>four new class options, based upon the Essentials design paradigm
>While I state that these classes are basically Essentials versions, in that they conform to limited options and some preset abilities
I think you are overstating the influence of the Essentials paradigm in the book. While there are certainly some touches here and there, in my opinion the book takes as much, if not more, from the original design style. Let's look at it, class by class:
- General: All 4 builds have at-wills, encounters and dailies, which can be freely exchanged with other builds of the class. There are multiclass feats for all new builds, and feats to trade features between these new builds and their older counterparts.
- Berserker: The only Essential-ish element in the class, apart from a marginal class feature gained at level 4, is the use of a defender aura instead of a mark.
- Skald: New attack powers are based on basic attacks - though a fully MBA-independent Skald can be build by taking old powers. Aside from BA references in powers, there is not a trace of Essentials in the class - no scaling features or fixed stuff.
- Protector: This is the one new build that has a semi-fixed power slot, with summons instead of dailies. Then again, Summon Natural Ally provides pretty decent flexibility and, more importantly, can be freely replaced by regular druid dailies by taking a feat (Beastwalker Circle, which happens to be quite a strong option on its own) .
- Witch: They have a fixed encounter power at level 1. On top of that, you gain minor features at levels 5 and 24.
Overall, Essentials stuff is present, but hardly dominant. They could have published this book before Heroes of the Fallen Lands, and it wouldn't have felt that out of place. There are other subtle things that contribute to the post-Essentials feeling (the format, the fact that the builds are self-contained), but in general things follow the old-fashioned structure.
>While the song effects are fairly decent, they are completely dependent on the Skald’s ability to hit their foe
I also think your critic of the Skald is a bit unfair. Granted, its attacks lack bonuses triggering as an effect, like the new clerics, but so does every other non-cleric leader in the game. Old bard powers were similarly reliant on hitting. I do miss some passive class feature like Bardic Virtues to boost your allies, but having strong BAs mostly compensates for that (though by pushing the character in a different direction), by giving you good opportunity attacks and an interesting synergy with other leaders.
You do get passive effects that don't rely on your hitting in the daily attacks, though.
>And the attacks are all basic attacks, to boot, without any real bonuses to speak off, making the class not terribly effective at doing much besides healing
The at-will attacks are basic attacks with an additional bonus, which is how you would define most at-wills in the game, anyway. And they provide a variety of leading effects including - but not limited to- healing: THP, extra damage, extra accuracy, better defenses. They have an unusual action economy by requiring additional minor actions to switch, but other than that, the difference is mostly aesthetic - apart from the advantage of working with Opp. Attacks and other off-turn attacks, that is.
And it gets more interesting with the encounter attacks, since they provide extra damage and additional effects (of an admittedly controlling nature, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing) on top of your basic attack AND your at-will bonus to the BA. So, for example, a level 1 skald using his encounter attack can make a BA that on a hit grants an ally a bonus to attack and dazes the target - quite a good deal, if you ask me. Also, the fact that these encounters are not wasted on a miss cannot be overstated.
You are of course free to dislike the Skald, it's just that the arguments you provided don't sound all that solid, to me.
> but I think the authors really missed a trick making it a Wizard.
While other options might have been cool, I believe having Wizard witches was the lesser evil. The game currently suffers from class clutter far more than from wizard clutter, and a new class (unless it was extremely railroaded, like the vampire) would be doomed to suffer from lack of support, like the poor runepriest. Using a non-wizard class (i.e. warlock) would run into the same problems as the Binder - namely, that merging controller and non-controller builds in the same class is an extremely difficult thing to implement. By making it the nth wizard build, they make it a bit redundant, but ensure that it will have proper support and not introduce any balance concerns.