Dr. Ferrel's prescription: Nerf the "broken" Justicar soul (which provides the passive cross-role healing), to clear the way for "unique" fixes to increase the DPS of the four DPS souls (rather than the non-unique buff), so that once the dust has settled Trion can remedy a lack of love for the three healers (in particular the Purifier, which Ferrel claims "needs a redesign" due to a "terrible" signature mechanic/"gimmick").
Personally, I haven't spent enough time with Rift to conclude whether any - or all eight - of the Cleric souls are in need of such dramatic changes. That said, the discussion raises a design question that goes beyond the current state of one class in one game - how much is it fair to change the way classes play and feel in a live MMO?
Changing the game
My limited experience suggests that Ferrel is absolutely right about the constraints the passive healing builds (called *-icar because you're tacking some Justicar onto whatever soul you're actually playing) place on the design for the rest of the class, or even the entire game. One of my comments from the game's launch was that the sheer amount of passive healing generated by solo DPS builds - including Clerics - appeared to be harming the challenge of the non-instanced group content. (There was a nerf along these lines in the game's first major patch, but Ferrel's post would suggest that the problem persists.) Meanwhile, the value of free-form customization is greatly diminished when every Cleric build that will ever solo or DPS must spend most of its off-tree points in a specific soul.
That said, my character is a Cleric because I actually like the current playstyle. The types of changes Ferrel proposes - such as moving key abilities deeper into the tree - would have a huge effect on the leveling experience for all clerics. Moreover, the philosophy behind the adjustments would dramatically alter the way the class feels - from a slow DPS'er with zero downtime due to a constantly regenerating health bar to hopefully a higher DPS class that is more dependent on active healing to survive.
My opinion as someone who hasn't been a fulltime player of Rift since its first month doesn't really matter all that much, but how many others who are still in game chose the current Cleric class because they preferred its slower pacing? If there are significant numbers who would be dissatisfied with the change even if it results in a mathematically superior (better exp/hour or whatever) class that loses the current feel, how do their needs balance against the arguably more severe consequences being suffered by players who would trade the survivability for DPS? (To what extent did the current abundance of disgruntled Cleric DPS directly result from the ease of leveling the current Justicar splash builds?)
Two parting caveats to this discussion:
- In my experience with class balance as an MMO player since 2004, this is not the first time I've seen players of a specific class argue that one mechanic of their class should be nerfed to clear the way for future buffs. The nerfs that even players of that class agree are needed generally happen. The compensatory buffs don't always materialize.
- Speaking more generally, I can think of one big example of a company which believes that classes can and should be radically redesigned every time the team feels that just one more revamp will solve the problems. I know of relatively few players who are entirely satisified with this aspect of World of Warcraft, even when they agree the the problems with the status quo are legitimate and the proposed changes are objectively superior.