We had all 5 PCs, though the Dwarven Fighter went from being an NPC to a floating PC(we had 4 players)
I played the Rogue, who I decided would be a street urchin called Sally. We were mainly testing the mechanics, but there was some room for roleplay.
Before I go into specifics, as the thread implies, I want to talk about the feel of the game in general. It did have an "oldschool" feel but that's definitely not such a good thing. When I say "feel" here, to some that may mean "tone".
I'm going to go with the idea of 4E having a more "Heroic" feel to it, you feel like myths and legends or shiny anime/comic book characters. For a swords and sorcery setting, personally, I prefer that. "Grimdark fantasy" has been done to death and to me things like the reducing healing, harsher death saves etc. were introducing an aspect of D&D and gaming looking back on it I realise it's one thing that put me off it. It felt like 4E's rebellious teenage child, trying to go against their parents by throwing away their complicated maths homework, listening to gangsta rap and wearing their pants down low. Trying to be edgier, but every so often falling back on the warmth and support introduced by 4E's more lenient mechanics.
It's not that I mind "dark" settings. A lot of what's going in especially in the background of our 4E games is still pretty horrible. I just don't like the faux-cynical attitude that comes attached with it, things are a bit grim so let's make everything feel a bit hopeless.
Again, the feel is very important here, and I think Wizards are missing out on some Psychological tricks they can play here. Focusing on the healing again, reduced hit points/healing might not be a bad idea. IF you make dying harder in some way. Doesn't this defeat the point? No, it doesn't. Because the fact is when you're being smashed up and reduced to 0 hitpoints and being put in any real danger of dying, it still feels dangerous. You at least get the feeling that if you weren't quite as amazing as you are, you could be dead. Slipping something under the cognitive radar to offset that, then you assure that people don't pointlessly lose their character just so some spotty nerd can feel a bit smug at his vision being pushed on more lighthearted players.
I can't think of any real reason why you should set up a system for characters for die. As long as it's in any way possible, it's a threat. People get attached to their characters and I don't like the cynicism of GMs that are determined to kill their characters rather than just keeping it as an overlooming threat. Now, as a system, 5E is trying to kill your characters. It's perhaps not as harsh as older editions, but since it is a huge step back from 4E I'm going to judge it that way.
Plus there are other ways to feel a threat - by temporarily incapacitating the character for example. We had some really tough fights in our current 4E Campaign at lower levels. I don't see the need to make that even harder. As a leader class character(Bard) I felt responsible for everyone and didn't want anyone to die, and still don't. It really depends on how you DM does it. I find it somewhat ironic that that the group of roleplaying libertarians pushing this also seem to require the system be rewritten to enforce their own ideas. I feel like 4E can do "dangerous" pretty well as is, it just depends on how you set up the encounters.
My GM seems to agree with me on this point too, that the feel of maybe dying rather than the more real threat of dying is better.
The other thing about the heroic feel is that I like feeling like and being able to do awesome things no matter what my class. This is maybe the more anime or comic book thing, where characters through adventuring learn to use their powers in all kinds of cool ways to address the situation. Again, I like this. The thing about comics books & anime is that they draw a lot of influence from mythology and given the setting of D&D, especially Forgotten Realms, it makes sense to me as an evolution of the series.
I play a bard in 4E D&D. I can't even imagine how a Bard would work in 5E(Rogues also seem to replace Bards as skill monkeys, Bard will presumably be a background or theme now), you'd need opportunity attacks for a start to make all the slides actually useful. I like being able to screw with people. I understand how all these options bog people down, but it's not the abilities that do that a lot of the time, it's the specifics. When streamlining, it was silly to get rid of the variety of powers. Now, once again, it only feels worth playing a wizard.
I mean, what was the point in playing a Rogue? They do nothing. You can get sneak attack, but I had to take a full action to set that up. I admit when I first played 4E, I Was surprised at Rogues being so strong. I had expected them to be more sneaky and scouty. However, it at least made them balanced. If you're going to take away the Ninja skills and damage, give them something else to do. We had to change the stats of my Rogue just to make her usable as a scout, I had a penalty to perception due to negative wisdom. How did this even see it to release? If you're going to go with more sneaky rogues, it's going to involve more complexity because by nature that's what Rogues tend to do. Which is fine - if people don't want to play a complex character, don't play a Rogue, or play a simplified striker/assassin/ninja version like in 4E which focuses on the sneak attack element.
I think part of the issue with Rogue is that 5E is trying to emphasise more on exploration, making their skills more useful( but how does that work? Generally dungeons aren't all that interesting to explore unless you want to fumble their detect traps role and end up dumped into a river 50 feet below. This is going to push the scenario designers very heavily to come up with amazing settings. Table top games only really do roleplaying and combat well. "You see a beautiful flower you've never seen before" doesn't really impress. Perhaps it's taking influence from older text adventures, like Advent, Curses etc. which I was actually a big fan of. They did have atmosphere, but I can't imagine that translating well to spoken word around a table.
People complain about a lack of individuality in 4E and I kind of saw that at first. Certain mechanics feel different to one another. I remember someone comparing the new 4E Witch(which was received badly) to the Pathfinder Witch, which was actually pretty well done. There is definitely stuff 4E can learn from 3E and Pathfinder. But there's a lot more 5E can learn from 4E. Another complaint was that the mechanics didn't lean that well to rolepaly. The emphasis IS on combat. However there are some cool out of combat things you can do, like rituals, skill powers, stuff like Bard's "words of friendship" etc. 5E doesn't seem to be acting on that much, maybe it's trying to restore that more to DMs, but I think a good DM can mess with these things anyway.
Especially with 4E, even though it's more complex it also feels kind of modular - people do complain some mechanics are too samey but on the other hand that means you have a lot of common things like -2 to hit, effects like Blinded etc. making it easier to modularise powers and edit them to suit. Items, magic weapons too - they're actually fairly unbalanced in a sense to begin with, but since they all have different strengths and weaknesses, it depends on the characters. It's also very easy to reskin 4E powers & items because of how they work basically - for example maybe your magic missile is a blob of magic, maybe it's a floating skull, etc. this is also an issue of player creativity of course - and not everyone will want to put in the effort. This is another thing that's great about 4E though as it gives you ton of awesome stuff anyway. The onus isn't always on the player to be interesting, but you're still given a great vessel to be so.
You have an idea of what the result of various effects in 4E will be, so it's not as hard to poke around wth. Plus, 3E had a very "Ayn Rand" concept of individualism with some(wizards) rising way above everyone else. Though some measures taken against it can, I don't believe a lack of balance leads to individuality in general. In otherwords, I think the problem is the attitude towards 4E rather than 4E itself. 5E tries to "starve the beast" with less defined powers but it doesn't mean the ones that ARE defined are any less annoying or restricting. It's more awkward to house rules your way out of 3 spells a day if doing so ends up really broken, but not doing so ends up really boring. Whereas playing around with little mechanics like bonsues to hit etc. is a lot easier.
Personally, I don't feel like my character from 4E could ever work in 5E. I play a Bard, mechanically there's a ton of issues. But going back to the individualist thing, I get to play a character that the others joke is a "Fairy Princess", and it's actually somewhat supported by my power set and various bibs and bobs that can be found on my character sheet. Looking at my 5E character sheet, it was a bit of "Uhhh...". There wasn't anything there to inspire me. Whereas thinking about how certain powers and abilities figure into who your character is can really help you forge a personality. Yes, certain things are implied, but again, reskinning or explaining things in a different way can work wonders. For example my character is a half-Eladrin but mechnically done as a human. There was no clear way of doing this, half-elf seemed a bit generic and more geared towards foresty wood elves(weren't most half elves previously moon elves?), I could have gone eladrin, half elf, human, but mechnically this worked best. It lead to some interesting things about the character.
Basically, you're given something to play off. 5E doesn't do this. Remember, everything is a remix - we take inspiration from what's given to us, and build things out of cultural information. 4E gave us a nice selection of Lego blocks to build our characters with. It's only main issue was that you tend to end up with the same shapes a lot of the times(unless I want to choose **** powers, I'm probably going to take a lot of what the handbooks suggest), but 5E doesn't address this anyway.
The character wouldn't work in 5E anyway since it doesn't feel like there's any place for a Fairy Princess(well, particularly fabulous half-eladrin Bard/"Resourceful" Wizard) to make people dance around and just be generally classy. It wouldn't fit the feel to me. Obviously - a game with a less "Heroic" feel has less place for Bards in the first place. So really, it's not more individualistic at the end of the day as it can't actually support the different kinds of individuals it needs to(again, a common misconception of what "individual" means).
With the popularity of the likes of Game of Thrones I feel people are being pushed towards a more minimalist, "Grimdark" D&D experience when with 4E it had managed to escape that somewhat. To me, it's a step backwards. I think there's a place for both styles of D&D though, and something in between(which Pathfinder should have been).
To focus more on specific mechanics:
I don't like the action economy. Since it's called economy, I feel like it's the equivalent of austerity - something that seems to make cutbacks and save money(and time is money) in the short term but in the long term doesn't. Not having minor actions means you're going to waste more actions doing things, not to mention the more oldschool guerilla warfare emphasis is just going to take far too much time in general. I really like the split move action though, but it's not really useful right now. Some actions are practically minor actions anyway, why not just give them officially instead of writing the same "you can take an action after this"? The thing is while it does suck waiting for your turn, it's nice when you finally get it, you have "me time". You don't get the feeling that "you're up now" in this, that it's your turn to do something awesome.
Lack of charge/opportunity causes so many issues. And disadvantage for shooting into ranged groups seems crazy. I understand the thinking that it's more difficult to shoot someone in active combat but it feels like one of the "advantages" of being a character trained in ranged combat would be to have a level of precision that avoids this. Feels like a snide blow towards the "heroic" feel of 4E.
What's more, it basically means that an enemy can basically just walk right past all your defenders and strikers and smack the range character. It forces EVERYONE into meleé effectively, since there isn't much advantage to staying back, unless you're staying way back, which will presumably effect some future power/spells.
Not sure about the skill system. In some cases, broken useless. The Rogue is redundant, the character sheet I was handed had negative perception making them useless as a scout when the emphasis seems to be on getting rid of the ninja/striker stuff and making the more generally functional, sneeky scouty(which requires a more complex experience, which the above gamers don't tend to like, you can't rely on improvised abilities either). However I do like how things are simplified, the 4E skill system felt a little artifical and this feels like a more natural extension of that simplification.
What I think 5E could excel at is speedy play for once offs, convention play etc. I liked how fast the combat could be, but the emphasis on guerilla warfare needs to be removed for that to work well(more healing).
I would feel better if this became "D&D Lite" rather than the true successor for 4E. I think that could be a cool suggestion that improves it's marketability. I can't imagine this having the same amount of additional material, regardless so the market could probably handle two editions.
I would play this again as "D&D Lite" if they simply gave you more interesting things to do. It's been said already, but even with the wizard you can do interesting things 3 times a day and are then stuck with attacks you don't even roll for. Adding random rolling to stats(PLEASE get rid of this)... but less in game. This is totally the opposite of what makes for a fun experience. Throwing a hit dice at least helps you feel like you're interacting with the game, I feel the disadvantage mechanic and lack of non-ac defenses is getting in the way here, so wizards need autohits.
And again, you can't leave everything up to improvisation. I like that feeling of being able to get one up on everyone by digging up some particular use of a mechanic or coming up with a clever use thereof. It seems like there's an issue here of identifying an issue with 4E, but not realising how 4E was actually sort of dealing with it, and better than this did.
I think Wizards need to be careful with feedback on this one. I'm reminded of the "Sonic the Hedgehog" series where fans claim to want one thing when in reality another would fit the game better. People say the problem with Sonic games isn't enough speed, when in reality the problem with some is they often throw too much speed at you all at once and most people can't keep up. They say the problem is friends, they take out friends, all it does is remove variety of play which was a big bonus to older games like 3 & Knuckles and Knuckles Chaotix. Videogames often have this trouble with elliciting requirements.
D&D is probably going through something similar right now, only the fanbse is probably more generally divided as well. Next is trying to appease to a LOT of different people, though mostly ignoring the 4E crowd to a degree at the same time. I feel it could do a better job of sticking with a balance between the oldschool and 4E feel and having ways of switching between them. Disregarding themes/backgrounds is not a fun way of doing that, it just makes things more boring, straight up.
They do need to find ways of streamlining 4E's timeconsuming "turns", but at the same time I kind of like the feel that gives. In reality, you're not an experienced warrior and don't feel like you're down there on the battlefield thinking a mile a minute, scampering through a character sheet looking for the right thing to do can help emulate some of that. I think it's not a variety of what to do that needs to be streamlined, but the individual mechanics of how those things are added up. There's no upside to not being able to slide people, slow them, set them on fire etc.
The turns in 4E; when you're looking for all sorts of different things you can throw at an enemy to improve your odds, remind me of a scene in the Discworld Novel Guards! Guards!, when they all kinds of stupid things to allow them to hit the Dragon, since a million to one chances happen 9 times out of 10, - "the Watch try to make the odds exactly a million to one by use of a blindfold, rope and so on — but end up with one to nine-hundred ninety-nine thousand, nine-hundred ninety-nine to one chance, which isn't improbable enough. Though minutes later they survive an explosion because, the narrative hints, their chances of surviving it were exactly a million to one."
Which is kind of silly, but in a warm way. To me, overall, I didn't pick up that warmth from 5E.
Speaking of Discworld and Eladrin actually, - I like that Eladrin in 4E felt a bit more like the elves(the extra dimensional ones, not the watered down ones) in Discworld, just less evil. It gave them a bit extra flavour. Now it's back to "high elves", as part of the more vanilla reflavouring. I think that little unique points like this can add a lot - it worked well in Elder Scrolls where even different human races were given different names. It might seem like "ah well they're really just high elves", but again it's working against a unique feel rather than with it as the oldschool fans would claim. I hope people get the general point I'm trying to make here, and I think it's a good note to close on.