I'm not getting your meaning. Enemies leveled with you, so switching your play style down the road would gimp you far more than switching in Skyrim would. Maxing Sword and Shield would take you from 1 to 11, and enemies would level with you. But say you maxed destruction first, then switched. Now you're at 21, with the exact same capabilities the Sword and Board character had at 11. But the enemies are almost twice as strong.
That's extremely restrictive. It very, very heavily punishes you for switching. That was the exact reason they changed the Skyrim system to the current one--they wanted players to develop characters by playing and trying things, not by being forced to plan out ever aspect of their character upon creation. There was absolutely no room to switch in the old games unless you did it very, very early.
In Skyrim, you get two things when you level up, a point to spend in a stat, and a perk point. You level up when YOU want to level up--you're free to go about your business and rest without leveling, and you'll continue to accrue level-ups (without leveling) all the way.
Choosing to level up means choosing your stat. The perk point is yours to use whenever you want it.
The three stats are designed so as to be useful to nearly all characters. Unless you are specifically doing a no-magic build, then no point in magicka is wasted--that's extra healing, at the very least. Equal to like 22 health once you gain some skill levels in Restoration, actually.
Stamina is useful for everyone. Pure Mages still get sprint speed, and anyone with a weapon benefits. Higher stamina also increases your resistance to getting knocked down, iirc.
And health is obviously useful.
So unless your switching from a Mage build to PURE melee, you never waste any of those points.
Now perks you can waste. But, again, you aren't forced to place them until you want to. Nothing forces you to level up, and nothing forces you to use perks on level ups. Yes, if you toss a point in Destruction double casting, but don't intend to ever use destruction again, it's "wasted". But realistically, you have more than enough perk points, and you have to make a pretty significant change in your character's play style for them to be wasted.
If you're tossing perk points in something you don't know if you're going to keep using, I don't see any issue with losing them if you decide to go another way. It's not the end of the world, and you'll be far more underpowered because of a low skill level in your new tactic than because you don't have perks there.
Plus, most of the early perks are designed to be generally useful. You usually don't get more specific ones until later. Like Destruction's first perk is Novice Destruction. If you don't intend to really use it, then you won't ever be using the higher level spells. But casting the early ones for cheap can be really useful at times, even if its not a core part of your build. Novice Restoration will be quite useful for any character. Etc.
If you are placing perks before actually trying something out, then you're kinda stupid. That's a level of hand holding where it just gets ridiculous. If you aren't sure about something, don't place the point. There's literally nothing forcing you to, and chances are you won't notice the difference even if you have 5 perks saved up versus spending them.
And, no, separating the leveling system from the class system is being deliberately disingenuous. The class you chose was defined by its major and minor skills, which defined how you leveled. That WAS a part of the class system--it was the whole entire point. The entire basis of your class was based on leveling up by using your main skills. And it's not like you could just use your basic skills instead, because using more than 20 of them was wasting leveling potential. You had to level up a major/main skill with them, so even optimizing stats meant making a choice on your spec.
Your class in the earlier game was nothing but a choice in how you leveled. Skyrim gives you options as to how you want to level, how you want to play, and how you want to enhance that play style. If you choose to level/spec badly, it's less of an issue and significantly harder to do than in the earlier games.
Edited, May 4th 2012 1:16am by idiggory
It'll be close, but Romney has the momentum.