So I picked up Heroes of Shadow at my FLGS (The Fantasy Shop in Florissant) on Friday, along with a few other goodies. I am definitely impressed. This is WotC's first hardcover book since all the Essentials trade paperbacks, and I am very happy they made the choice to delay the book's release so it would be hardback instead. The trade paperback Essentials books, while nice to hold and read, are just awful for when it's time to put a character together. You can't lay them open flat without bending into the binding, which is kind of necessary for being able to take notes and scribble things on a character sheet.
Anyway, on to the actual content. It is all presented in the Essentials format, and there's a reason for that: it's an Essentials book. Don't let the big hard cover fool you. There are a few things that could be used by classic 4e characters, particularly clerics, wizards and warlocks, but nowhere in the book is mention even made of a character class or race that has not been presented in the Essentials format. I think this is a big mistake on WotC's part, for a couple of reasons. First, it reinforces the notion that Essentials is D&D 4.5. Second, by limiting themselves and this book to Essentials, they've missed out on some great options for characters. Seriously, why was the Avenger class ignored for this book? If any class is dying for a Shadow-based write-up, that's it. Maybe that's just me and my campaign speaking (hello, Revenant Avenger of The Raven Queen who used to be a Shadar-Kai), but still. Other classes who could benefit from a bit of shadow power: Shaman, Sorcerer and Bard. Yeah, Bard. Death Metal Bard. Bring it!
All griping aside, this book actually has a lot of great stuff in it. The fluff is deep and heavy, and the crunch is solid to match. Kinda like a death metal song. Deep, heavy, crunchy. Yum. Makes me look forward to the Shadowfell: Gloomwrought and Beyond book even more. I think this Heroes of Shadow book is proof that WotC is really hitting their stride with their 4th Edition material. It's the first (and only) Player's Option book
I have purchased. So, if you want to run a dark and twisted campaign full of anti-heroes and moral ambiguity, this book is definitely for you.