I'd just like to reiterate our stance that Death Penalty makes a game more punishing, it does not create a greater challenge to overcome. It's a mindset from the early arcade game times, when throwing barriers into the player's path ensured they would spend more quarters and time on a game.source.
A harsh death penalty causes players to play risk averse and conservatively, which is not our goal.
To resort to an overused term: It's not terribly heroic to be risk averse. Heroes take risks and reap great rewards. If Han and Luke had been risk averse...
The goal for us is to offer entertainment to our players. That means reducing incidents where players quit in frustration because they have to re-run the same content over and over. (Note that they may occasionally still quit in frustration because the actual encounter was too hard for them, but at least then the frustration is directly related to the encounter, not the penalty after it.)
It's not terribly heroic to rush in a dozen times and be defeated either, so we're taking care to calibrate the system where the on-the-spot medical probe isn't viable for one-man zerging through content.
Let me give you an example of an encounter in the game (without spoilers) we introduced after changing to the medical probe system:
At some point in the story, a Jedi character may end up on a Sith ship in a commando mission to take out a powerful Sith Lord who is said to have uncovered a powerful and deadly attack with the Force.
After fighting through Imperial troops, Imperial special forces and the Lord's prospective students from the landing bay to the bridge, the player finally gets to face the Sith. As Sith Lords go, he's pretty confident in himself and makes it abundantly clear, in slightly too many villainous words, that there is no hope of standing against him, etc. As Jedi go, your character may probably say something like 'Like most of your kind, you're pretty full of it'.
A battle ensues. 20 seconds into the battle, the player suddenly feels a stabbing pain in his chest, falls over and dies. Turns out that this particular Sith Lord wasn't joking about his capabilities.
An attentive player may have noticed what lead to that this turn of events and, next time faced with the Sith Lord, will make sure the outcome is different. Other players will pay closer attention next time, may fail again and defeat the enemy in the 3rd attempt.
Keep in mind that enemies will heal back to their previous state after the player falls, so there is no way to just rush this Sith Lord quickly and defeat him over time.
This scenario was not really possible in our game before the introduction of the medical probe. Before that option, you'd have to travel through the Sith Warship from the landing bay back to the bridge. If the content is open world and not instanced (and the largest part of our game is open world), you'd also have to fight through everyone again. That's between 4-15 minutes of 'death penalty' each time you'd die. Our testers absolutely hated that.
Now, with the ability to have a limited number of in-the-field revivals, this kind of scenario is one of the things we're deploying more widely through the game.
BioWare has never been afraid of using failure-learn-succeess mechanics in our games. A large part of what the Baldur's Gate series successful was exactly this mechanic. By introducing the medical droid option to the game, we allow ourselves to have challenging boss battles more frequently that require the player to learn and adapt to overcome the obstacle. We're in process of updating many areas of the game now to increase the overall challenge of combat as a result.
Obviously the threshold of what is acceptable is different from player to player and obviously we're aiming to hit the sweet spot that is right for most of our players, so yes, if you're ultra hardcore and wish the medical probe wasn't there or could be only used once, you're going to be disappointed ... but nobody forces you to use it. The 'revive at medcenter' (and walk up to 15 minutes back to your death location is always available.
If that's not acceptable, well, to put it after Obi Wan: "This might not be the punishing experience you are looking for", because that system is not going away
Personally their solution looks pretty good to me, corpse running sucks quite badly in big maps.
We don't have healers to res, they would have no point, as you pointed outsource.
Every player has the ability to revive fallen players (outside of combat).
Sages and Sith Sorcerers get in combat revival. That is all Consular Sages and Sith Inquisitor Sorcerers, not just the ones the specialize in healing/support.
So, as you can see, we're doing things a little bit differently.
This is really interesting, no waiting around for a res-capable class to appear, anyone who survives can res. So in a fight, so long as 1 person is still standing, you can pick your party up and continue.