I will keep this brief, as hundreds of others more important than I have written their own reviews. I will also keep it free from any polemic or really even criticism. I am only going to share my own first impressions of the 5e core rule books as an 0e referee.
I bought the core rule books from my FLGS and enjoyed perusing them.
First of all, it seems to me that what most folks have said is true, this feels much more "old school" than either 3e or 4e to me. There is an emphasis on dungeons, and rulings over rules-lawyering. That feels good to me. The magic items are great and they have brought to prominence ones I recognize from 0e itself. Double plus good to Mike Mearls and team for all that.
I could see myself playing 5e, under the right referee, and having a lot of fun.
That said, I will not referee 5e. And that for really only one reason: it is not rules light enough for me. Now, that is no deep criticism. I won't touch AD&D, 1e, for the exact same reason: too many *%$! rules. Rules light versus rules heavy has nothing to do with old or new school. Hence my post is about an 0e referee looking at 5e NOT an "old school" referee looking at "new school." Those categories don't help in this situation.
Although I think these rules could be used to play in a sandbox kind of way, the "fluff," or descriptive material in both the DMG and PH emphasize that the game is about making a story. The rules don't necessarily force a referee to railroad. But the emphasis on story together with what most of the supplements look like means that that particular trend seems to continue. If that characterizes the "vibe" of 5e, I will not prefer to join those tables.
Finally, they make it very clear that they are trying to make rules for, and present the rules (especially, for example, in their presentation and illustration) in such a way as to support heroic fantasy role play. They mention sword and sorcery and low fantasy as an option the rules support, but not the main focus of the rules. Now, double plus to WotC for making this clear and saying so. The art is crazily heroic fantasy. There is absolutely nothing pulp about it. It therefore does not have a "vibe" that attracts me. I love heroic fantasy. I could even play in a campaign of heroic fantasy. But D&D is sword and sorcery role play to me, forever, full stop.
So, to conclude, these books are sleek, beautiful, with amazing art work. The rules are written clearly and presented beautifully. I could play as a character in a campaign run in a sandbox, sword and sorcery way. But I will never referee these rules for three reasons:
- Too many rules
- Story-focused (vs. sandbox)
- Heroic vs. low fantasy focused
So there are my two-coppers. Thanks for reading!