I tried to properly review the feature pack and it came out way too long, so I’ll cut to the important parts: skill/ability locking and personal story. This is from the perspective of a semi-veteran PvE player who has created a ranger since the patch and played to level 10.
Skill and Ability Locking: I seriously question the decision to lock skills so extensively. While I agree having all your skills available at once could be overwhelming, this was not the situation. I believe the previous system for unlocking weapon skills worked admirably: it was refreshingly unique, it made logical sense (you’re practicing and figuring out new techniques) and it gave you a chance to figure your skills out gradually, one at a time. Furthermore it gave you that chance every time you picked up a new weapon, something the new system denies you.
The new system fulfills only the third of these, only for your first weapon, and in my opinion much too slowly. It is now practically impossible to unlock even your second weapon skill during the tutorial area, yet the second and third skills are vital to give the player a sense of agency in battle. Instead of an epic and engaging fight, the tutorial boss now becomes a simple auto-attack battle, which cripples the experience of those vital first few minutes.
My recommendation would be to use the old system to unlock weapon skills, at least for the first three, fast enough that the first three unlock before the tutorial boss.
Not only that, but the ‘downed’ state seems to me far too important to leave out in the first few levels. The 2nd and 3rd downed skills are important, but can perhaps be delayed a few levels to make the whole experience less overwhelming. The only way for players to learn this is to experience it, so stopping them from doing so won’t help anyone. I also think not allowing the player to die in the tutorial is a bad idea – it cheapens the experience if the player notices they have that safety net.
Finally, not giving the player a starter underwater weapon just seems silly. I don’t see why you should remove it when it starts with learning one simple skill just like everything else. It makes the lower levels that bit less varied, and leaves low-leveled characters defenseless should they meet a hostile creature underwater, unless they are savvy enough to purchase an underwater weapon themselves.
All in all, while spreading out the learning curve is all well and good, you should make sure you aren’t taking all the engagement out of the lower levels and hiding the ways your game stands out by doing so. Remember that these levels are where you are making your first impression. The tutorial is short, but there is plenty of room for spaced-out tooltips to explain these most vital features.
Personal Story Changes: I can completely get behind the idea to shorten the gaps between story instances in the same chapter. In my opinion the personal story works a lot better without so many fits and starts. However, I feel this change is too heavy-handed, and removes any aspect of choice the player has. I think it should be possible to go into your next story instance while slightly under-leveled if you really want to – I have recently started playing through the game with three friends, and we make such easy work of the story instances that we have often gone in early to make it a challenge.
Perhaps a better approach would be to “bunch up” the recommended levels of instances so that you have one-level increments within a chapter, and perhaps a five-level gap between them. This makes the story run more smoothly while still leaving the ultimate choice of when to attempt it to the player. It would also pull forward the starting level requirements for each chapter, and thus get rid of that unfortunate ten-level gap before the start of the Personal Story.
And why oh why did you switch chapters 7 and 8? This creates all sorts of inconsistencies in the continuity – now you ‘meet’ Sayeh after already having fought beside her several times, you defeat the Sovereign Eye of Zhaitan before the original encounters with the Eye and Mouth, and you airdrop into the heart of Orr long before securing the area on foot, not to mention ending up wandering the Cursed Shore at level 70.
I really think the only remedy for these consistency problems is to switch them back. Changing the order of Personal Story events now would require serious rewriting, and just isn’t worth it when the story isn’t actually in any way ‘broken’ to begin with.
In summary, this is by and large a very good feature pack, with some technical hiccups particularly with miniatures, but the level-based skill locking replaces a perfectly good system with something worse and ruins the tutorial area, and the Personal Story changes remove too much player choice and create sweeping continuity problems.