I’ve been playing in the current seasons of Encounters, in part to satisfy my craving to sit on the other side of the DM’s screen, and in part to see what all this fuss about Essentials is. My verdict: Essentials is really absolutely not “4.5e” as so many are ranting about. It’s not even 4e simplified. I find it feels like just another supplement to 4e. Hardly different than adding psionic classes, or any of the power books. What grinds against me about it is when the player is restricted to “Essentials only” – then it masquerades as “simplified” because you are simply denied the ability to build anything more complex than a basic race/class combo. Supposedly this will be solved as more Essentials material is released – but by continuing to impose an “Essentials only” rule on Encounters they continue to drive a wedge in the community and reinforce the belief that Essentials is an attempt to construct a 4.5e.
I think Encounters would be greatly improved if they allowed all D&D material – with an incentive for Essentials. In previous seasons you were rewarded a renown point if you made your character on the Character Builder, or if you used PHB3 race or class. So reward a renown point for an Essentials class, and of course all the pre-mades be Essentials builds. Simple. The folks that want to make their own – if they make them in the store they can be guided to make Essentials. Everyone else can make their thri-kreen seekers or their shardmind ardents. And you know what? Those new players sitting at the table with their boring Essentials elf wizards will see these interesting and dynamic characters and be curious – and then they’ll buy those books. Those that aren’t curious or prefer stereotypical fantasy tropes will stick to buying Essentials.
So Essentials is fine, and it is clearly not targeted at my demographic. It’s targeted at a newer demographic and while that strangely agitates some people, I don’t find myself getting my panties in a knot about it.