Fading Suns feels to me like it’s incapable of disguising its origins: a bunch of former White Wolf designers with a love of Pendragon come up with an amazing idea for a setting and cobble together a system for it out of what they’re comfortable with.
The system exists in a weird sort of temporal limbo. Five years earlier and it would have been contemporaneous with the White Wolf system, and seemed like an iterative innovation over Pendragon. Five years later and it would have probably just used d20, if the system really wasn’t as important as the setting (and it did eventually get a d20 version, though it seemed little used because all the sourcebooks were for the original system).
But Fading Suns happened to come out only very shortly before a wave of heavy innovation in gaming that left it with very little room to breathe. It doesn’t quite have enough old school flair to claim its old school flaws are actually features. It doesn’t do skill based as tightly as a lot of other systems from the time period. And it doesn’t do anything really innovative or setting-specific enough to justify designing a whole new system.
In the end, Fading Suns is a prime example of the kind of system that caused Ryan Dancey and the rest of the OGL founders to push d20 so heavily: it’s a game setting that doesn’t really justify a never-before-seen system that forces players to learn new rules, and would have been better off as just a handful of setting-specific tweaks to a proven game engine.
The current licensors of the IP are planning a 3rd edition to be released soon. I’m keen to see whether the system remains compatible with nearly all that’s come before (as 2nd did with 1st), or whether they’ll try to get it to a point where it truly justifies being a unique game engine.