Monday, January 17, 2011

UP-TO-DATE 4E Video Review

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Most video reviews I've seen are either less-than-objective, outdated (i.e. only consider the original PHB1, DMG, and MM1), or both. While this review does bash 3.5 a little in the beginning (actually, most of part 1 examines the weaknesses of this and other past editions), it's much more subdued than many other reviews (on both sides of the argument).

There were some things that he briefly touched upon that I think are quite important, so I'd like to expand upon them. First of all the updated monsters in MM3, Monster Vault, and the Dark Sun Creature Catalog. The stat blocks are even more user friendly than the original ones, many monster abilities are more interesting and stretch the limits of the rules more, and most importantly the decreased defenses (namely Fortitude) and HP, and increased damage expressions, all go a long way toward reducing "the grind." This all points to something very important, which is that the developers have learned from some of their early mishaps and fixed them. Also, long/grindy combat was probably my biggest criticism of 4e at first (I got around it by arbitrarily house-ruling down HP depending on the monster, and sometimes boosting offense), and the fact that this weakness is so easily patched is saying a lot about the overall design of the system.

Essentials was also only briefly mentioned, and that's likely because that topic is a whole new can of worms that probably could have spawned another 3 part video. Overall, I'd like to put it out there that I like how the 4e system can accommodate classes that are more reminiscent of 3.5 classes. Not only that, but it does them better. For those critics that don't like how Fighters get at-will, encounter, and daily powers just like spellcasters, this is the solution. Martial classes are built around basic attacks, their encounter powers almost all function to enhance basic attacks in some way on-the-fly, and they lack dailies completely. Moreover, their "at-wills" are usually stances (or situational powers for specific weapons in the case of the Assassin, and special movement "tricks" that enhance attacks in the case of the Rogue) that augment basic attacks in some way. The end result is that even though these classes are still just spamming basic attacks like a 3.5 Fighter, there's still a lot of tactical options to work with in combat. These builds have a fresh feel to them, they're still balanced against any other 4e class, and they offer an additional layer of choice/customizability. There are plenty of pro-4e anti-essentials critics who dismiss these builds as merely appealing to "grognards" and taking a step back in design, but I think there's room for all sorts of class builds in 4e and welcome the new guys. Besides, a lot of good things have come out of them. Certain classes have builds that are even more user friendly than they were before (Knight/Cavalier, Thief, Warpriest, Slayer, and Hexblade stand out the most), having recommended stats that make more sense and being overall easier to build and play. Rangers do more than just Twin Strike (archers with really cool effects and Dex-based two weapon wielders that actually play like mobile skirmishers!), and even if they're not quite as powerful as the original ranger can still hold their own and are much more fun and engaging (in my opinion). Animal companions finally done right (oh so right). This is something that 4e sort of failed with at first with the beastmaster ranger (their companions didn't have to fear death as much as a 3.5 companion did, but at the same time they weren't nearly as useful in combat thanks to poorly scaling offensive capabilities). The Sentinel, however, gets a mechanically unique companion that allows it to defy definition within the traditional role system of 4e, yet it still manages to be effective without becoming overpowered. The class has some flaws, but the design is overall very impressive.

Oh, he also mentioned how awful 3.5 familiars were, but didn't really elaborate on how 4e does them so much better. They can never really permanently die in combat, and even if they do drop you don't get these huge penalties but rather just don't get their active benefits (you still get their passive benefits, however). Most arcane classes that want one will just grab the entry feat to get the familiar (IME this is mostly motivated by character concept, but you do get rewarded with some nice mechanical boons for the cost of the Arcane Familiar feat), but for those that really want to emphasize their familiar there are additional feats that can be taken and different powers that use the familiar in interesting ways.

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