I was discussing with my friends my impression that the classes in the D&D Player’s Handbook 2 seemed to be more powerful than the original players handbook, but not in the sense of trying to be better than the best things in the previous classes, but more like trying to be equal to the good classes and options rather than trying to be equal to the average classes and options. Anyway, I felt the barbarian was better than the melee ranger, so I started trying to write down an exact analysis so everyone could look at my analysis and either agree, or if not, what exact point of comparison they disagree with.
Obviously, the comparison is going to depend on a lot of assumptions. Assume around level 6, primary stat +4, secondary stat +3, magic weapon +2, weapon focus. Ranger with urgrosh does 17 damage with twin strike. Barbarian with execution axe does 18.5 with howling strike. Barbarian rampage (free basic attack after each critical) is worth about +1 damage. But hunter’s quarry is worth almost 4 damage, so ranger is ahead by 1.5 or so. But barbarian can charge for full damage, so they are perhaps evened out.
Ranger has higher Dex – more initiative and reflex defense. Barbarian has higher Con –more hit points and healing surges. I think I like Con better, but it is close.
Aside from this, rangers get an extra +2 AC or so for higher Dex, while Barbarians get +1 AC and +1 Reflex inherently. Advantage Ranger. But barbarians get +2 inherent healing surges, bringing the advantage back to the barbarian. One extra skill for the ranger balances this out.
Barbarians get rageblood vigor, Con temp hit points when they defeat a foe. This seems like plenty of compensation for the extra feat of the ranger.
Barbarians have some very useful bonuses for the entire combat when they enter a rage. But rangers can fight pretty well in ranged combat, even if they are a melee ranger. And rangers are better against minions.
Rangers get +1 AC for the urgrosh and have an extra skill. Barbarians can switft charge as a free action after defeating a foe, once per encounter.
Barbarians have some pretty scary daily powers.
So it seems to me, so far, that barbarians are at least comparable to the melee ranger. But we haven’t added the last bit:
Barbarians have defender hit points.
So I think barbarians are better than melee rangers.
Not included in the analysis is that str/dex rangers have a rather more limited selection of powers, due to the low wisdom. Or that they didn’t have double weapons when first published.
But I've usually thought of melee rangers are one of the weaker striker classes. But then again, that impression was before double weapons came out. So let's compare a melee ranger to an artful dodger rogue with a double sword:
Rogue with sly flourish does 14.5 damage, adding 2/3 of sneak attack gives 19 damage. But double sword is +1 to hit, so this evens them out with rangers.
Rogue has at least +1 AC for having Dex as a primary rather than secondary stat (and this benefit is much larger when minimaxing with the point system). If we count this as +1.5 AC, and add the rogue’s extra skill, it cancels the ranger’s extra feat, and the fact that the rogue must spend a feat on melee training to be decent at charge / opportunity attack.
Ranger gets hide proficiency for free. Rogues get First Strike, which is probably better.
Both classes have good ranged combat options which are hard to compare – ranger has to use two hands, but has prime shot, a bigger weapon, and hunter’s quarry is much easier to use from range than sneak attack, but has to use a secondary stat to attack. Rogue gets the better initiative and skill bonuses from Dex/Cha vs. Str/Dex. It is hard to say who has better encounter/daily powers.
Ranger is much better against minions, while rogue gets his artful dodger feature, the bonus AC against opportunity attacks.
So I’m thinking the artful dodger is at least equal to the melee ranger, perhaps between the ranger and barbarian. But a brutal rogue using piercing strike is better than an artful dodger rogue – the extra damage with high accuracy is quite formidable, possibly even making the class better than the barbarian (although personally, I’d rather have the barbarian with his huge number of healing surges, as opposed to that annoying rogue who always get pulverized and runs out of healing surges).
You can also try to compare the barbarian to the Str/Con great weapon fighter.
Hit points are equal.
Fighter has +1 to hit and reaping strike, but this is only about equivalent to 20 damage, a little weaker than the standard set above for strikers.
Fighter has about +2 AC and +1 armor skill modifier and +1 healing surge. Barbarian has +1 Reflex and +1 speed. Definitely we now have distinct overall advantage for the fighter.
Barbarian has rageblood vigor and swift charge. The barbarian has useful bonuses when raging. But the fighter has the mighty combat challenge / superiority ability.
The powers are where it gets tricky. The barbarian’s rage powers are better than the fighter dailies in general. But if the fighter gets to take a rain of steel, that is just broken and makes up for an awful lot – thought Vengeful Storm Rage is pretty scary.
So these classes seem hard to compare, it depends on which powers they take.