The Spoony Experiment Reviews Essentials

I'm a fan of The Spoony Experiment, which is a site where Noah does video reviews of movies and games. Often I agree with a good portion of what he says--to a point--or am at the least entertained. This time? Not so much. Perhaps not at all. It wasn't that I was expecting a favorable review of it, since his other D&D review wasn't very positive, but that a lot of his opinions seemed to be formed on misinformation and/or ignorance of the material (such as when he wishes that they'd go back to using terms like demon and devil...yeeeah). There's a lot I don't agree with, so I'll try to tackle them in order viewed.

He opens things up by expressing his confusion as to "what they were trying to do" with the Essentials line. He he thinks they are trying to streamline the game, go back to basics as it were, when it's been said numerous times that the Essentials represents an alternative starting point to 4th Edition. Think about it. D&D has been out for going on three years, releasing at least one hardcover book each month (sometimes more). That's a massive financial estimate if you want all the books, to say nothing of the time it would take to read them all. Essentials is a much smaller investment, and a lot less to take in all at once. Would you rather spend around $70 or $20 for a game that you might like?

He then compares D&D to Rifts, that the problem with them is they both started small and eventually added too much to the game. He claims that Rifts was balanced at first. I'd be curious to see how a city rat or drifter was balanced with a juicer, ley line walker, or glitter boy. Last I'd checked, which was admittingly years ago, Rifts had well over 400 O.C.C.s (classes) and R.C.C.s (races that sometimes were classes). Hell, 3rd Edition saw some odd 60 classes and god-knows how many races, templates, and monster classes. 4th Edition? It boasts all of 27 classes and 26 races (not including Monster Manual races, but including those that got treatment in Dragon). That is a far cry from the race/class bloat that we saw in 3rd Edition. He claims that the classes "aren't even trying to be balanced." I'm curious as to which classes he is referring to, as I've been playing D&D for years and I haven't noticed any classes that are notably superior to others within the same role. 

Which brings us to his comments on the apparently nebulous nature of roles, specifically citing that the fighter isn't a striker--as he thinks one would (should?) expect--but a defender. The roles are pretty clear cut to me, but if there's any confusion its explained in every class in the game, right in its class trait box. Not that I've ever known the fighter to be a high-damage class given that at level one in 3rd Edition I could expect to roll out 7 points of damage per round on average, while a 1st-level rogue could be counted to do the same with a short sword and no Strength bonus to speak of (and the higher the level the larger the gap).

At one point he likens the slayer to more of what you would (again, should?) expect from a fighter, which is what a great weapon fighter already is: you use a big-ass, two-handed weapon and often get to add your Dexterity or Constitution bonus to attack or damage rolls. This is why many people say that the fighter is a defender with a bit of striker mixed in. Add to this that he also likes that warpriests heal and thieves backstab, which is what clerics and rogues were already doing, if by another name.

He expresses concern in that, "A lot of guys do what the cleric does..." Not only is this not a bad thing, since it avoids Mandatory Cleric Syndrome, but all healing classes do it in their own way. Clerics can heal, and they're very good at it what with Healing Lore, numerous cleric prayers, and feats, but they're not the only ones that can do it at the necessary capacity. Other classes can trigger healing surges but do so in a different way or provide kicker effects in exchange for somewhat diminished efficacy. For example, clerics add their Wisdom modifier when they heal someone, while bards do a straight d6 but get to slide you. Feats can modify all of this, so if you're upset that your warlord only does a d6-on-a-surge, you can always pick up a feat to add your Charisma modifier or some other benefit (like a saving throw).

As a minor quibble he brings up the difference between eladrin and elves, labeling eladrin as "super elves". Why? Yeah, they can teleport a very short distance within line of sight, and while that sounded really cool when I first read it elves can both run faster and get to reroll an attack, the latter of which seems slightly more universally useful. Don't get me wrong, teleport can be pretty powerful, but by itself it's not enough to elevate the "cool factor" of one race above another. Anyway, if you look back at the history of D&D the reason for the disparity is very clear, as past editions had an assload of elves (almost 30 in 3rd Edition). Frankly, I'm glad to see them divided into two distinguishable camps.

He likes that things are simpler, that classes are falling more into their "rigid roles", that in many ways the game is telling you what you get when you level up instead of letting you pick from a variety of options that can let you to widely varying things. I'm getting the notion that Essentials is for people that don't want to think very much when making a character. Like, you don't play a fighter and pick exploits that emphasize the concept of a durable warrior the wields a sword and shield, or a thuggish rogue that prefers brawn over brains. Instead, it seems to me that he wants a game where you pick knight and go through the ropes, or perhaps some kind of street tough-type class. 

He likes that in the past mages had to "tactically" prepare their spells in advance, which is precisely why many people didn't like wizards: they were one of the few classes whose use depended on how lucky they were in preparing the "correct" spells in advance. Personally I prefer rituals, which allow me to use those utility spells on a needed basis as opposed to spending precious slots on them and risking having to tuck myself in for a nap just so I can prepare the needed spell...assuming I have it, anyway.


He's pleased with the executioner, but dislikes the assassin, describing it as this "weird guy who sells his soul." While trying to explain his dislike for the assassin he incorrectly uses the term metagame, compares it to World of WarCraft, and incorrectly explains how shrouds work. While I don't think its as stupid as he does, I think that some of its abilities and effects could have been better explained. He describes the executioner as a "thief that is maximized to fuck you up," which is partially true in that it's a martial/shadow class.

My description for the executioner is a rogue/assassin hybrid that also uses poisons in a way that doesn't suck. To his credit, I do like the executioner more in some ways, but slightly less in others. Basically, I'm not a fan of how the at-will exploits work, but I do like the larger emphasis on poison use and the concept of a thief that supplements his skills with magic. It's like an entertaining 3rd Edition assassin. Unfortunately like all Essentials classes, I'm also not fond of the lack of flexibility that you see in other classes: I want more options, not less. Let me create a concept from the available parts, please.

He thinks that Essentials is "going back to basics", because to him, they (the classes) lost a lot of identity along the way because they all have to make decisions. Apparently, he doesn't like that fighters and rogues having a "deck of powers" because they were "never that complicated", as if only spellcasters deserve a variety of useful, meaningful actions to make as opposed to a repetitive routine of rolling attack and then rolling for damage if you hit. Despite a fighter having no inborn magical features, he still makes the statement that the fighter uses his "berserker's howl of fury and the enemy moves 4 squares because he's magically compelled." 

The problem is not the fighter, or her slightly increased number of options to choose from on any given round, but his inability to interpret what the effect means. I wonder how he chooses to interpret a slayer's utility get up!, which let's you spend a minor action to let another ally spend a healing surge. Is the fighter using magical healing? What about the rogue's utility counter-step, which allows her to slide a target 1 square. Is that magical compulsion the forces the target to move? Of course not, and if you'd read the power's description you'd see just one way of how to narratively interpret it.

Ironically, after all this criticism about why he doesn't like martial classes in general (choices), he goes on about how he thinks that Essentials is too restrictive, and that if you play a thief that you're basically the same as any other thief. Unsurprisingly, he thinks that the mage and executioner are great classes due to the customization. Ya think? This is precisely why so many people prefer 4th Edition. Options. Customization. Wizards might give you some rough archetypes to work with, but it doesn't force you to go a certain route. 

Like, you don't have to take a bunch of shield feats and exploits if you want to use one. You can, but you're free to do whatever you want without risk of making a shitty character. Of course, he also loved all the imbalance and kits from AD&D, thinking that it's somehow unlike the shit-ton of O.C.C.s from Rifts and the direction that D&D should go...which would be the direction of Rifts, since it would have lots and lots of unbalanced classes to choose from.

I don't understand why he thinks that the fighter having more options (but no more than say, a wizard) is a bad thing, while a wizard having a lot of options is somehow okay. This is silly, but what's sillier is when he says that the fighter and slayer are "so different", that while the fighter is "flipping through all his cards" the slayer just "assumes the berserker stance and makes an attack". In my experience this isn't accurate at all; fighters could declare an attack just as easily (if not more so) as picking a stance and then making a basic melee attack. In fact, some newer players got confused that they had to use minor actions to change stances, which are just roundabout ways for slayers and knights to do the same thing that fighters were already doing.

I'll repeat: using cleaving stance and making a basic melee attack is a lengthy way of saying that you'r using cleave. The difference is that I didn't have to spend a minor and standard action to do it the first time. I wonder how envious of fighters dazed knights and slayers are.

The stack of cards argument doesn't hold any weight when you realize that a knight or slayer has one less "card" in their deck at level 1. Martial classes from Essentials doesn't just make basic melee attacks over and over, they have stances and tricks that modify those attacks so players are still going to have to "flip through a deck of powers". At higher levels they might have even less than their more flexible counterparts, but the point is that it's still there.

Essentials isn't a step forward, but a step to the side. Well, maybe a small step back. It's good, but when I look at the classes I'm often unsatisfied because if a class doesn't already evoke the concept I want, it's difficult if not impossible to work with. Many other classes work the same way (such as the swordmage and assassin), but some are sufficiently vague, like the fighter, barbarian, wizard, ranger, bard, rogue, and warlord, that I can pick class features, feats, and exploits to get more of what I want.

1 comment:

  1. Hi there,
    I just wanted to comment to say that I believe the purpose of Essentials is to streamline certain classes for people who don't want to play the "detailed character creation and power selection" part of the game. I'm not saying that it's wrong to like that, but that for some people, getting a basic template without choosing a ton of powers makes the process a lot faster, and a lot less complicated. Compared to the hundreds of options for feats and powers on the character builder, sometimes it's nice to just pick 2 stances from a pool of 8 and go.

    As a minor note, the stances to take a minor action and then a standard, for instance, to use "Cleave". However, while you are in that stance, all melee basic attacks have that effect, so for instance, you can "Cleave" with opportunity attacks, "cleave" with granted powers, and "cleave" with a charge.

    Pretty handy.


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