Some people dislike character classes because they say they are too restrictive.
I don’t think character classes, if they are done right, need to be “restrictive.” I know that character classes have been done poorly in the past, but that’s no reason to discriminate against something with great potential.
First off, non-character class systems often come with the advertisement that you can be anything you want, and this is seldom true.
In any game, your character is part of the game universe. If you could just decide that you belong to a race of cat people, that changes the game universe (it means there’s a race of cat people in this game universe). If the GM has not yet made up the game universe, that might be fine. In most cases, though, the GM has requirements for what he or she needs characters to be, yet they are often afraid to tell you what those requirement are for fear of seeming “restrictive”.
When done well, character classes are the fastest way to let players know what the game world is about. There will always be people coming in to the game who don’t know what the game universe is about. It is not fair to ask these people to create a character with no guidelines, because the player can’t know what his or her relationship with the game universe will be.
If you have character classes, then starting players know what their basic options are. They can choose the general segment of society they want to belong to, and they can read a short description of how that segment of society lives and how it interacts with other segments of society.
If it’s a good character class system, it will give each class advantages but not restrict anyone to anything (for instance, in Organic Rule Components, different types of skills are cheaper for some classes than others, but everyone can buy every skill type). If it’s a bad character class, it will tell characters what weapon they have to use and what skills they can have (but nobody still plays game systems that archaic, right?).
Finally, character classes are realistic. This is the point I feel most strongly about. In any society, people are restricted to roles. Those roles don’t necessarily correspond to what the person wants to be, or what they think of themselves as, but they do effect how the person lives his or her life. In some cases occupation might be a better term than character class, but this is not always so. Your role in society effects what duties you have every day, what access you have to money, special equipment, skills. Roles can change, but at any given time you have to fit at least one societal role (even if that societal role is ‘hermit’ or ‘outcast’ or ‘wandering madman’).
I think that this realism enhances game play because it prompts players to think interesting questions about their characters, like: Does you character like his or her class? Are they good at what they do, or bad at it? Does your character have plans of excelling in his or her field or of becoming something else? Is the character this class by choice or was he or she forced in to it?
Yes, character classes are restrictive, but life is restrictive, society is restrictive, and any good game is restrictive. Character classes just lay the restrictions out on the table and let people get on with choosing their options in a somewhat realistic manner.