Then things started to go south. WotC fired Paizo, taking away two of my favorite magazines (Dungeon and Dragon), to which I had held loyal subscriptions for years (even before Paizo). Then I heard about Gleemax and the Digital Initiative. It sounded kinda cool, but it did not sound like it was for me. After all, D&D was supposed to be about playing with people around a table; it was a live social activity. I was not totally against these things for those who had few other options, but it seemed like the focus of D&D was really starting to drift away.
I'm with you this far. WotC was starting to 'pull stuff' from as early as the 3.5 intro. They were getting this feel to their marketing - I don't know if it's 'big corporation' or 'used car salesman' or what, exactly, but they've been steadily losing trust and respect for a long time...
Fighters were starting to look more like wizards. And wizards were starting to look more like fighters. I do not want to say that they were making the two look identical or even virtually identical, but that is sure the way it felt. Everything looked rather bland and generic with every class following the same formula for gaining powers by level.
Yeah. That was class balance. D&D had always aimed for some sort of rough class balance over time and always failed badly. 4e finally succeeded, but a lot of us were so accustomed to imbalanced that 'it didn't seem like D&D anymore.'
Honestly, I was one of those for a little while. It didn't seem like D&D when I first read through the PH1. It seemed technically a lot better, though, so I was willing to give it a try, and after a while - quite a while, actually, it wasn't until we started our second campaign - I started to realize it still had the D&D feel. Wizards were still awesome - it's just that fighters and rogues had become awesome, too. PCs still gained levels, accumulated ludicrous hps and could survive being poisoned and falling off cliffs in defiance of all logic and laws of physics. It was just D&D done so /well/ that it was hard to recognize at a glance. Ironic, really.
And the Vancian magic system which I felt had always made D&D such a great tactical game of managing resources was practically ripped out of the game and not really replaced.
Resource managment became an issue for all classes, and the wizard was still 'vancian' in the sense of prepping spells, but yeah, the extreme strategic/resource-management exercise of learning, prepping and using /only/ daily spells was gone. It made wizards a lot easier to play, though, which I suppose was a boon for new players who didn't want to just play a fighter or make with the heals as a cleric because no on else wanted to.
I did try to play the game, first with the Keep on the Shadowfell adventure, and then later with a couple borrowed books from a friend. But I did not really like it.
KotSf was pretty aweful.
But that just highlighted one of the key design flaws of 4th edition's numbers-based balance: you could run a battle that was designed to be balanced with the party and they would win, every time (unless they did something dumb), or you could run a battle that was designed to be a level above the party and they would lose most of the time, or you could run a battle that was designed to be a level below the party and it would not even tax their resources in the slightest.
Having run 4e more than a little, I'm afraid you've got a skewed experience, there. Parties can handle level+4 or more, and even a level-2 can be slightly taxing (a surge or few).
Now I am sure that those with extensive experience with 4e will tell me I have it all wrong.
You got a few things factually wrong, but on the whole your experience is quite plausible. You were disapointed with WotC when 4e was announced, you let that disapointment poison your early perceptions of 4e, you never got over it. You missed out on a great game. I don't blame you so much as WotC, though.
WotC says they have learned from their mistakes. They are saying they will be having a much more open play-test this time. They are saying that they want to go back to D&D's roots. They are saying they want to listen to their fans.
WotC has said a lot of things. They said they'd never repeat the 3.5 debacle again, but they came out with 4e after only 8 years instead of the 10 years between 1e & 2e and 2e & 3e. Then came out with a veritable 4.5 called Essentials after only 2 years, then announced 5e years early. They said they'd have a host of e-tools for the 4e DM, they still only have Monster Builder.
I'm back where you & I both were leading up to the announcement of 4e - more than a little dissapointed in WotC, not enclined to trust them, with very low expectations and no predisposition to be pleased even if those expectations are exceeded...