As pen and paper role-playing games moved into the realm of video games, designers realized that some alterations needed to be made for the sake of simplicity. When the game existed in the imagination of the user, a broad term such as "Wizard" could be used to cover any number of skills, spells and abilities. However, as each skill set needed to be programmed and visually realized, the more complex archetypes eventually splintered into different groups. Wizards became Mages, Warlocks, Necromancers and Pyromancers; Warriors splintered into Fighters, Barbarians, and Monks. Over time, the community learned to accept the idea that even though they are all intrinsically the same, they could still be considered distinct and separate classes.
BioWare and LucasArts appear to be betting that they can inspire the same change in the public perception of force users. Where we previously grouped Jedi as just Jedi, and Sith as Sith, they would have us break specializations into fully distinct classes. When using the fantasy archetypes as an analog it isn't that hard to see their vision. They took steps towards this goal in KOTOR by separating the Jedi into three classes, and are continuing this trend by creating four force-using specialists.
In this regard, we would have to agree with the developers. Having two classes, both of which have access to every possible force power, would almost certainly mean failure in an RPG community. Either the selection of force powers would be limited dramatically, leading to Jedi and Sith players bemoaning the lack of depth, or the selection would be so great that all non-force classes would feel left out and inferior; the latter we already saw in action.
One of the greatest worries in the early TOR community was how to make Jedi and Sith balanced in a game with non-force using counterparts. This is doubly important in a game that includes any form of player versus player combat. It appears that the developers' answer to this problem is to force (no pun intended) Jedi and Sith players into distinct roles with recognizable skill sets.
On a purely mechanical level, we would have to agree with this point as well. Without this distinction, a player wielding a lightsaber could have any specialization and his opponent would not know how to handle the situation until the battle was over. A Trooper is a Trooper, and an Imperial Agent is an Imperial Agent. But a Jedi, with any number of skill tree options, could be anything. By placing different force users into recognizable archetypes, we believe it evens the playing field by allowing non-force users to develop appropriate tactics for each.
Another issue in this debate focuses around the possible story arcs for four force users. The concern being whether or not their stories can be as unique and distinct as those seen with the other classes. For example, the life of a Smuggler varies greatly from the life of a Trooper. We know the individual narratives will be high quality and engaging, this is BioWare after all, but how different and special can the stories be between a Sith Warrior and a Sith Inquisitor?
On this point, we will have to file ourselves as mildly worried. The life of a Jedi Knight, who goes through the trials to destroy things with a lightsaber, seems far too similar to a Jedi Consular, who goes through the trials to destroy things with the force. While it is true that you could take two law enforcement officers, ask them their life story, and get completely different tales; would they be distinct enough to warrant two archetypes? We have not yet seen enough, and cannot confidently say we are convinced.
For players who choose to play a Jedi or Sith, having four force users means they have a much larger set of options for being who they want to be. If we imagine that a Trooper has 20 skills and a Smuggler has 20 skills, then a single Jedi class would also have 20 skills. This means that splitting force users into two archetypes per faction basically allows for 80 skills to be available for anyone looking to play a force user, thus allowing them to find the precise set that suits their desired style.
We understand this choice. Community polls are roughly estimating 60% of the pre-launch player base wants to roll a force user, and splitting the field does allow this group to find what they want. However, we feel this could be a squandered opportunity to add a fresh or unique new skill set to the game. In the end, while the force abilities are different, they are fairly similar to each other. A fully-realized fourth class could have been as unique and distinct as the Imperial Agent is to the Bounty Hunter.
We are taking a "Cautiously Optimistic" view on the four force users. During the time we've had to consider this decision, many worries have subsided and a couple new ones have emerged, but the reasoning behind this choice is starting to shine through. We have confidence in the developers and are looking forward to seeing how this design works in the live product.