In this month's Producer's Letter Scott Hartsman says
Along the way, we realized that we had a unique opportunity to enhance other parts of combat and to improve on other parts of the game as well. Most notably, these changes affect the Encounter and Death systems and are aimed at providing more chances for positive interactions between people.
And then, on the same topic, he later says
However, for single group encounters the loss of positive social opportunities far outweighs the protection that hard encounter locks were providing.
Also in the update, group experience debt has been removed. If you die, you take the death penalty, exactly as if you were solo. The system that we have in place currently is absolutely the most fair - Of that, there's no argument. However, it has ended up having the practical effect of causing more groups to break up faster, which has to be our overriding concern.
To sum up these changes: In any MMO, people come for the game, and they stay for their friends and the long-term challenges and rewards present in the world. We're not just in the business of providing an interesting, fun, and challenging world to adventure in. We're equally responsible to ensure that we provide a setting in which our game draws people together as best as it can.
It's as if Scott read my mind. Or perhaps he's just reading my blog. (See the post titled "My Guildies Keeper")
On a different topic, Scott said this
In many cases in the current system, spell and combat art upgrades do not always feel like satisfying upgrades. We've changed the system and all of the spells and arts in it with the goal of making sure that this is the case. Getting a new or upgraded primary ability should be one of the most proud moments of a character's career. Those are the moments people look forward to. They need to have meaning.
Scott, I couldn't agree with you more!
There are some interesting details here, and some unknowns. For example, invisibility/sneak spells no longer go obsolete at some level, and no longer upgrade either. You will never be able to sneak past mobs that con red. Unless someone higher level than you is providing the capability. The "see invisibility" and "see sneak" capabilities always work. So you will never be able to sneak past them either.
This means all the upgrades to invisibility have been eliminated beyond adding wrinkles such as group invisibility or movement speed. Better is actually better.
So will a new Apprentice 1 nuke do more damage than the old one which has been upgraded to Adept 3? It's hard to say, but player expectations are clearer here.
Unanswered is the following thought. Will spells continue to increase in value as you level up and gain skill? Or does skill only affect resist chance? By giving little or no upgrade to a spell as skill improves and levels are gained, it gives SOE more room to make a spell upgrade more meaningful.
One idea that I didn't fully anticipate was that they would back away from the Archetype system:
First and foremost, we want to ensure that each class has a fun and fulfilling role to play.
In addressing Class Diversity, we wanted to place a greater emphasis on people's final Subclass selection, focusing less on Archetypal roles than previously. As one example, very few people start a new game and think to themselves, "I want to be a Generic Mage!" That's a fun stage to grow through, but not a destination in itself.
If a person wants to be a Necromancer, they want to be a Necromancer. There are certain images that conjures up. The same thing applies when you say the word "Enchanter" to someone who is familiar with EverQuest. It's our responsibility to ensure that the expectation is met, and the absence of certain abilities is not jarring.
In some cases, we've added entirely new spell lines to classes, and in others we've made them the game-wide experts in existing lines, where previously everyone in their archetype may have had an approximately equal ability. For other classes, we may have just bumped an emphasis slightly in one direction or another.
In particular, Enchanters now get a charm spell. This acknowledgment backs away from the commitment that "Any subclass of an archetype will be able to fulfill that archetypes role". This was patently untrue for Illusionists, who had very limited individual DPS, faring not much better than priests for DPS in a group setting. Enchanters work by making other group members better, and by reducing the amount of damage incoming. But the promise that the archetype seemed to be making is that enchanters, in a game where mez was less important and charm was non-existent, would be able to keep pace with warlocks, wizards, conjurors and necromancers when it came to dealing damage, and they didn't. SOE no longer believes this is a good promise to make.
Brawlers and Shamans suffered from "archetype breaking" as well. Oddly enough, many of the details of the combat revamp seems intended to help these classes fulfill their archetype roles. Nonetheless, SOE no longer seems interested in promising Defiliers that they will be able to take the role of main healer just as effectively as a Templar.
Enchanters still present a game-design puzzle that has produced some intrusive limits. As I understand it, the new charm will work only on mobs that are solo-rated. Which means that players of this class will see a reduction of their capability as the mobs get harder. We can't charm Heroic mobs or bigger. We can't power drain or mez large Epic encounters, even on just the lesser helpers of a big boss. These abilities are very powerful and could result in making such encounters too easy, I understand that. But getting a message that says "This mob is too powerful for that spell to work" represents an intrusion of the game design on the player. It feels highly arbitrary and artificial.
After all, Guardians don't get messages that say "That mob is too powerful for your taunt to work on them". The taunt may or may not be resisted, and it may or may not be enough to distract the mob from the warlock going ape with his nukes, but that's business as usual, nothing different from solo or Heroic encounters, only more so.
Anyway, as regards a solo-level charmed mob, if chosen carefully, can still be a useful addition to a group or a raid. We'll have to see. I certainly plan to have some fun finding out.