I received a review copy of Player's Handbook 3. Part One of my review was published today at Eye of the Vortex. Part one has a detailed breakdown of the content, goes over the races and analyses the Hybrid Character rules and the new Skill Powers. Part two will cover the new classes, stay tuned!
I personally think PHB3 marks a significant change in the design philosophy of 4e. Up till now, if I had to choose a single overriding design goal as the obvious priority of 4e, it would have been balance. Every class and race and power was carefully balanced against the other options. Unlike 3e, it was genuinely difficult if not impossible to make a character that could not hold her own against the min-maxers best efforts. Unlike 3e, you did not have to carefully analyze what impact feat choices would have far down the road. You could pretty much just pick what sounded cool in 4e character creation and rest assured that the carefully balanced mechanics behind the scene would allow your character to hit and do damage within the frequencies specified by the design parameters.
Well, in a way that is all in the past now. The Hybrid Character rules (see my review for more details on these rules) pretty much throw balance out the window. By allowing complete freedom to mix and max classes, you could easily end up with a horribly unbalanced class that could not pull its weight in combat if you were not careful. I see this as a major shift for 4e - the desire to provide options for players to build the character of their dreams has trumped the desire for balance.
By the way, if you are reading this and have a RPG product you want me to review, drop me an email (carlgnash AT gmail DOT com). The Eye of the Vortex is about to enter another Magic the Gathering spoiler season, and they get a TON of traffic during spoiler season. If you want to expose your product to thousands of kids with disposable income, this is your chance!