That is why we are excited to share with you that starting in Spring 2012, we will be taking this process one step further and conducting ongoing open playtests with the gaming community to gather feedback on the new iteration of the game as we develop it. With your feedback and involvement, we can make D&D better than ever. We seek to build a foundation for the long-term health and growth of D&D, one rooted in the vital traits that make D&D unique and special. We want a game that rises above differences of play styles, campaign settings, and editions, one that takes the fundamental essence of D&D and brings it to the forefront of the game. In short, we want a game that is as simple or complex as you please, its action focused on combat, intrigue, and exploration as you desire. We want a game that is unmistakably D&D, but one that can easily become your D&D, the game that you want to run and play.It's not really a surprise, since many had seen the creation of D&D Essentials as being almost a "4.5 Edition" of D&D. What I'm trying to figure out is the somewhat incredulous claim that the new D&D will "rise above differences in playing styles, campaign settings, and editions (emphasis mine)."
I'm not among the people who stridently point out the differences between B/X, 1st, and 2nd Editions. I know they were there, but fundamental mechanics were so little as to make it easy to pick up a Basic Edition module and run it using 2nd Edition rules. But 3rd Edition radically changes everything about the way the game was played, and 4th was a huge shift from there. So what is WotC saying? That they'll do a magnum opus of optional rules that allow you to hen-peck which version you want to play? That the whole game is being scrapped in favor of some abstract style? I'm also curious about how much combat will really be sharing space with intrigue and exploration. The "it is sort of a skirmish wargame" meant that the pre-painted miniatures business, not to mention the battle mats and gaming tiles, are a big part of their business model. This is especially the case after the DDI came out that gave you access to all the character creation options without buying the books.
I'm enough of a cynic about this think that a lot of this is just smoke-and-mirrors, an attempt to both appease 4th Edition enthusiasts to stay on and not rebel about losing their game support and to attempt to lure the 3rd-and-prior holdouts that have been pumping money into retro-clones and Pathfinder.