OK, I've had some time to look at WotC's latest iteration of D&D now, and I have to say that my reaction is mixed. Not just on the aesthetics either.
The Player's Handbook- I think I have made my opinion on the art in the Player's Handbook pretty clear, not a fan. However, the rest of the book, and I am willing to let the art slide if I like the content, still left me with an over all negative opinion. I mean, I realize this is the Player's Handbook, but 170 pages on character generation? Really? OK, that covers advancement too, but in the 1st edition AD&D Players Handbook it's a mere 38 pages, which is far in excess of B/X's 14 pages in the Basic book. I found myself skimming in a lot of places and had to force myself to slow down, go back and reread sections. That was tedious. Sure, I could just pick a "standard" Dwarven Fighter instead of reading through all the class/race choices (which would save me roughly 110 pages of reading), but then there's a bunch of fiddly stuff (that I will likely forget about as a player, not to mention trying to remember all of it as a DM) before I even get to buying my starting equipment. Now, my caveat here is that I have not played yet, so maybe it will all go easier than I think. My personal bias is also irked by the fact that the tallest Humans are now only 6'4", according to the random table. I am 6'6" and I am not the tallest Human I have ever met. Overall grade D.
The Monster Manual- Not a huge fan of the art there either, but it is an improvement over the Player's Handbook. There is a design aesthetic at work here that seems too homogeneously stylized, but this isn't really new to this edition; just, disappointingly, continued. The stat blocks, ranging from roughly 1/4 to 1/2 page are too much, in my opinion. B/X D&D gave us about 6 monsters to the page, here we might get 2. It's pretty hard to screw up a Monster Manual too bad though, so overall grade C.
The Dungeon Master's Guide- Probably the saving grace of the core books of this edition, the art still didn't appeal to me, but damn, it's a meaty tome. Chock full of real advice that is practically system neutral, I'd have to say it's the best effort on a DMG since 1st edition AD&D- and I loved that one. The overall greatness is diminished by a couple of the things that I find to be anathema to DMing- Tailoring your encounters to your party, and it's ugly cousin; tailoring treasure yields to the party. They are small parts of the book, but they remind me too much of 3e and the reason I quit D&D. They mar an otherwise awesome book, but they are core to the build of the system, as they were in 3e (and, presumably, 4e). Anyway, it's a pretty darned solid book for any GM, but it's weak art and a few later editionisms that were kept drag it's grade down, a solid B.
Other random thoughts-
Backgrounds: I actually thought I would like them, I like the concept, but they left me cold when I read through them. Power Level: Easily as amped up as 3e.
Races: Their proliferation irritates me, but at least it's the DM's explicit say as to whether or not any given race is allowed.
Art: yep, I know, I keep harping on the art. I think they would have done better with LESS art direction. Give an artist a general description of what you are looking for, and let them do it, maybe you take it maybe you don't, but I think that this edition could really have benefited from having different art styles represented. I think too that this edition has taken itself too seriously and has produced a lot of self conscious mediocre art as a result. My wife is an artist, so I have grown, over the years, to appreciate how much of an impact the art has on the product. Early editions mixed it up
with a bunch of different artists, with wildly different styles and levels of talent. Sutherland, Roslof, Dee, Willingham, Otus, Darlene and Trampier (just off the top of my head, and I apologize to the artists I missed and their fans) put their stamp on Gary and Dave's game. Just looking at the illustrations in the Holmes Basic, B/X and AD&D books made me begin to imagine, and still does today. This edition just doesn't. I think it was the love for the game, and the use of their own imaginations that made the early D&D artists so good, they pored their souls into the work. Art is subjective, but I think that these-
are more evocative than this-
So I guess that gives 5th edition D&D a solid C average. My opinion of it may change with play, and again with DMing.