"- No mercs playlist option" --- What is this?
If the playerpool is anywhere near Uncharted, it should be quite good at matching connections, because of having only 2 modes.
Now, about the game being unsavory for beginners, there are factors that can make things better or worse:
* A progression that gives veterans much more rawu power than beginners can have is bad.
*If the progression requires players to do specific stuff during matches, it is also bad.
These things makes beginners seating ducks. It sux to loose a confrontation because the other guy has am awesome loadout that you can't have anytime soon. And it sux to keep risking your life to taunt corpses.
KZ3, AC3 and Battlefield BC2 were examples of good progressions, that didn't have much of the bad stuff mentioned above. You could play these games without an abyssmal difference of power in relation to the veterans. And from the beginning you could actually focus on the matches, play the game for real; as opposed to do specific things to get the upgrades.
If the game has a good proggression, the player pool is likely to remain big for a longer while. But I'm not optimistic about TLOU's progression. From the info presented so far, it seems like it's gonna have a lot of that bad stuff. It seems like the designers only care about using the proggression to get players hooked up in the game; not caring if it makes them play badly or if it's unfair to relatively new players.
About the necessity of parties...
It is really a matter of the point system. If players are greatly rewarded for doing coop stuff, they will generally play tactically, even in random teams. BF is the finest example of this - the tactical stuff gives you half your points, pretty much. But if the point system rewards kills much more than coop stuff, there will be no big cooperation in random teams... so the parties will be a must and theyw ill dominate the games in a way that probably won't be fun (it happened in KZ3 and it was boring for both sides).
In competitive multiplayer I have never been a fan of the XP system as far as rank and unlocking things goes. Everything should be unlocked from the start because it levels the playing field and not everyone is going to put the same amount of time in.
I don't think everything should be unlocked when you start playing. Take U2 for example, the more you played, if you got to a certain level you would be rewarded with a skin. Having these be unlocked right when you start playing wouldn't be that great. But I do think things such as weapons and boosters should be pretty attainable early on. It only makes sense though for ND to reward people who are playing their game.
I see the point of having everything unlocked for a level playing field. There will be hardcore gamers that would be so OP for playin the game nonstop, then here comes casual gamer newbie who just joined in. Chances of survival for newbie against hardcore gamer is obviously low.
But at least the noobs will have a fighting chance and learn from the exerience.
In fighting games, everything is unlocked. You know who wins? The person with the most knowledge and better reactions. (There's more to it than that.)
My point is.. Having everything unlocked, doesn't mean anything really in terms of being "overpowered".
That's because in most fighting games there aren't any perks or mods. Did everyone forget what happened in U3 with Spyder's M9, which was unlocked at level 1 and could be equipped with any mod? The game was filled with noobs using Spyder's M9+RoF.