November's Ampersand opens up by reminding you to buy Beholder's Collector Set before telling you what we already knew about the Character Builder going web-only, which is fine in case you're the type of person that only goes to the D&D homepage to learn about the going-ons. The part that gets good is the Heroes of Sword and Spell preview, which unfortunately does not seem to be so good.
It's a bare-bones book that features five classes--almost all the martial plus wizard, and for some reason cleric--and that's about it. No races, no skill descriptions, no gear. Instead, they direct you to Heroes of the Fallen Lands or Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms if you want to wrap things up. I'm guessing that the classes are going to take up a lot more space than Essentials?
The classes are presented Essentials-style (ie, tables by tier) which is entirely unnecessary since every class in the book follows the exact same progression: get a utility power at level 2, get an encounter power at level 3, etc. I understand that they're trying to maintain the theme of using tables to illustrate progression, which was fine because classes out of Essentials books didn't all get the same thing, but this just seems like that they're doing it for "tradition's sake". Speaking of tradition, they've previewed the Heroic tier of the fighter-renamed-weaponmaster, which is a fighter that only gets to pick between the two weapon talents (that fighters got when 4th Edition came out). It otherwise operates exactly as a fighter does, same class features and powers.
From what I've gathered, this is what you get when Wizards of the Coast takes a fraction of Player's Handbook and repackages it. Its got all the "base four" classes, plus the ranger, but nothing more. The question is, why get it instead of Player's Handbook, which has all that and more? From what I've heard, this has all the errata'd powers and class features. Unfortunately, its got a lot less content than Player's Handbook (by several classes at the least) and not much cheaper (five bucks...woo).
On the other hand, as with the Essentials books, they go into a lot more detail on individual powers and concepts. For example, cleave gets a few lines that further explain what it does as well as indirectly when it's a good idea to do it. Powers still have their descriptive text built-in, but they get a bit more. Perhaps this will help make things seem friendlier, or easier to explain to people who have a hard time understanding concepts like daily powers.
At this point, I'm tentatively on the fence. I like the idea of having an updated, compartmentalized book, but I don't like having to go back and forth between books to pick races, figure out what skills do, etc. Well, I personally don't, since I know all that already. I'm talking about new players who haven't had the luxury of years of play experience under their belt. It'll also depend on how many powers are given to each class; if it's the same or less than Player's Handbook, it's going to take quite a bit to sway my vote.
I will say this: it does have a bitching cover.