Most of the basics of the class remain the same. Base Attack, saves, skill points, and hit die all remain unchanged. The skill list has changed a bit. They have Knowledge (Dungeoneering) and Knowledge (Engineering) as class skills! Who knew that the Fighter could actually know something? What a remarkable development. Still no Perception (Spot/Listen) though, which is sort of silly. All that time spent reading engineering books has left them with their head in the clouds, apparently.
The Achilles heel of the fighter (especially in theoretical matchups on internet message boards) has always been their low Will save. Coupled with a (most likely) low wisdom, they are easy targets for spellcasters. Well, the Will save has not improved, but with the 2nd level ability Bravery they now get a Will bonus against fear effects! I guess that’s cool. It’s better than not having it. I feel like every other character class has a bonus of immunity to fear, so at least the Fighter won’t feel so left out. Though with all of these immunities flying around, why would any casters bother using fear spells?
Armor Training is a nice ability, maybe my favorite of the new stuff. It begins at 1 and gradually gets up to 4 (at 17th level). Each point of it reduces the armor check penalty and increases the max dex of worn armor by that amount. I like it because it allows the fighter a little bit of diversity and the chance to take advantage of some skills. Fighters always have high strength, but none of them are ever any good at climbing or jumping because the plate mail ruins it for them. This helps with that a little bit. I’d actually like to see the number get a little higher, but it’s something. In 3.5 if you want to make a lightly armed combatant you are most likely to be anything other than a fighter, maybe a two level dip for some feats. Armor Training lets you put on the chain shirt and still be able to jump and climb a bit, but have all the combat resources of the fighter. If this ability also applies to shields it is even better (the rules are a bit vague on this).
Weapon Training is the new signature ability for the Fighter. It allows the Fighter to select a weapon group (Bows, Heavy Blades, etc…) and gain a +1 to attack and damage with any weapon in that group. It begins at 5th level and every fourth level they can add a new group and the previous bonuses increase by another +1. Not bad. It’s nice that the bonus applies to an entire grouping of weapons and not just a single one, that’s always been the problem with Weapon Specialization. “I decided at 4th level that I was all about great axes, but then I found this really awesome magical flail. Oh well, I guess I just have to waste one of the few resources that I actually have.” My favorite grouping is definitely the Close group, it contains the sap, punching dagger, spiked shield, and several other awesome choices. I assume it’s the most popular among players, easily outdistancing Heavy Blades and Axes. The cool thing is that it shows that the Fighter, more so than any other class, really knows weapons. And they should! These are the mercenaries, soldiers, and gladiators of the world. They know how to excel with more than just a longsword. I really like the idea that a medium level Fighter can pick up a bunch of different weapons and not just know how to use it, but to really kick ass with it.
There are also two high level powers that the Fighter obtains at 19th and 20th level, they are Armor Mastery and Weapon Mastery. Armor Mastery is simply damage reduction 5/- whenever the Fighter wears armor (which I assume is going to be all the time, everyone knows that adventurers sleep in their armor). I do think it’s odd that this is not a gradual ability that starts lower in the Fighter’s progression, but something that just appears at a pretty high level. Personally I’d like to see this power just rolled into the Armor Training ability, it’s all sort of the same subject matter of using armor well. Weapon Mastery is the final bit of expertise that the Fighter will get. At 20th level they can choose a single weapon type (not group) and with that weapon they automatically confirm critical hits, the critical multiplier increases by one, and they can never be disarmed while wielding this weapon type. The disarm stuff is mediocre, but the critical aspect is pretty badass. Is it a reason to take 20 levels of Fighter rather than multiclassing? Probably not, but it’s nice to see that there is something waiting at the end of the long road of battle.
The Pathfinder version of the Fighter is certainly a more fearsome opponent than the 3.5 version, though I suspect it still lags behind a bit in overall power level compared to other characters. (It seems like everyone got a bump up with Pathfinder). I do like what they’ve done with it. Before this the Fighter literally did not get a single class feature other than bonus feats, and with the very small exception of some Fighter-only feats there was really nothing that these guys could claim as their own. Now they’ve got Bravery! Joking aside, this seems like the framework of what could be a very component martial combatant with a large range of options and looks. I dig it.