See, the reason I don't
like Burning Wheel is its failure along many of those bullet points. Let me preface this by saying that I have not played a lot of Burning Wheel, but I was playing it with people who were old hands at it. I also have the 2 sort of novel looking BW books, so that's what I'm going on.
- a reasonably well-constructed setting, even if it is only an implied setting
The setting is too
implied. On the one hand, I thought we were creating this setting somewhat collectively around the gaming table, and I was given a vague idea of what that was supposed to look like from the GM and other players. Great, perfect. Then I sat down to create a character. And, I found out that even though the book says we let you create your own setting, and I took the book at its word, the game itself has a VERY strong set of place. The humans in the setting are very tied to a very particular view of medieval life. The elves are very much Tolkien's elves. And, so on. Given the option between sneaking in a very strong sense of a setting or being more up front with a statement to the effect of "what I have in mind with humans is 12th century France, just saying ..." I prefer the latter.
I believe that you can hack the system to do many other settings. But, that requires work/looking online. And, I'm more annoyed by the sneaking one into the character creation rules than I am about the particular features of the setting.
- streamlined action-resolution mechanics
How does combat work again in Burning Wheel? I found the array of options dizzying and frustrating and ill-balanced. I've played a lot of systems, and I happen to be quite good at math (I do professional and PhD level game theory, economics, and formal modeling regularly), and I found the system very difficult. And, I don't think this is just a newb problem: the guys I were playing with, again old hats at BW, said that they often resorted to bloody contests b/c they found the combat system too clunky in practice. When veterans find the combat system in a fantasy and adventure game more trouble than its worth in many instances, then that indicates it's probably not streamlined.
Although, I want to be fair: love the "let it ride" system, the skill system in general, and the Duel of Wits.
I do have one other personal issue with BW/MG combat. This is less a judgment than perhaps a personal failing. I find the level of abstraction often pulls me out of the character a bit, so I feel more like I'm playing a board game or mingame or something, and end up doing what is best for me to "win" rather than necessarily what I think fits my character. In something like D&D, I find it easier to conceive of what my reckless, cautious, determined, etc. character would do to display those qualities in conflicts.
- deep character-creation options combined with meaningful choices of in-game action
I found the BW character creation an exercise in frustration. In the core books I own, at least, it has no sense or even real concession to game balance. A lot of the design elements are justified by reference to the implied setting -- it's hard to change careers (or settings/categories maybe? Like noble --> village, etc., it's been a while) in a medieval society -- but that's a feature of a particular setting.
Mostly, though, I disliked how there were clear paths to particular lifepaths, and that you were punished (mechanically) or it was just impossible to carve out other ways. Usually I come up with a concept and then go to the character creation system to realize it. So, I rarely sit down thinking "I want to play a Fighter." I usually come up with "Lord Dalorand, disenfranchised knight ..." and then figure out how I want to build him. I found this quite difficult in BW.
But, really, it's the game balance thing: you are strongly incentivized and disincentivized to chart a character's history, meaning his or her lifepath chain, in a certain way.
For what it's worth, I agree with the other bullet points. I like the size, shape, and even the writing in the books. I do think the game is plagued by poor character creation and combat mechanics -- a view that I don't think I'm unique in. And, I think the setting was either more clearly spelled out or cast a much smaller shadow over the game mechanics.
I'm also a big fan of Mouseguard. I find it too simplistic for a game to play regularly, but I like the game, its setting, and the book quite a bit. It trades much of what I dislike in BW away, at the cost of relative simplicity