So we went through Character Creation, sorted out equipment etc and dove straight into a pre-written scenario that I had where all I had to do was pull some monster stats out of the Bestiary.
We were using the most recent packet for the Beta of D&D Next (2nd August 2013) and the first thing I noticed was that as a DM the rules were very simple.
In this packet they've removed Skills and in the main removed Feats too. So it's probably fair criticism to say that the mechanical character variation options are somewhat limited. This didn't seem to bother the players though as they all went down different paths with their characters.
The character choices were -
Forest Gnome Druid
Rock Gnome Barbarian
High Elf Cleric
Human Paladin (unfortunately the player had to cancel at short notice so wasn't able to play).
The players all got into character in the main and brought their character's to life very easily without any problems.
So how did it play? Well it reminded me a lot of Basic D&D and 1st Edition AD&D in many respects although it is fair to say that my memory of these 2 editions is fading so the connection between the current incarnation of D&D Next and those earliest of editions might be incorrect.
Ultimately though the mechanics, particularly around Advantage/Disadvantage, were simple and didn't get in the way of the play. Characters were able to do everything they could do in 4e and 3.5 albeit the lack of skills put greater emphasis on "general ability" associated with Attributes as opposed to any granular focus. For those players looking for more detailed rules will likely be confused or even perhaps underwhelmed. e.g. All agility/physical/alertness style checks fall into Dexterity and Strength checks depending on the situation in which they are called upon.
That's not all bad but what it does mean is that your Attributes have significantly greater sway over the effectiveness of your character than in 4e and 3.5e. It brings more suspension of disbelief around a character with a high Attribute being good or bad at every applicable focussed use of that Attribute but then again it largely makes sense.
It also seems to speed up play for players new to the game. No more checking lists of skills to determine which is the most appropriate one to use. You want to do X, Y or Z? All you need to determine is which Attribute is the best match and roll. Use of Advantage/Disadvantage can be used to bring some balance to situations that don't "feel right" based on character backgrounds and in several occasions we had vastly different rolls on the 2 d20s that were rolled demonstrating the impact of those rules.
So, in summary. So far I like it. I'm keen to see what they do with the next release especially to see if they re-integrate skills/feats or any other form of granular focus into the rules. It would make sense to me for the introduction of a "focus" on specific types of Attribute use which would bring bonuses to specific uses.
More as we go. I can see us playing this semi-regularly so will need to look at what the group wants to do setting wise...