That enforced absence might have been quite a good thing. For a start I didn't torment myself by deliberately going and looking at all the forums* indulging in slash and burn criticism of 4e. Informed comment and discussion, I like and can take part in. The wholesale "It sucks because it isn't what I like, and I know this because I have read it on the internet/played for an hour with the intention of hating it/heard it's garbage from a friend of a friend" is painful. It applies all ways of course. I am just as annoyed with ill-informed smackdown of other systems too. The thing is, I know the 4e ruleset pretty well, so it grates more.
4e is not a perfect system, but it is an extremely robust one and for the most part elegantly designed. Some points in favour below:
- It is virtually impossible to create a useless character. There are no negative attributes for races or classes, only positives. Naysayers claim that this is a form of nanny-state "Everyone gets a prize" thinking. What they're not quite seeing, I think, is that although there are no active negatives for picking a certain race or class, the positives are different for each of them and it still behoves the player to think about whether that sneaky Goliath Rogue wouldn't be better off as a Halfling Rogue or a Goliath Barbarian. That said, if you do go for a Goliath Rogue, you'll still have something you can play an actual game with and be a viable party member. Not to be sneezed at.
- It rewards team synergy and group play. Can I just stress how much I like this notion? It's always been true, but 4e is the first system I've seen that actively promotes this. Builds and powers are designed to interlink with each other. Even better, it does not do so in a cookie cutter way. There are a myriad ways to build a viable party. When I first started playing it wasn't obvious how subtle the interactions could be, but three years down the line I'm still finding things out. Easy to learn but subtle in application. A good combination.
- The GM's job is infinitely easier. This is a bonus point that very few deny. Preparing a game is a pain in the neck. Even with great pre-written material there will be tweaks and changes. If I can do those in 10 minutes and know it will work, I'm a happy camper. And I can. So can anyone. The base mechanics work well enough that a few quick pencil changes to a pre-existing monster of too low or high a level means you can throw just about anything you fancy at any given party. No more spending the first five levels fighting kobolds.
I have a problem with Wizards of the Coast. WoTC seem to have a curious attitude to their baby. On the one hand, they continue to publish material for it and update their online suite of tools. On the other, those updates are patchy and pushy in a way that I really dislike. The bells and whistles all seem very nice, but a Character Builder that only lets me store 20 PCs when I run many games and want to access all of them is a pain in the neck. A set of online tools that I can't download to my desktop is a pain in the neck.
WoTC don't seem to know what to do with 4e. For example, the bizarre non-presence of published material at GenCon -
"Hi, I'd like to buy the Shadowfell supplement" -
"Sorry, we don't have it." -
"Whuh?!?!, you've got the biggest audience you'll get all year for your product and you're not selling the material?" -
"That's correct, we have partner publishers who do that, they will be around somewhere." -
I do wonder how much of their seeming indifference to selling the product is down to some serious backpeddling and an attempt to retrieve some of the old market. If so, that's a pity as what they have is genuinely good, but it needs support. If the parent company doesn't do that it sends a horrible message and is just depressing for those who do enjoy it and use it to bring new geeks into the joy of RPGs.
*fora? - sure it should technically be fora with the Latin root and all, but I don't know