The most popular and well-known (perhaps infamous) Palladium game is of course Rifts, and yes, I definitely have a copy. It was a banner day when I received the main rulebook for Christmas in 1990, having looked at it for over two months, sitting alone on the shelf at the local gaming store. I bought every release after, finally giving up at World Book 5. Yesterday, however, I got a good deal on a stack of Rifts at the used bookstore and my collection doubled overnight. So much for clearing the shelves.
My first impressions of Rifts were 1) There is A LOT of cool shit in this book, and 2) Oh I see they didn't revise the system. The system I speak of is of course the clunky POS Palladium "megaversal" system, which is simply AD&D extrapolated into a fantasy game then converted for use to every other genre imaginable. I never had a problem with it when we ran combats in TMNT or Robotech, and was already familiar with "megadamage" due to the latter game. Still, I wasn't impressed the system hadn't been updated nor thrown out completely for something better. Instead of doing the game justice with an actual rewrite of an old set of rules, the Rifts setting was instead simply tacked onto the existing with a few additions. Kitchen sink does not begin to describe Rifts. You want cyborgs? (Fine) Wizards? (Yep) Soldiers and ninjas and aliens. (Definitely) Psionic-using dragon ninjas? (Yeah, we can do that) How about dolphin mercenaries with bionic eyes? (Give me something hard) Okay, a centaur from another dimension whose bottom half has been replaced by an anti-grav tank chassis, rides a robot donkey, can cast demon magic, wears a suit of armor made from bark, shoots laser beams from his hands and is invulnerable to fire. (No problem) Most of that stuff was added in subsequent books; the main rulebook is quite conservative when compared to later supplements. None of that crazy shit makes Rifts a bad game, however. The biggest knock, of course, is the system itself.
But is the system THAT bad? Honestly, no. It's not great by any means, sort of a weird skills-based/leveling amalgam with some contradictory combat rules thrown in. I wouldn't call it terrible, though. We never had any problem with it for many years, and while I wish it was cleaned up, Rifts is extremely playable as-is, contrary to numerous blog posts and messageboards. AD&D is far more arcane and difficult to understand, which I suppose is like saying quantum mechanics is more difficult than calculus: to someone with no experience both are as incomprehensible. In the end, Rifts succeeds as a fun game in spite of moldy mechanics. I've seen a few conversions of Rifts to GURPS...yuck. Somehow all the flavor gets ripped out and becomes much more mundane. Quantifying things with points demonstrates the disparity between character power (city rat vs. dragon?), but so what? Game balance is nonsense anyway. My most fondly remembered character of all-time was a Rifts vagabond adventuring with a bunch of high-powered PCs. One had superpowers, another was a wizard, etc. During part of the campaign we had to go into a Coalition city and find a contact. The players were trying to figure out how they'd get past the psi-stalkers and guards and whatever else. The Coalition hates non-humans and meta-humans with a passion. I suggested that I simply walk in and talk to the guy. They had forgotten that my mundane background was in fact a huge asset in this situation. Game balance? How many points is "mundane" worth? No idea, but GURPS: Rifts just wouldn't work. Yes, the system kinda sucks, but no, it doesn't impede fun whatsoever.
I suppose the whole point of this post is to demonstrate that a huge part of my gaming past was using a system of mechanics derided by many people, yet I never had a problem with it. It's easy to read a set of rules and say they don't work, but in application many things are tolerable, even enjoyable, when used properly. Spell-casting and psionics use in Rifts (and other Palladium rpgs) is actually one of the better aspects of the game, easier to understand and employ than a lot of other games. The combat system is fun and fast, even if it shows signs of old age. There are virtually unlimited character options available to players which means even the hardest to please can find something appealing. So, yes, I don't think Rifts or any of the other games are necessarily well-written or sophisticated, but they're a lot of fun to play. There are many rpgs with elegant rules that while interesting just aren't that great when played (Burning Wheel...I really like the rules but find it boring during play). Rules are important, but often overrated. If you're having fun, the rules are doing their job.