Anyone who reads this blog knows that I have complicated feelings about 4E. Parts of 4E make me really happy as a gamer – and I’m not one who is opposed to the tactical combat element. At the same time, parts of 4E make me crazy – honestly, the way the game has grown up as it’s life cycle has gone on. My reasons for this are many and having written about them before, I considered staying out of the recent surge of 4E unrest that I’ve noticed spreading around. Maybe this is craziness, but I suppose this is my reasonable as possible contribution to the spreading rhetoric…
For those who read here and might not have seen some of the rest of it… What I’m responding to/adding to here are the following: a couple of sarcastic/angry posts from Greyhawk Grognard and Geek Related who throw down some pretty hefty rhetoric (and hey, if that’s what they want to say, that’s their call, I’m not one to talk). Level 30 Yinzer also had interesting things to say about 4E and seems to have reached a similar level of frustration to my own. And Big Ball of No Fun adds his own somewhat sarcastic (and in my opinion not very accurate) contribution. A lot of this comes from a recent announcement from WotC concerning a new Organized Play program.. But even beyond this, I’ve heard some rumblings concerning all the Essentializing of 4e from people I’d considered reasonable and pro-4E writers like Neuroglyph Games. And even a casual perusal of the 4e forums will show the craziness that Essentials is causing for everyone.
So… what do I have to add to this? Well, I’m not sure, but I didn’t feel like sitting in the middle of it and say nothing. I’m really not a fan of the new Organized Play program — when I saw the announcement myself I admit freely that I was disturbed. But the reason I was disturbed comes mostly from my perception that this is an ongoing process with 4E. I am a reasonable human being and reasonably intelligent (I like to think) and I realize that this one OP program is not all of 4E. But my personal perception of what’s going on with 4E is that the game is moving (mechanically speaking) toward front-loading the experience into character building and appealing to the optimizer more than the casual player. If that’s intentional, then good for them, but it will keep me away from the game. I see this OP program as problematic because it further reinforces a perception of where the designers thought processes may be turned.
Further though, my biggest frustration comes from playing the game for the first two years — taking a year off — and now that I gave a look in because I was considering a return to 4E, I find myself frustrated by facing off against a game that no longer seems to have an identity. Whether you stand with the crew that says Essentials is all the same as Core 4E, or you believe in the “Stealth Edition” the one thing you can’t ignore is that the Essentials flap has created another rift in a gaming audience that was already fragmented by 4E/Pathfinder to begin with.
Also, as much as I appreciate the idea that WotC is paying attention to their game (in the name of balance — potentially a good thing), I don’t want a game that is changing all the time. I don’t want the books I buy to be invalidated so easily, I don’t want a return to the days when we had D&D and AD&D on the shelves at the same time (that’s how I see Essentials and Classic 4E). I don’t want a game that requires me to use the digital tools to keep up. I like the digital tools, but with 4E it’s a huge pain to make characters now without the CB — and then to create such a limited version of the CB and ask me to pay for it — unfortunate. When I stopped playing last summer I kept my DDI subscription because I wanted to keep reading Dragon and Dungeon… but now they don’t even compile the magazine anymore. Hell, it’s not even an online magazine anymore, just a series of postings on their webpage that fit under a heading.
I’ve been a fan of 4E since release and I hope that 4E can right the ship and figure out how to get back to being the great game it had the potential to be. But I probably won’t be playing it again — at least not anytime soon. And right now, what am I playing? Pathfinder. Not because I’m interested in edition wars, not because I’m a 4E hater. But because 4E stopped giving me anything I wanted as a player and started giving me a lot more frustration than joy — at the table or away from it.
So, yeah, I really hope that WotC gets it together, finds a unified vision and can rebuild the 4E name… or at least not keep spiraling until 5E comes out… but right now, they seem to be making inexplicable choices that continue to alienate players. And that’s too bad.