game is about survival. A Mutant with Laser Eyes should be a blessing if you have a bow and a knife. They have to sleep sometime, so it is in their best interest to let someone weaker have the rocker launcher.
5) Production and support are top notch. Outland Arts seems very dedicated to quality and support.
6) Just about any type of campaign is possible. Mad Max, Conan, dungeon crawls, empire building, hard sci fi, or character driven stories can all be fit into it somewhere or as a different campaign world.
The number one thing I would like to say for people who worry about Min/Maxing, creating the exact character they want or those simply getting carpal tunnel syndrome during character generation is... DON'T ROLL!!! Just because the charts are there doesn't mean they have to be used. the book suggests first time players roll. SUGGESTS. I think this is merely because they are proud that they have managed to put enough charts in that Palladium Press would be impressed.
The only two really important rolls are Race and Mutation/Cybernetics. Mutations/Cybernetics change. If you don't believe this. Pick a Race. Roll everything. Then keep rolling them to 10th level. The character may still not be exactly what you want; but you will be surprised how much it can "head in your direction".
AGAIN. IF COMPLETELY RANDOM DOESN"T WORK FOR YOU. DON"T DO IT.
Their are tons of charts for treasure and ancient Relics. The Ref is not always going to roll and, if they do, they will surely occasionally alter the results. How many missiles will they let you have with no launcher and is Power Armor appropriate for defeating a one mutation bunny?
Best purchase ever and the price is beyond reasonable. Outland Arts is offering several bundles of the physical books at great deals on their website, some include signed copies and other goodies.
(Sorry, Drivethu! I have bought almost all of Outlands stuff from you and plan on the rest. And I feel like I should have frequent flyer miles from the rest of my purchases. Its just that is an amazing dead they are offering....)
I hope this was helpful and I hope to see all of you in The Mutant Epoch!
[5 of 5 Stars!]