The tragedy of 4E is not just that the developers unnecessarily changed some of the game’s fundamental MECHANICS, but that they abandoned so many of the core CONCEPTS that had long been established in D&D.
Most people would probably agree that there were some mechanical issues with 3.5E that could have used improvement. Thus, it is understandable that during the development of 4E the devs made some changes in that regard, but what remains a complete mystery is why they changed so many of the fundamental concepts upon which the previous editions were based. These drastic conceptual changes turned many people away from the game right from the start, regardless of whether those people agreed with the mechanical changes or not. I will touch on some of the mechanical issues of 4E, but in particular I will highlight 4E's annihilation of many of the core concepts that made D&D what it once was…
Problems with 4E:
- no Bards, Druids, or Monks in the core rulebook. This angered a lot of players and GMs from the very moment they opened the book, as many of us have been playing for decades and have always had those classes in our campaigns. By removing these classes, the devs made not only conversion impossible in many cases, but they violated the very canon of the universe in which some of us have been playing since the 80's and early 90's (like those of us that bought EVERYTHING that D&D released for years… until 4E came out). In short, this move made no logical sense whatsoever, and if 4E's game system is so drastically altered so as not to support the iconic classes we've known and loved for decades, then why in the world would we want to play it? Perhaps these problems were fixed with a later rulebook addition, but by then it was obviously too little, too late, especially considering 4E's many other problems.
- no multiclassing, despite many of the established characters in the D&D world always having been multiclassed. This also sparked a tremendous amount of anger from the players right from the get-go, as we instantly had a plethora of specialty priests and whatnot that could simply no longer be built (as well as many other types of characters). Couldn't the devs have instead found a way to better balance multiclassing, instead of eliminating it?
- a complete sea-change to these new, cheesy archetypes (striker, defender, leader, etc.) that made absolutely no sense in the context of the D&D world. What the heck was that silliness all about? I have no idea, and I hope I never hear a word of it again.
- the total homogenization of the class powers, such that all the classes in 4E end up feeling about the same, just with different names for things. This is an unforgivable blunder, as it truly makes the game seem like an extremely dumbed-down version of its former self. If I want to play a card game, or a video game, then I will just go do that. A pen-and-paper game NEEDS to offer a lot more unique detail with respect to class abilities and powers, as that's what makes a pen-and-paper game a different kind of experience from a card game or a video game (and a more rewarding experience for many of us).
- the destruction of the alignment system, despite there being no need whatsoever to destroy it. In the previous editions, there were a host of clearly-established individuals that followed each of the nine alignments, and each of the nine alignments made sense. Following a particular deity, for example, one might need to adhere to a particular moral or ethical path, and if one strayed too far from that path, their particular deity would abandon them (i.e. stop granting them powers). That made perfect sense, and there was no need whatsoever to change it. But then 4E came along and just chucked all of that out the window, overly-simplifying and therefore cheapening the moral/ethical aspect of the game. Again, there was simply no need to do this. If a given player or GM chooses to ignore alignment (like for a merc who just doesn’t give a hoot about moral or ethical matters), then they can do so, but why take such a fundamental aspect of the game away from the rest of us?
- the destruction of Forgotten Realms by moving it way too far into the future and killing off two of the most popular deities. This was completely insane. Could the devs not have foreseen the disappointment that this would create, especially considering that FR had always been their most popular setting?
The bottom line is that the transition from the early editions through 3.5E was always consistent CONCEPTUALLY. Sure, the devs made mechanical changes along the way, but the core concepts of the D&D world always remained intact. 4E, on the other hand, simply abandoned many of those concepts for no logical reason whatsoever. It’s basically the corporate philosophy of "if-it-ain't-broke-then-fix-it-anyway", a philosophy that only serves to alienate the game's long-time fans, exactly as 4E has done.