So now that I've been playing for a few months and have seen what appears to be all of the level 50 content ... here's how I feel about PvE overall.
1. Class archetype balance
Melee DPS top charts early in a half-decent group (that is, don't sit in AOEs that will kill you, get AOE dispel/heal support as necessary from healers). Not a big deal, as they're also the DPS position most at risk from boss AOE or instantly dying when they pull aggro on trash mobs. However ... ranged DPS don't bring much to the table over melee (Engineer's Heavy Artillery is pretty much it). Magic DPS, in turn, bring their own problem --
2. Attack speed vs. Cast speed
100% Attack Speed = 100% more autoattacks made; in other words, it only doubles your autoattack output, which itself is less than half your damage. On the other hand, 100% cast speed reduces your cast speed by 100%, and this affects everything a caster does. It's true that all you need to do is gear enough Cast Speed to get your casts down to 1 second and then animation cancel, but this means casters scale much better than other classes. Of course, they start off pathetically weak, but there's still a severe imbalance here where poorly geared mages are pretty useless, then become incredibly difficult to surpass in damage when supported by --
Because of how effective Cast Speed is, Illusionist's Stimulation is a huge, huge boost to all Healers and Magic DPS and still moderately useful to animation-canceling Tank/Melee/Ranged DPS. In addition, Mind Surge makes MP completely and utterly meaningless. This renders MP Potions obsolete and destroys a lot of --
4. Player options in combat
With no shortage of mana, there's no need to actively make any decisions in combat; all you need to do is blindly rotate through your skills. Even if there were several different types of heals (e.g. a slow, powerful, mana-efficient heal; a fast but inefficient one, etc.), all you need to do with an unlimited amount of mana is figure out how to pump out as much damage/healing as possible and then repeat that until the dungeon is over. Reactive actions are pretty much limited to using your 30-60 second cooldowns, and the vast majority of those are %-based (+evade, +doublehit) so you can't rely on them to immediately make a difference.
5. Limitations on Tank advancement
Real simple. With the 50% DEF cap being relatively easy to hit, especially with buffs, and the inability to acquire any meaningful additional amounts of HP once you and your gear are max-level, tanks have no real ability to increase their EHP and are limited to stacking avoidance, so past a certain very early point, tanks hit a wall where they can't do much more to raise how much burst damage they can take. This in turn --
6. Limits Healer advancement and gameplay
Again, very simple. Without tanks being able to take more burst damage, bosses in turn are restricted to dealing the same burst damage, and healers in turn have little incentive to gear up heals since the demands on them aren't changing. It might help if they could compensate for an undergeared tank, except that undergeared tanks tend to just get instantly killed by crits, and no amount of +G-Healing can save them from that fate.
7. No reason to gear DPS
... beyond e-peen, anyway. Heroic Mori Mori is the only fight with a real time limit (again, mana is never a real limit unless you don't have an Illusionist AND forgot to bring potions) and it's not one that's difficult to meet in any way. Under normal circumstances, there's never a time where the burden is on the DPS to output a certain amount in order to complete a fight; all you can do is make the run overall go a little bit faster, and that's assuming you don't pull aggro from a bad tank or get yourself instagibbed by a reflect in your zeal to max your damage.
8. Too much cookie-cutter enemy design
Not much to say here. With few exceptions, bosses use the same few basic abilities, with the primary annoyances being the ones that full heal them or kill you when you attack them. All AOEs are just circles that you're either in or out of. Once you learn to stop attacking when you get hit with certain debuffs and how to run out of a few of the more deadly AOEs, you've pretty much mastered 99% of bosses. Trash mobs aren't even worth talking about; either they hit you, they hit you harder, or on a few occasions prevent healing.
9. Boss immunity to status effects
This just makes things worse, as it limits the ways players can deal with boss skills. For example, Abby @ Rotten or Kekabu @ Arid Wilds are most easily dealt with by using a Warrior or Engineer to stun them and reset their heal stacks. However, why not allow Hunter/MA's anti-healing skills to work on bosses? Why not allow a Knight to silence the cast? Allowing bosses to be affected by most/all status effects would open up a variety of challenges and ways for parties to deal with them.
tl;dr problems and solutions
(lol this ended up being just as long as the other part)
1. Attack Speed; Cast Speed discrepancy
- change cast speed to work the same way attack speed does; rebalance caster/healer weapon/skill base values to bring them in line with other classes.
2. Illusionists (and to a lesser extent, bards)
- nerf Mind Surge and maybe Stimulation, maybe give one of them to Magician. Bards have a similar issue with tank dependence on Song of Illusion, but it goes away once tanks naturally hit DEF cap while Stimulation is ALWAYS useful to healers/casters as long as they gear intelligently.
3. Other classes being just for damage
Spread out the love with the group buffs and unique abilities. Every class should have something special they bring beyond just hitting things really hard.
4. Remove boss immunities
Don't make them flat out immune. 30 second CC immunities already make chain CC difficult, and it shouldn't be all that hard to script in punishment skills that murder the group should the boss get abused too much.
5. Add HP growth
HP growth on DPS means bosses can do more single-target and party damage and healers can stack more Cast Speed/G-Healing to counter that. This may not be necessary if EE never expands beyond having two tiers of content at any given level, but at the same time that would severely limit their PVE content and given how bad EE PVP is, I can't see that being a strong choice.
5. Take out the DEF cap, redo the DEF formula
Additional DEF should provide linear EHP growth, not linear damage reduction growth. If you're confused on the difference (or were just lost by my references to EHP throughout) I suggest you see Diminishing Returns - Armour
-- a form of this article is what originally introduced me to the math behind this system, and it's an excellent one for providing long-term room for advancement at a level cap.
6. Add more (useful) skills and choices
This may (but probably will not) be solved by level cap increases, but basically players should have more options than "spam all my skills in a predetermined order." This especially affects Shamans, who as of right now have very little reason to do anything but spam Drops of Heaven on the entire party as fast as they can. Random procs that change up skill priorities, different MP efficiencies, useful extra effects, etc., would go a long way to increasing player interaction beyond pushing the same few buttons in the same order repeatedly.
7. Give Range DPS some love
I almost forgot this point. I never see other Hunters/Engineers topping DPS and I can't get anywhere near my own Thief/Blade Dancer outputs the few times I've toyed with Hunter myself. They do have the advantage of being at range, but they don't give the useful buffs an Illusionist does and they're absolutely blown away on damage by a well-geared Magician with Stimulation up. There's really no reason to have them in a party from the standpoint of optimization. I may be horribly wrong on this point as I don't really play either class much and I'm aware properly geared Engineers are one of the best solo AOE classes, but that does nothing for their party viability and Hunters just seem to be complete crap.
P.S. This was written with no clear goal in mind other than passing some time on my day off and getting these thoughts out in written (or typed, as the case may be) form. If you learn something, cool; if not ... oh well.
P.P.S. Awaiting angry comments from people who think they're pro Hunters.
P.P.P.S. Also waiting for people who think Cast Speed and Magic DPS balance/scaling is fine.
Also, random screencap that turns out to be pretty relevant. Gear levels were relatively close;
Illusionist ~12000 MATK?, Engineer ~10000 PATK?, Thief 12500 PATK, Knight 10500 PATK
Tracked damage for One-Eye Roger + his one add only
Melee DPS leading but only by a little over Illu, who also has to spend time providing two extremely useful buffs; meanwhile, Engineer gets completely left in the dust. Pretty typical except that most Illusionists suck and end up quite a bit lower than that, but the potential is definitely there in the class.