Wow, I bet Kong is going to have a laugh fest after reading all of these posts. I know I did.
I really like how the "oldschoolgamer" somehow forgets that 1st and 2nd Edition were never played for long as it was out of the box. Did your group really force wizards to start with 1 HP if they rolled low at character creation? Did your group actually abide by all of the restrictions and limitations that are imposed on the different characters classes as per the rulebooks?
Honestly, I'm betting that's a big fat solid no
. You played as much 1st or 2nd Edition as I did; that is to say, you probably played a highly house-ruled, and heavily modified version of the "rules".
3rd edition was... actually playable out of the box. Until you got to level 6-10; at which point you needed to start house ruling so that the Fighter got their artifact sword, and the monk got their item of "break the wealth by level guidelines", because they are such a gimped class in the PHB compared to the brutal monsters they are expected to face. One encounter per level in 3rd is expected to be 1 Creature of a CR that is equal to the PC that it will be fighting. So, it's not 1 stone golem that the PCs will eventually face at level 10, but 4, and each PC needs to be able to have a 50/50 chance of beating them, if not the party risks a TPK.
4th edition is even more playable out of the box...... rather more playable 'in' the box. If you know what I mean. You can't affect terrain features, you can't be creative with your powers (dark fire can't melt ice? wtf, srlsy? that's aggressively stupid).
4th, in many regards is less D&D than a new game system with D&D elements slapped onto it.
Of the four editions though, I'd say that 3rd actually gave the most RP potential. 2nd has this big massive mythical mystique about it... that is false. Anything that you can do poorly with a character in 2nd, you can do effectively in 3rd. The skill system, a by-product, and a houserule designed for 2nd edition; was one of the better additions made to the game.
The removal of the double math of THAC0, and instead changing to a single scaling track, with sinlge order arithmetic is exactly what you want in game design (ease of use that is, keeping it simple is advanced; something AD&D was actually not, in many ways it was
stupid, and very much stupid).
In any case, myself, I play a heavily modified, and radically pared down version of 3.X. A stack of about 70 pages replaces all of my rule books, splat books, and various compendiums. Only the DMG (for stats for dungeon terrain features, my PCs love to gouge through walls and structures, since they are around level 11, and a castle's walls means nothing to a barbarianess with adamantine clawed gauntlets) and a monster manual for the day, are all I ever actually need with me at a game. Of course, a lot of useless things in 3.0/3.5 are removed and replaced with those 70 printed pages, but then, I'd rather use the Dungeonomicon Monk, or the Races of War Fighter or Barbarian in my games, and my players are completely in accord with that.
Of course, there's always the very good standby argument of "you people aren't actually playing D&D, and should be playing MERP or Pendragon". Because honestly, most people don't seem to understand that D&D is balls to the wall crazy, from level 1 to 16 (anything past 16 is an exercise in madness; since everyone is in crazytown and the PCs are the mayors). Although... level 20 games are