I picked up the first of the Dungeons and Dragons Essentials line recently. I am not sure what I was expecting from the Heroes of the Fallen Lands but I was suprised when I got it in the post. Firstly it is A5 in size and a paperback. I was used to getting my Dungeons and Dragons books in A4 format and hardback. I really liked that format, especially as it sits easily on my shelves. Not to be put off by a books cover I delved in. The next thing that hit me was how the pages looked the same as the larger books but were just a lot smaller. The first few pages have been shrunk to fit the new format rather than being reformatted. Its not so bad but the font sizes are a little on the small size. Getting deeper into the book was an improvement to an extent. The powers and tables presented really seem to belong in a larger book that can hold them better. Its not so bad but they do seem to float on the page a little and not sit in its confines well. However the graphics, both old and new, are fine. I can't really complain much to be honest as the book set me back less than €15 which is more than half what I remember paying for the Players Handbook 1.
The general game rules haven't changed and are presented pretty much the same as they were before. The classes and races however are different... quite different. I was expecting this from the reviews I had heard online of the book. However reading through the Dwarves as an example I was delighted to see that you are not as confined as before with the selection of powers and abilities. You can choose where you want your ability boost to go rather than being restricted to two as before. Okay so you are restricted to three now but this really allows for the Dwarf player to try out less than optimal classes than before. Thats always something that annoyed me just a little. The races were very much stereotyped into what they could be simply because they couldn't apply their bonuses where they wanted them. At least now thats somewhat better.
Reading through the classes I didn't see as many changes. They basically function the same. The powers have been reworked especially in the case of the Fighter. For me this is an improvement but in some ways I miss the older way the Fighter worked. He really made for a tatical piece on the playing board. The new fighter doesn't benefit from daily or encounter powers. Instead he will be making basic attacks and
applying bonuses based on the stance he is in. I can't describe these too well as i just don't remember them. However this will still make for some fun and to newer players make more sense. It does I suppose portray a warrior better than the previous system. It just doesn't feel as cool! However as mentioned my players, the ones new to fourth at least, couldn't understand why they were only allowed to do a certain attack once per day. It felt far to similar to the wizard and his spells. It also evoked more of a mystical warrior than a dirty brawler! Hopefully we can try out these new classes soon. Ravenloft is working out well and maybe we can make a shift to fourth if the players and GM are up for it....