And those abilities are everything a player needs to play the game. There are a few things the DM needs to keep track of, but for the players, every bit of information they need is on their character sheets.
Meh, I'd say you're vastly overrating 4e. All of the RPG's I run have well defined character sheets and grimoires and my players rarely dive into a rule books. The latter may be true of an overbearing and overbloated universal system like GURPS, but with the simpler 4th gen systems its just not the case.
The length is there for a reason. It's not a generic set of rules you can apply to anything. They are a bunch of special rules for everything a player character can do in combat (with little focus on anything else, keeping the roleplaying as slick and custom as you want without bogging that part down in rules), and when those rules are set, the player has full knowledge of almost everything he can do. The little that the character sheet lacks is printed on my DM screen for easy reference during gaming, and I pretty much only refer to it for status effects.
Again, true for of all the other quality PnP's too and I don't see anything with 4e that distinquishes it. If anything new D&D players get overwhelmed by wading through all that content until they find what they want. Even worse they later feel railroaded by their class choice. Its fine for the player that experienced with a previous edition of D&D, but poor IMO for players with no previous exposure.
In every other RPG I play I find that the players don't use the options available to them, however sparse they may be, simply because it's hidden in the rulebooks and not easily available to them without looking things up (things they may not even be aware exist in the first place).
This could be a fair criticism of True20 which, depending on setting, can have a fair number of moving parts - still simpler than D&D IMO. However its far from true for Savage Worlds or FATE, which quite honestly players have 90% of the rules after the 1st few gaming sessions. And that's with NO reading of the rules whatsoever. The sames also the case for Green Ronin's Dragon Age PnP.
The brilliant thing about 4E is how it puts the rules exactly where they need to be: In the players' hands. Sure, that means a long character creation section in the main book, but that's a silly comparison to begin with. If you sat down and read the entire class chapter of the Player's Handbook, you more or less missed the point. Those are the rules of the game, but you only need them if a character needs them. They are 110 pages of rules you'll never need to look up and never need to read through unless you're obsessed with knowing everything. I never read through that section.
Again, true for a player familiar with the system or a previous version, but IMO not for a brand new player. They still have to wade through a lot of fluff to find the class content they want.
Let's put it like this: If the class chapter of D&D 4E Player's Handbook counts as character creation rules, then you'd damn well better count the spell chapters in previous editions as the same, and if any of those other game systems you mentioned contain spells/psionics/powers, you'd better include those too.
Fair enough, I'll add the additional pages for 3 or those RPGs (FATE is quite a bit different so it difficult to draw a direct comparison) :
- True20; an additional 27 pages
- Shadowrun; an additional 39 pages
- Savage Worlds; an additional 18 pages. Heck even if I include the 27 pages from the SW Fantasy Companion, which repeats a number of the power/spells, it's still far less!
Add those numbers to those in my previous post, its still a far cry from the number of pages in 4e.
Because that's what this is, and presented in a much, much slicker and handy way than any of those.
To each their own I guess; I'd say any number of the top rate setting books available for those other RPG's provides a much slicker presentation.