So at the risk of invoking a flame war.... (Don't worry, this won't be political. I'm stepping away from those debates for now.
Let's talk D&D editions.
First off, my only experience with AD&D 2e has been a little mini-campaign with some friends (Just an encounter or two for an evening) and Planescape: Torment. As strange as it is in a post-3.0 world, I actually like the THAC0 system. (Coincidentally, do you pronounce it "thack-oh", "tahh-ko", "thack-zero", or something else?) It makes the math a little bit easier, in my opinion, than the d20 system in 3.x and 4. I'd genuinely like to play more of it, but finding groups who aren't dead set on Pathfinder or 5 is...difficult.
I had arguably the worst experiences with 3.x, mainly because of the players (IRL, not our little group here), but also because of the sheer complexity of the rules. Building a Wizard is stupidly hard, for instance. The SRD is complete and total crap for learning the rules. At least for me. I'll take examples for 300, Alex. It reads like a cheat-sheet, not a handbook (which is what I think it was meant for anyway). Also, there are so many hordes of rules for special circumstances that evaluating some challenges can take /forever/. And don't get me started on the sheer number of supplements and sorting out those rules. And the problems that result from power-building a character... 3.x is, frankly, bloated. I hear Pathfinder fixed some of those problems, so maybe I'll give that a try someday. If I can ever work past the players of 3.x. Which leads me to...
The players of 3.x. Oh. My. Goodness. I have never in my life encountered a more stuck-up, elitist, snooty group of individuals (Not even in political discussion, shocking as that may seem) than the (seemingly) vocal majority of 3.x players. Most of my friends who play it are fine, but some...oh man. The last time I tried to play 3.x, which was mostly with strangers, the DM was an absolute rule nazi. We're talking "If there isn't an explicit provision in the book, you can't do it. Suck it up." Then there were the players. I have never, not even in MMOs (I've logged more time in WoW than I care to admit...), seen such a band of Maleficent, Manipulative, Min-Maxing Munchkins (Try saying that five times fast) as I did in the 3.x crowd. If you didn't min-max, you were derided, your character was useless for the campaign, or most likely both. Then there was the (if you'll forgive my somewhat rude turn of phrase) collective masturbation over how "superior" 3.x was to every other gorram system. Yeesh.
Now let's talk about 4e. Because of incredibly sour experiences with 3.x, I decided to try playing games with friends in 4e, since they had the books for it, and were willing to play it. I played four campaigns with 4e, and enjoyed each and every one of them. 4e is not a perfect system. Essentials should have probably been a new version (4.5, wot), looting was a bit strange, and the customization options were a bit constricting. But combat was so many miles more interesting to me (NOTE: I said "Interesting", not necessarily "better") than it was in 3.x. It's faster and smoother. It was also fun, as it kind of reminded me of Table-top Wargames. 4e is, in my mind, a fusion of a miniatures combat game and a role-playing game. And I think it works pretty well if you view it as such.
There's one criticism of 4e that I just don't get, however. "It's too WoWish". I really have to question if the person who makes that claim has actually played WoW, because they are quite a bit different. Ignoring the fact that comparing a board game to a video game is an apples to oranges comparison (Would make a little more sense if it were Neverwinter Nights vs 3.0), they also function differently. The "powers" that are often maligned aren't necessarily comparable in my mind, as the "cooldown" on 4e powers has more in common with D&D than with WoW (Are there any 8-hour cooldown spells that have combat uses? I certainly don't remember any). And looking at Video Game vs. Tabletop, I just don't see it. An MMO doesn't inspire nearly the same sense of camaraderie and dire peril that a tabletop game does. 4e at least has the same social qualities that other editions have, and has way more opportunities to use skills outside of combat. Seriously, MMOs severely underutilize non-combat skills, and at least 4e kept skills and had plenty of non-combat uses for them.
I've even heard people claim "There are only powers, no basic attacks!" which makes me question if they even read the bloody manual
, as they pretty clearly state that there are "Ranged and melee basic attacks" which function exactly how you might expect normal bleeding attacks to work in other D&D editions. The DM is more than capable of bending some rules if it makes the game more fun. For instance, Prestidigitation normally can't be used to make tools, but in a particularly hairy case, the DM allowed us to use a Prestidigited object as a tool because it made the situation more perilous and massively entertaining. It was a one-off bend, but it made for one heckuva story. Same thing with some rituals. (in-character, the explanation was that physics didn't work the same way in the feywild.
I've also heard that the powers "Inhibit role-playing". I call BS for two reasons: Reason number 1: Role-playing is somewhat diminished in a combat scenario, even in good games I've played. The only system I've played that seems conducive to it is White Wolf's World of Darkness. And 2: You can role-play with nothing but your imagination, or with World of WarCraft, so how
does this "inhibit" role-playing? If you seriously cannot role-play with powers, then no offense, but you aren't a very good role-player.
All of this to say: With a good, flexible DM, and a good group of players, I think 4e is a fine RPG. It's combat is more miniature-centric, sure, but it doesn't actively tell you not to role-play. It just means that the group needs to be willing to be more imaginative. It's not perfect, it's got flaws, and yes, it does oversimplify. But I don't think the outright disdain is warranted. It restored my faith in Tabletop RPGs after 3.x for dang's sake. XD
Anyway, now that I've ranted...how much of a flame war have I started?