This week's episode of A View From The Top reminded me of a seemingly short-sighted change that SOE announced for EQ2 a few months back. Low level characters will no longer receive certain group-focused skills - such as taunts/detaunts - automatically upon hitting the appropriate level. Looking back, the upcoming shift to free to play appears to be part of the context of this seemingly short-sighted decision.
The value of the solo taunt
Currently, low level fighters (tanking-capable classes) are designed to include taunts as part of their normal attack rotation, even when playing solo. The taunt completes a combo called a "heroic opportunity" that does some damage. With the changes, the taunts will be removed from the combo (since players will no longer have the spells on their hotbar) and existing damage attacks will be updated to take their place. In principle, this change makes sense - why would anyone want to taunt a mob when they're the only player on the mob's aggro list?
First off, EQ2 combat skills all have cooldowns of at least 10 seconds, with some skills locked out for 30 seconds or more after use. Because you start off with a small number of skills, it's all-too-easy to end up sitting for 10 seconds watching your character autoattack because you don't have anything better to do. The taunt button is literally something extra that you can do to fill that time, even if it does sound kind of pointless. With the changes, your heroic opportunity combo will automagically complete itself using damage attacks that you were going to do anyway, and you'll just have less to do.
Second, and a bit more problematic, is EQ2's continued use of casting skills to determine whether abilities hit. This outdated mechanic is neither challenging nor interesting - as long as the game provides you with the tools to advance your skill level, it will automatically find itself at the cap for any given level. The occasional taunt to complete a heroic opportunity is currently enough to keep a character's "aggression" skill (only used for taunts) at its maximum level.
With the change, EVEN AFTER the player eventually gets their taunt skills (at a higher level than in the current game), they will have no reason to ever use them. Soon enough, players will be hitting level 90 with an aggression skill rating of 5/450, which they'll have to fix by spending a few hours taunting a target dummy since it won't be possible to group with non-functional taunts. I'm sure that players who discover this will be ever so grateful that SOE spared them the bother of pushing an extra button back at level 8.
When the taunt change was original announced, more than a month prior to the unveiling of the free to play model, it seemed shortsighted. Knowing what we know now, it makes a lot more sense. The game's producer claims that the new service is aimed at a different playerbase from the existing audience, and he appears to be backing that view up with his actions.
Having a nonexistent taunt skill is a problem if you figure that your new player is eventually supposed to go on and tank instances. By contrast, being gimped at tanking group content doesn't matter if the player never tries to tank a dungeon because the various restrictions on their free account will keep them out of instances in the first place.
The catch is that, under SOE's plan to run the same game using two different payment models, changes like this affect both versions simultaneously. This particular change is more of an annoyance than a game-breaker, but it could well be a harbinger of more problematic conflicts between the two systems in months to come.