I hit up my not-so local store and picked up Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms, Monster Vault, and a couple Gamma World booster packs since Famine at Far-go wasn't out despite ads being plastered all over the D&D sit. Since I want to do a video review of Monster Vault I'm going to tackle Forgotten Kingdoms first.
The second (and final) player book from the Essentials line, Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms is, like Player's Handbook and Heroes of the Fallen Lands, a stand-alone deal. It's virtually a direct copy of Fallen Lands, as information is written in the same friendly style and even dispensed in the same order page-by-page for the first three chapters, which explain the rules to you and informs you about the significance of your decisions, culminating in an analysis of power structure. Additionally, the chapters on skills and equipment are likewise almost the same, though feats has a few new entries to account for new classes and races.
Really, the main difference is in the non-standard classes and races. Instead of fighters you get cavaliers, sentinels instead of clerics, drow instead of elves, tieflings instead of eladrin, etc. If you want a more detailed review on other chapters, check out my review of Heroes of the Fallen Lands. Actually, you might want to read it if you haven't and then come back.
Chapter 4 features five classes based on previous classes with a twist: sentinel (druid), cavalier (paladin), hunter (ranger), scout (again, ranger), and hexblade (warlock). As before there's plenty of paragraphs explaining the concept behind the class, key ability scores, ideal races (with information as why that race might choose that class), skill selection, and more. As per Essential's standard they all follow a fairly linear path of class feature accrual, and unfortunately when you get the chance to pick something your options are severely limited (especially if you are trying to do an Essentials-only campaign). This isn't something that will bother new players a lot, but when I'm used to getting upwards of 10 choices, seeing two or three is disappointing to say the least.
To be clear, I don't think that the classes are bad, just restrictive. I understand that having fewer meaningful choices is better than a dearth of shitty ones, but when trying to maintain a theme it helps to have two or more to differentiate. Despite this I'm definitely going to give the hexblade a shot, which is a melee-oriented warlock that gets a slightly modified eldritch blast, and can conjure up different arcane weaponry depending on their pact (fey or infernal, though star is coming this month). A good chunk of your class features hinge on your pact, and though utilities and dailies are somewhat more flexible there's only like, one thematic choice on the list. It still looks like the most appealing class to me, since you can summon minions, and I like conjuring up devils to boss around.
Chapter 5 has six races; dragonborn, drow, half-elf, half-orc, human, and tiefling. Again, as in Fallen Lands each race gets several pages of exposition on origins, personalities, physical qualities, role-playing tips, etc. Mechanically they, for the most part, remain the same as their original incarnations with the exception that instead of getting two set ability score bonuses, they can pick a secondary one from two others (a trend started in Player's Handbook 3). A few races get some additional modification: half-elves can opt for knack for success if they don't like their dilettante options, and drow now have to pick between cloud of darkness or darkfire. Sucks for them.
As with Heroes of the Fallen Lands, this book is not a substitute for 4th Edition, and probably not a good enough substitute for Player's Handbook since most people are used to seeing human, elves, dwarves, fighters, wizards, etc in their rulebooks. That doesn't mean that it's a bad book. On the contrary, it's an excellent supplement for those that prefer how Essentials is doing things. If you like 4th Edition, I'd get it if you really want to see what they did with the hexblade and hunter (4E's first ever official martial controller), and/or want to check out the new feats (some of them are really badass).
Now to break open Monster Vault.