This'll be fun, I'm sure. Rant on.
Some of these complaints stem from my own group, others stem from things I've read. Others are very likely random things I've imagined in my dreams and have decided to blame on Eric.
First complaint, and one I've heard a lot is that 4th Edition is WoW. WoW has a rich background, DnD core doesn't. You can make whatever comments you want about WoW borrowing (STEALING) heavily from Warhammer's background, but it happened and I accept it. We've come a long way from there though, and I have made my peace with WoW and its history with Warhammer. Warcraft at this point has a robust background and the WoW is populated with a plethora of stuff that counts as background and is peppered with amusing quips and puns and pop culture references. Most people don't pay attention to it because they're on missions and whatnot to accrue phat lewts and tasty xps, but the background and the story are there if you feel like reading it or looking at it. Thrall, Grom Hellscream, Teron Gorefiend, Arthas, these are dudes with histories and stories that have shaped all of Kalimdor and what's left of Draenor. Warcraft, in all its forms, including the MMO version, has a background. The fluff is there, the world is there. The multiple book series are there (though I have no experience with their quality). In my experience as a wanderer of Azeroth in the guise of Benjamin, the level 69 Undead Rogue, WoW definitely takes advantage of that background material and puts it right there in the world, it is there for you to partake of or ignore at your leisure.
What is it that makes 4th Edition an MMO? All the daily, encounter, at will shenanigans? All the timers and "cooldowns" that crop up? Cooldowns are a pretty big feature of MMOs, everything is on a timer, and I suppose it is fair to say that things like action points, ongoing damage saves, and encounter use powers are all kind of cooldown timers. But so are spells per day, various class abilities that can be used X times per day, and so on and so forth. It all gets expended and resets at a certain point. Hit points themselves are a timer of sorts because they determine how long you can hang out in the field before needing a nap, in WoW they indicate when it is time for your toon to cross its legs and set up a campfire to munch on some razortusk porkchops and some goblin eggnog.
Is it the power source and roles? Are those the issue? I fail to see the problem with a one or two word description that boils the class down to its most basic concept. Arcane Leader. You cast spells, and you can probably buff (heal or grant bonuses to) your allies and debuff (hinder) your enemies. Ok, cool. The roles sound a lot like tank and dps and ranged dps and nuke from MMOs, I get that. All it is is a clear and fairly precise way of presenting information so you don't have to page through tables and thirty levels of powers to figure out what a class does and what it's capabilities are. Look at a class like Green Star Adept. It's in Complete Mage, so it casts spells possibly (not all of them do in that book, so finding a class in a certain book with a certain title means absolutely nothing). What else does it do? You have no idea, you have to read through like five pages of tables and abilities to figure out what it does. Not terribly difficult, but you have to do that thirty times before you may or may not find a class that appeals to you. The role thing is not a hindrance and it doesn't detract from the game because if you're worried about roles, you haven't even created a character yet so you're not even playing yet. I figure it developed in MMOs because you needed a short phrase you could throw into a yell or tell to say "Hey, we're ready to roll, we just need x. Can you perform as x?" without getting into what class are you? What race? What talent/tweaks/feats/etc do you have? How are your stats? What gear do you use?
The role and power source thing is great, it puts a name right at the top for you to look at and get the gist of what is going on with the class in two words. Are they holding your hand for you? Yeah. Not in a "you're stupid" way though, more like in a "we get it, you want to play the game, read these two words and move on if they aren't telling you what you want to hear" way. And you know, if you want to play a Rogue, play a Rogue. Ignore the roles and power source crap and play your character the way you want. The words aren't rules on how you must play your character, they're just there to say "Hey, this is kind of what this class does." I've got an Artificer player in my group and we rethemed all his powers to simulate chemistry and techno gadgets rather than actual magic. Play what you want the way you want, and if little terminology is getting in your way, ignore it and come up with your own flavor text or whatever lets you have fun.
Weak feats and gear, could that potentially be the problem? The feats are certainly underwhelming in 4th Edition, to the point where John stopped taking them in our game. I let him take Improved Initiative multiple times and he seems ok with that. I wonder if he knows that bonuses from the same source don't stack in any edition of DnD? No one does in our group I think.
I'll be honest, outside of some very specific feats, I find most of the fucking ginormous deluge of 4th Edition feats boring. They don't interest me. Which makes sense. You're not about your feats in 4th Edition. The same thing holds true for magic items. They're weak, and some of them are pretty uninteresting. You have classics like Vorpal whatsitwhosit or Bag of Holding, and they're very vintage and fun. Don't get me wrong, there are some awesome lewts to be found, the majority of them are boring to me though. To continue: you no longer have +10 battle axes of thundering defending shocking burst energy drain though. As a GM, and a player, believe that I am 100% ok with that. When each of your weapons has a page long write up about what they can do, and they're not artifacts, something feels off to me. You're not the hero anymore, because a Dogdamn peasant or chihuahua with your loot could operate pretty much just like you can.
That's just my opinion though. Anyway, the feats and magic items of 4th Edition seem to be underwhelming and my group of players tends to agree. The thing is, they're mostly irrelevant additions to tweak your character here and there, they're not meant to completely alter gameplay, there are even rules now for how to compensate in no/low magic campaigns without magic equipment and there are special techniques for the classes that offer new daily abilities to replace loot. The focus of 4th Edition is the core character capabilities and mechanics and your power choices. There are hundreds of powers for each class, dozens of at wills to choose from at first level, and no two are precisely the same for any class. When comparing powers, it is never as simple as "this attack rolls on Strength and this other one rolls on Dexterity." Actually, that might be true in some places, but it still represents variety, and there is a lot of variety in what powers you can use. Certainly more variety than (1d20 + X BAB + ability modifiers) x1 to 4 along with all the appropriate damage math each round. That equation was combat in nearly every single round in 3.5 Edition and it was boring, uninteresting, and not tactical.
Is it possible that people take umbrage at things being labelled utility or attack powers or given action types like shifts or immediate interrupts or something like that? I vaguely recall my WoW powers being labelled, but I'm not sure about the layout of the labelling system. I think they broke them down into Stealth, Assassination, and Combat styles of powers. First of all, labels? Who cares? Second of all, why is that a bad thing?
Is is the gameplay then that makes an MMO? Is that the reason? Because I have words for you, and those words are: pull your head out of your ass. Here is how an MMO plays in my experience: you get a quest to go get fifteen boar porkchops because the boars are delicious and the troops in town need meats or they must starve because of a late resupply convoy. First of all, the town you're in has three guards and no citizens. It has some vendors, an inn, and a travel master, and perhaps a crafting trainer and some quest givers. None of them have houses. So you go forth into the wilderness to procure necessary food for the starving guards and kill sixty boars to get your fifteen porkchops, because obviously you can't just automatically get a good hunk of meat from the first fifteen. You're a madman hacking and slashing and relying on blind luck to not completely dismember the boars. Interestingly enough, while you're doing this, seven other players are killing boars as well, and another four hundred players will do so on the next day, but for some damn reason those three guards never get enough of those delicious porkchops, or a resupply from the kitchen or anything. The quest remains the same and the boars keep coming back, rather than fleeing from the genocide bearing down on them.
Or worse yet, it's the same quest, except you're killing enemies assaulting the town and bringing back their swords as proof. The town never burns and you still have to kill thirty or more of the shits to get those swords, even though they all have swords, shields, and armor. They don't seem to be attacking the town either, just kind of milling around near it really. There's no mayhem or fire or murder, just milling around aimlessly waiting for...I dunno, orders or something. That is how a basic quest in an MMO plays. It is totally disconnected from "reality" so to speak. The drops are random, even though every soldier has a sword and every boar has a tusk or chop in it. If there have already been a bunch of players there, you sit and wait for your mobs to mystically reappear to you can farm them. The world is wide and expansive, but it is static and unchanging, unless a deific dragon rips a hole from another dimension and exits the seas in a Cataclysmic (wink) orgy of destruction that forever changes the landscape and areas of population.
To say DnD plays like that is idiotic. In DnD, if you get a quest to kill an orc you can Sly Flourish the thing's head off and pick up that sword it held and take it to the next one in the mob, and when they're dead they stay dead and you don't just wander back in every few hours, quest freshly handed out, and kill them all over again. If you clear out a bandit den, or destroy an army, it all stays dead and if your GM is competent, it affects the nearby world. If the bandits die, trade gets better. If the evil dire wolves are slain, game reappears in the forests and the local hunters don't starve. If the evil overlord is dead, he stays dead and you can't wander back into his Fortess on the Edge of Oblivion to waste him the next day to get five hundred more gold and another level. If he does reappear at the appointed hour after his followers successfully sacrifice virgins and resurrect him, he's probably prepared for you this time and has a whole new set of nethercronies ready to rape your ass.
People can make the MMO comparison as if it is a bad thing all they want. I still don't see it as such. If there are elements of MMOs in 4th Edition, well, fucking duh. Every damn modern video game RPG draws from DnD/P&P RPGs in some way, from Farmville to Too Human. This shit is cyclical and of course they're similar to one another.
If you REALLY want to draw a negative comparison from something in pop culture to 4th Edition, you might try taking a gander at Magic: The Gathering and some aspects of 4th Edition and Gamma World. Maybe you might find something legit to complain about there. Perhaps.
Just some thoughts I guess.