"We are all legends. Our only choice is how to end the tale."
This review is pertains to the PDF being sold on DriveThruRPG, and it is not a playtest review, I've only read the book and did some mock skill/combat simulations to try and get the hang of some of the changes made. I should also point out that I'm mostly aiming it to people who are already familiar with L5R (which probably makes it an exercise in futility as it means my target audience either has already read the reviews they were interested in, or has aquired the book).
I've divided it in six parts as it is quite a long review.
Starting by the physical (or in this case electronic) product itself it is a 403 page (405 if you count the covers) 148 MB PDF, bookmarked and hyperlinked, altough the bookmarks could have been better organized (e.g. colapsable bookmarks would improve useability) and some sections lacked links.
Costing 35$99 it is also priced at the high end of electronic products, but, considering the overall production values, not dramatically so.
Still this is a massive improvement for AEG which had a very restricting PDF policy that meant that in some cases pirated PDFs were equal or better than the official PDFs. This was particularly painful in the more recent releases, where AEG would sometimes realease an expertly done PDF preview (supposedly from the production files), and the poor slobs like me who bought the PDF release got a scan of the physical book.
The book is divided in six chapters starting with Introduction that includes the mandatory "What is Role-Playing?" section some general information and an overview of the major changes from previous editions. The layout is clear, text is legible and the artwork, altough mostly recycled from the CCG, is generaly great. In fact I was surprised because, when I left the RPG in 3rd edition, I felt the artwork was horrid, but they really seem to have turned around their Art Direction since then. The only piece that really disappointed me was the Lion battle maiden in page 92, everything else when not brilliant was at least competent. The water-color/woodblock print looking pieces at the start of every chapter in particular were awesome
A small mention on the map as well, however.
I hated it.
I mean, I really hated it.
The only good thing I can say about it is that it is prettier than 2nd Edition map. Apparently, for some undiclosed reason, AEG was forced to use the map intended for their Art of War boardgame which you can see on the right as it was presented for their Kotei tournament (the boardgame itself has been on hiatus for about 3 years now). The diffences from the RPG map are very minor.
It's obviously a very simplified map, with a lot of features moved, altered or removed. I'll discuss this further bellow but comparing it with 1st and 3rd edition it is really sub-par and the choice to use it is made more painful because, at least until recently, the French/Spanish publisher of L5R (which did the layout for this edition) had PDF copies of the nice 3rd Edition map on their website.
Also of note, in my opinion, is the fact that no text seems to have been copy/pasted from previous editions. This does not make a product necessarily good or bad, and I might have missed something, but it does imply a willingness to rebuild the game from the ground up.