Here on 5e World, I intend to blog about any insights that will help Dungeons & Dragons: 5th Edition capture the essence of D&D and be the best game possible. From time to time I hope to cover lessons learned from previous editions (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 2nd edition, 3rd edition, v.3.5), related games (Wheel of Time RPG), Open Game License (d20, OGL) games, and even from other roleplaying games outside the D&D family. This isn't just a place to point out things that didn't work in Dungeons & Dragons: 4th Edition, I also want to remember the successes of each edition that should be retained in future iterations of D&D.
Q: What huge leap forward was made by 4th edition?
A: Character balance.
Classes in 4th edition fill different roles and Wizards of the Coast made certain that no one class could fill all of those roles. Roles were conveniently named and assigned to each class: Controller, Defender, Leader, and Striker. If you wanted to kill a monster and kill it quickly you needed to have a striker or two otherwise it was going to be a long slow slog through all those hit points. The gap between the damage dealt by strikers and all other classes was such that my players always noticed.
In D&D v.3.5 there were classes that felt superfluous after a certain level because they could be completely replaced by the walking "toolbox" of spells held by Wizards, Druids, and Clerics. The spellcasters could kill monsters faster than the v.3.5 fighter ("Save or Die"), deal more damage than the rogue (flame strike), bypass locks better than rogues, hide perfectly (invisibility), and have a bunch of game-changing fun abilities to top it all off (fly).
Non-spellcaster classes in 4th edition now scale up just like their Wizard friends. At 20th level you still feel just as valuable to the party with your archer Ranger as the Wizard in your adventuring group. At-Will, Encounter, and Daily attacks across all classes succeeded in giving Wizards of the Coast a mechanism to keep the game fun at high levels for all players regardless of the flavor or style of character they like to play.
Keep up the good work.