I mentioned before that in my 2009 wishlist I wanted to play Burning Wheel, perhaps a campaign.
With barely two days of year as buffer, I managed to get in my first game of Burning Wheel. To all the people out there who's reviews I'd read and heard: you were quite close to the mark. The game is largely as you described. I won't go into a review here, but I'll share some impressions.
This game is quite detailed and crunchy, without being a burden. The detail isn't in the gadgets, it's in the rules. There seems to be a rule to facilitate whatever it is the players want to do. For a first game, this was a little overwhelming.
In fact, I think we probably spent a little too much time looking up rules than we did roleplaying. Admittedly, this is something that might be a matter of play style. I found that we could leap from decision point to decision point without much in between, and the game still flowed, albeit a little roughly. Personally, I like to narrate and act out until the dice are required, otherwise the story is just a series of branching points with no connectors.
The duel of wits actually made me feel the emotions of a debate. I was tense before each exchange and when I lost (badly, I should add) I felt embarrassed and angry because I was forced to concede something valuable. This was an unexpected immersion into the character and story. As soon as the duel was over, I immediately had the experience of player, character and audience. This is a great feature of the game.
Unfortunately, I didn't really get my head around the beliefs that my character had. Maybe I spent too much time thinking about the rules, or maybe I just didn't play the character as written. I would like to have played the beliefs more strongly and use the other rules to support this. I'll put this down to unfamiliarity with the rules. Next time I play, though, this will be a different balance.
There's a lot more I could say about this experience of Burning Wheel, but for now that'll do. Overall, it's the game experience I thought it would be. I think that it'd really hit its stride in a campaign, and with sessions longer than three hours. I'm glad I bought it.