Before I bought my first McHale pack, I was thinking just like you -- there would need to be a lot of value in a pack in that price range. So I spent about 6 months reading reviews and forum posts. Most seemed to be on sites dedicated to mountaineering, climbing, and hunting. There were a few unhappy people, but I was blown away by the number of completely satisfied owners. Seems that most weren't just happy owners, but had become advocates of the product. Some people had bought McHales decades ago and were still using them.
So I decided to go forward. I knew I would get to try a demo before paying for a pack. I liked the demo concept. Once I got the demo I loaded it with 35 lbs and did a 18 mile day hike over varied terrain. Surprisingly, I didn't have a single sore spot the next morning -- you know those common pressure points on the hips and sometimes the shoulders; this is spite of the fact I really had done a poor job of adjusting the stays; which Dan had me correct after I sent him a bunch of pictures.
I ended up buying a 2nd smaller McHale, I was so happy with the first one. Yes, I think it does all the things you are looking for.
I now consider what I paid for both packs to be investment rather than price.
I suggest you spend time on other websites other than BPL; those sites where people carry heavy loads.
As for the cool factor, I don't know about that since I rarely see other people on the trail and don't have the opportunity to show my packs to anyone but my wife, and she hates the idea of wearing a backpack.
Ultimately it is your decision if you buy one, so be objective when you do your research. I hope this is helpful.