So right off, no, I don’t hate 4th Edition; the title’s a cheap trick to grab your attention.
I do have some major problems with 4th Edition, though; that’s why I’ve effectively left it behind in favor of 3.X and Pathfinder (and if my books ever ship from Amazon, I’ll see about this 1E thing). But when I left 4E I didn’t really have the concepts to describe why I was dissatisfied by the game, and I haven’t taken time to really consider it since my vocabulary expanded. I’d like to try to address that now. This is mostly just me talking through some thoughts.
I think the biggest turn-off for me is the notion that 4E has a very “game first” mentality. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a rules system to be, but it’s the difference between “I want to cast a fireball” and “I want to do d8 damage over 9 spaces.” 4E seems to focus almost exclusively on tactical combat which I feel makes it come across more as a tactical miniatures game than a Role Playing Game — you can role play around a minis game, but you can also role play around a game of chess; that doesn’t make it a Role Playing Game.
My biggest complaint, I think, is that the Powers system feels flatly detrimental to my notion of role playing. The limitations and choices that I’m presented as a player in 4E often times don’t make sense as limitations or choices for my character, and that makes it difficult to get into my character’s head. The Essentials line came out after I left, but I do get the impression that they’d be less offensive to me (they seem to generally ignore the Power system and function more like 3.X characters); it would probably be worth my time to look in to them.
My second biggest complaint is about Healing, or more to the point the fact that there’s little sense of lasting repercussions from battle. This makes sense if the game is meant to be just a string of combat encounters (if you can no longer fight, the game’s over), but I don’t want my game to be (essentially) all about combat, and the lack of consequences offends my goals for role playing (make choices, experience consequences). I’m OK with the “HP = Morale” notion that 4E seems to run with, I just want something more than “you’re out a couple Healing Surges for the day” if the players get in a fight they can’t handle. I think part of this come from my desire to not have combat be the “first and best” option in every situation; maybe 4E works better if I try playing a more combat-toned game; I don’t know, and I’m not sure how much I care to fit my desires to the needs of the game (rather than fitting the game to my desires).
My final complaint is on how poorly executed skills in 4E seem to be. The whole Skill Challenge mechanic seems like a good idea at first, but the way it’s described and the guidelines given for building a Skill Challenge feel railroad-y and forced. The rules seem to imply that the Barbarian has to participate in political negotiations (if it’s a Skill Challenge) even though he has no interest or ability in that sort of thing. And I’m supposed to design challenges so that there are X primary skills and Y secondary skills, and it’s all mechanics-first and the actions of the characters aren’t important so much as which attribute is being rolled. Add in the terrible math that 4E shipped with and the repeated revisions after the fact, and I lose all confidence in the mechanic. (I also feel like they collapsed too many skills together, the one’s they’re left with are too broad, and not enough ‘regular activity’ is covered in the skill system, but those are relatively minor points, all things considered).
My wife likes 4E, though (now we all understand my true motivation here); she thought it was a lot more approachable than the other games I have on my shelf, and to be fair it is. My wife grew up on Monopoly and Sorry!, and didn’t experience anything like the games I play before we met. 4E is a lot more like a board game. I don’t think that’s a shining recommendation for it, but if my wife wants to play 4E, it’s in my interest (as a wise husband) to find a way that I can play 4E with her. I started thinking about a fix for the Powers system a while back, but after I started looking at it in more detail it occurred to me that there’s the potential for abuse because the game doesn’t expect powers to be interchangeable. I haven’t really thought about it much since then, so I’m really still in the same spot.