Amazing group character and setting generation. Magic is nice and subtle-ish. Everything else is a bit too lite for my liking and the odd mix of roll under for everything except combat tends to jar a little - with my group at least.
Overall I still rate it and wouldn't classify it as a beginners only game.
So, I finally got through buying the last book (book three of three) of BtW, and, since, for some reason, I never followed up on my original post, here's my verdict on this particulary variant of D&D:
In short, I think it's pretty glorious, and, in general, I share all your impressions, Mike!
The core book is not necessarily the highlight of the three-book line, though; it's pretty clear that those authors are really mainly ambitious fans who happened to have a good idea, and were friendly enough to put it on paper. To be quite honest, except for the chargen rules, the core book pretty much feels like the usual "alibi" book that many companies put out to later be able to refer to a ruleset that just so happens to be 99% D&D, of whatever edition.
It's with "Further Afield", the second book, that BtW starts to shine - you are presented with what esssentially is a very dynamic campaign outline that is so easy to use, and so "vanilla" and universally applicable that it's basically an involuntary "campaign builder's guidebook" of referential, defining proportions. The system that BtW is famous for - basically having the group randomly rolling out the players' joint backstory and starting point - has its limits, and might not even convince everybody. "Further Afield", though, is an excellent book for both newbies, as well as for more experienced DMs that simply want to run a very basic, sandbox, and "vanilla"-themed campaign. Again, nothing otherworldly, and as an experienced DM there is not much thrill in here, but it's a reusable, yet exciting, and quick-to-prepare sandbox campaign that does serve more than its due purpose within the frame that its developers had set. Before any other introductory/newbie campaign that is currently in print, I would recommend this one.
The third books basically presents more character backgrounds and random tables, something that I find laudable, because it really rounds up the slightly uneven core book. - But again, this is where you're hit or miss with this game: Either you like the joint worldbuilding the way it is presented here, via the "playbook" principle, or you don't. I think it has it's use, but the problem is that, with all three books, you also have about, what, 50 "playbook" options for all character types. So, the initial choice of character class will get way more complicated if you're supposed to use the game to its fullest extend.
Overall, though, the game is the single best introduction into fantasy-themed RPGs I've ever seen... If you take into account that it's really just slightly more story-heavy basic D&D. In its basic simplicity, it embodies all I personally like about the game, and it makes it very easy to highlight what elements and details I personally like. I'm not sure how much of the "playbook" options will stick. ..."Further Afield", though, is becoming a mainstay in my gaming collection, much to my own surprise.
My two happy cents,
"Rise, O artist, from thy slumbers - hasten from thy couch unworthy; Forge from gold the Moon for Northland - forge anew the Sun from silver..."