I admit that I was pretty pessimistic about whether 5e would actually end up being "old-school." In part I suppose that is because I've made peace with my breakup with the D&D brand. When I heard about the D&D 5e preview material I didn't feel disappointment or even frustration that the game was not old-school. Ok, so they've finally totally done away with even the illusion that characters might die. Fine, I was expecting something like that. I wouldn't even have been surprised if characters "respawned" upon death, at full hit points (5e is just one step away from that).
I guess the predominant thing I was feeling was pity for Mike Mearls. I've never met Mike, but from all accounts I've ever heard he is a nice guy. I wouldn't wish him any ill will at all. Think of the problem he faces. It's his job to revitalize the D&D brand. Bring people back to the game, away from all of the other options out there today. He's got to try to turn the next version of D&D into something that appeals enough to a wide segment of fantasy gamers that they will come back into the fold. I bet even Mike knows and knew all along that would be an impossible task.
The problem with needing to stand out is that D&D has to compete with all the other 3.x spinoffs that have been evolving for many years. What can 5e meaningfully add that hasn't already been done? I think that's why D&D 5e feels like an also-ran at this point. The days where the Brand alone was enough are past. D&D 5e could be a descendent of Castles & Crusades, or a cousin to any of the latest in the glut of 3e-lite spinoffs. As I consider 5e there is nothing much to distinguish it from any of those other 3e-derived games out there. 5e is a fantasy heartbreaker that even the brand can't save. I find myself feeling an emotion I wasn't even expecting--sadness.
Even though I had moved on maybe there was some small part of me that took comfort that "D&D" the brand is still there, enjoyed by others if not by myself. But what we have now just feels to me like the last failing gasp before the brand either dies completely or jumps to an entirely new medium. D&D is lost, not just to me philosophically, but probably soon to everyone. There are too many diametrically opposed expectations from the fantasy gamer audience, and the D&D brand can't possibly please them all. The fracturing is irreparable, and unfortunately, D&D isn't like so many of the competing brands that will be happy to chug along with a small piece of the pie. To appease the corporate owners D&D needs a much larger piece of that pie, but while WotC was away from the table it's already been divided up. What's left for them may be big by some standards, but not by their own. The majority goes to Pathfinder, and too large a chunk is divided by the various 3e-lite games and the old-school clone(like) games.
In the end I'm not sure where the blame goes. I can't help but think at least some of the blame has to go to the edition treadmill philosophy. Criticize 3rd edition all you like (and I have), but it was a pretty successful edition. The problem is that when WotC left an edition behind they didn't just revise the game into something else, they torched and salted the fields behind them each time. Each time they tell their customers that there is something fundamentally broken and bad with the previous edition, and in doing so they create a rift between the people who stay behind with the old edition and the people who take the bait for the new edition. How can you possibly convince the people who have followed you all along that, "No, wait a second, there was something salvageable back there after all"? You can't. That's why the 4e players will resent 5e because of how much it resembles 3e.
Sadly, I think we're witnessing D&D's last resurrection survival roll. From where we're sitting it isn't clear yet, but I think we might be seeing double-aught on the dice. Will it carry on in some new form? Who knows. But in the meantime--D&D, RIP.