This is an interesting fantasy game. I recognize that it has been out long enough, and has enough of a fan following, that in some ways I add nothing with my review, but many voices makes for a clearer picture.
In many ways the concept of Exalted is spectacular. It purports (and for the most part succeeds) in being a fantasy game derived from different sources than Prof. Tolkein and his imitators. It claims in particular to derive itself from ancient epics like the Illiad and from anime. This last influence is felt most clearly in the art. The introduction to the game says that it is the anime influences which differentiate the game most strongly from its competitors (pg. 14), which to me sometimes plays out that this is the strongest influence on the game. This is certainly the feeling which I get from the game. The ancient heroes vibe is there, but I feel like the anime vibe is stronger. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Anime is not my usual cup of tea, but I still enjoy this game immensely. There are some aspects which feel very much inspired by Asian fantasy, like the enormous swords. And of course, the art.
The art is excellent. It is in a very cartoon style, which is keeping with the stated influences of the authors. I feel that the nudity count was higher than I was comfortable with, but this is a discussion which White Wolf and I have been having since the first edition of Changeling (I was much younger and less mature then--I have much more of an ability to ignore nudity in a book now). Still in general, I like the art. The comics provide a quick and dirty jump into the world, which I prefer to in-world fiction. The .PDF is art intensive enough that my Kindle DX slows down a little drawing the whole page, but not so much that it is unreadable.
The world of Exalted is extremely detailed, even in the core rulebook, which is quite nice. I like being able to run a game with essentially one book, and the main Exalted rulebook gives you a lot to work with. The world is one where there are extremely powerful humans, called Exalts, who receive their powers from various divine agencies. The main rulebook has rules for playing Solar Exalts, men and women given power by the Sun. There are other books describing the other types of Exalted in much greater detail, but I do not have those books.
In accordance with White Wolf's ready custom, the Solar Exalted are divided into Castes, which provides for the usual stereotypes, interactions and benefits associated with splat based character creation. Broadly speaking they are fighters (Dawn), clerics (Zenith), magic-user (Twilight), rogue (Night), and noble/faceman (Eclipse). In many ways, such broad archetypes help a game which is derived (at least in part) from epic, because it makes sketching out a broad character quite easy.
The system in Exalted is complicated, although simple enough on the surface. It uses a modified version of the Storyteller system, which is well and good, but there are so many powers and choices in character creation that it is quite easy to become overwhelmed, and subsequent to that, the Storyteller will need a clear picture of how the various powers interact with one another. From a book-keeping stand point, Exalted's system requires a fair bit of work. Although is different from the stated putative purpose of the Storyteller system, I think that it represents an understandable move for this game. Characters are supposed to awesome from the get-go, and one way to do that is to lay on the nifty powers. The only thing is just to keep on top of things, and try to be aware of the interactions of the various charms.
In the end this is a fine game. It has justly earned its following. The first time I read this book, I turned to my brother and said, "There is a lot of awesome in this book." It is not without its shortcomings. It is not, as noted, especially rule light. But for gamers craving epic, over-the-top fantasy gaming, Exalted is definitely worth a look.
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