If the new D&D encounters are representative of play, then it seems to be going backwards. Back to where dice are thrown in a desultory manner and you start thinking (or at least I start thinking), I'd really just prefer to hear the GM give an oral reading of his short story (which is fine - I could sit for 10 to 15 minutes just hearing someone read their story, it's not a crazy concept), because that's how 'play' ends up in this state, where the make believe part is that the players are playing.
Well, in the first session of the new encounters campaign, there were various choices in terms of where do you go in the world. But while 4E, on the battle grid the rules mechanics gave you various choices. While here, going down this path, or figuring a riddle an imp gives or fighting it, these choices are either created and presented by the GM, or they don't exist (unlike the battle grid choices, which remain in the rules).
Now I don't want to aggrandize the 4e encounter program either - some battles felt as if you could just do basic attacks and still win. Much like this thread '[4e] The day I tried to die'.
Others in the 4e encounters seemed to hinge on pre play choices. Ie, we got whipped by a krackens tentacles, because we had no wizard. Though at least that absence of a class hinges on player choice somewhat.
Never mind that even if you got TPK'ed, the next week the next encounter just happened anyway. It was that linear. When we got whipped, the after battle text didn't even have an option for losing and the GM actually took the piss by inserting the facts into the fluff text 'Oh, heroes, please help us with the next threat, as you were so awful at dealing with the Kraken!'. But it wasn't taking the piss, because it was just true.
BUT, having said all that, I've seen interesting things on the battle grid take place. As one fellow put it 'we make our story during the battle'. And indeed I'd agree it sometimes does happen.
But not in this new, 5e style campaign. If 4e occasionally made a 'battle story' happen, but with some lame on the side, 5e makes sure only the lame comes through - unless you have a GM making up all these paths to go down, all these imps riddles to figure.
And some GM's get off on that. Being so absolutely in charge of the fun. I get that. Trying to define roleplaying as fundamentally requiring being so in charge, not so much.
But hey, if you find players who want you to be utterly in charge of the fun, okay. Perhaps D&D is trying to get back to you, then.
But really the second encounter session reminds me of why one grows tired of this - how it slumps into a linear track, with desultory fights you can neither really win nor really lose - combat becomes it's own kind of fluff text, fluff lent to the GM's linear story. I'll just note that the encounters program comes from WOTC - they send it down, the local GM doesn't make it up.
But it's a slide backward to me, back to something which flatters GM's ego's that they are so great (what else is being 100% in charge of fun, but such a claim?), balms them when players attempt to riot from the linear, with a much assured forum culture that it's the players fault, they are being douches, find a new group, no play is better than...etc. All hinging on the bastardisation of the word 'game', whereas actors know they are to follow a script because their playwright uses words which mean that information, to tell them that information, not words which mean something else entirely, but then still expect them to be happy with a script.
Back to the murky, like wading through molasses 'play'.
I just hope a distinction survives in gamer culture, between at least some kind of rule set that occasionally empowers player choices so much you get a battlefield story deriving from the players actual play, Vs one where the GM is in charge of the fun (and really player choices get in the way of his solemn duty).
So when we talk, we can refer to one or the other as what were pursuing and want, instead of all discussion seeming to point at the latter, given it's dominance in gamer culture over the last thirty years.