While reading the August playtest packet, my recurring thought was, 'we should just play the previous June packet'.
At the end of our first session Saturday night, my first thought was 'I wish we had played the June packet'.
Not that the current August packet is bad or dull or anything. We didn't get a chance to test the rules on spellcasting, and our one combat involved only grappling and one swing of a club. That said...
The grappling rules as written leave a lot to be desired. Maybe we were simply looking for more hard and fast rules, and given our 3.5 leanings where everything bit of minutae has a rule, that might have been our fault. My fighter got a grip on the guy (ie. successfully started a grapple) but after that, we were at a bit of a loss on what could or couldn't be done. It got worse when another character piled on.
Does the bad guy have to break one grapple at a time? Or one roll by the bad guy versus my character with advantage thanks to the second character helping? One roll by the bad guy to break both grapples at once?
Then there was the issue of what to do after successfully starting a grapple. I wasn't sure what exactly restraining the bad guy meant. Restraining versus knocking him prone? We ended up consulting the definitions of Conditions, but there was still a lot of perceived vagueness.
Again, that might be more of us looking for hard and fast 3.5-like rules on grappling. So, as we play more, it might not be a real gripe.
One gripe I don't see going away however, is the lack of skills. I can see the benefits in reducing everything to an ability check. I understand the classically skillsy classes (rogue, ranger, bard) get "Expertise" dice to help anytime they try something Dexterity or Wisdom (or both) based.
The problem I have is how open ended it is. If a rogue is picking a lock or stealing a few coins, and therefore rolling a Dex check, clearly his expertise die becomes a valid add on. A ranger following some tracks should get his expertise die to add to his Wisdom check. But when either one wants to vault onto a horse, or another Dexterity based thing that's outside the realm of rogueing or rangering, they get to add their expertise to it? Just because the check calls for Dexterity?
I'm on the fence when it comes to Feats. At first glance, I thought that giving up the +2 Stat increase (or two +1 increases to two different Stats, as WotC painstakingly explained as though talking to an inattentive five year old), was a heavy price to pay. Then I saw the meager four page PDF for Feats and was outright disappointed. But then I read some of what each Feat provides and saw that they tend to give some pretty serious perks. Enough so that I'm going to have a hard decision to make when the time comes.
Speaking of which, our next level cannot come soon enough. First level was never very glamorous but the August packet seemed to make it the dreariest level possible.
Case in point. Our party has two fighters; my human and a dwarf. Other than the race and names, there's nothing that differentiates them from one another. It's not until 3rd level where the circles kick in and where I'd expect to see some separation. Except is sounds like we're both going the Gladiator path. Hmmm... maybe at 4th level if I go for a Feat?
All in all, I'm still pretty revved up by the direction 5E is going. WotC is clearly thinking of ways to break D&D out of the box and trying new things. Good on 'em! But if the June and August packets are the fork in the road, then I'm hoping they lean to the June direction (probably because it has a more 3.5 feel, where August felt distinctly 4E to me).