I'm interested in the balance of this new edition's classes. Are casters still noticeably more effective in almost all situations than non casters?
I’m going to answer this the same way I answered a similar question about Starfinder: we just don’t know yet. Pathfinder 2e is a far larger change from Pathfinder 1e than Pathfinder 1e was from D&D 3.5e, and at this stage in Pathfinder 1e’s life, we didn’t know for that yet either. So for a system that has changed far more than the previous case, we certainly don’t know either.
Determining overall balance truths in a system takes a lot of playing it. In particular, since games are typically supposed to be balanced, you cannot rely on the descriptions of things to determine if they’re actually powerful—you have to try them. And you have to try a lot of things, and people have to come together and compare experiences, and you have to try yet more things. You have to try rather out-of-the-box things, too.
And for a real consensus to form, you need a critical mass of players who have played enough different things to be able to form an informed opinion about things—and then you need still more time for them to go back and try different things when they learn others had different experiences. Maybe the campaign you played just happened to miss some important weaknesses in the class you tried, or maybe some of the things you chose for your character weren’t the best choices and the result wasn’t as good as it could have been. That leaves you with a particular impression—which may, due to the specific instances of the character and the game, run contrary to popular opinion. But you have to verify that for yourself in most cases—sometimes it’s as easy as “oh, yeah, I could see how in most campaigns that’d be a bigger problem” or “hm, yeah, if I’d had that I wouldn’t have struggled so much.” But usually it’s “really? I’m skeptical. I’ll have to try that myself.”
That’s a ton of playtime necessary across many, many players in order for a consensus to grow. Pathfinder 2e simply hasn’t been out long enough.
We won’t likely have an answer to this question for years. This is one of the things that makes RPG design so fiendishly difficult, why balance in particular is such an elusive goal—just information alone is hard to come by, and takes a long time to collect. The only real approach to avoiding any problems, if you’re really dedicated to it, is regular balance patches and updates—which are vastly harder to disseminate for pen ‘n’ paper RPGs than they are for video games, and even in video games cause a lot of strife and gnashing of teeth. It’d be much worse in the RPG industry, where the community 1. doesn’t even agree that balance itself is valuable, and 2. isn’t used to such disruptive practices.
An Attempt at a Tier List
I've ran and played in over a dozen games and a few 1-20 adventures since pathfinder 2e released, and have payed attention to various folks' opinions about the classes mostly on the paizo forums. I think there's a pretty great balance between the classes in the game (particularly compared to my similar amount of experience with PF1e), but that there are a few stand-out winners:
Tier 1: Rogue — Can do anything and everything, often better than lower-tier classes that supposedly specialize in that thing.
Tier 2: Bard, Cleric, Fighter — As powerful as tier 1, but no one build can do everything.
Tier 3: Barbarian, Champion, Druid, Gunslinger, Investigator, Monk, Sorcerer, Witch, Wizard — Good at one thing & useful outside that, or moderately useful at most things.
Tier 4: Alchemist*, Inventor, Magus, Oracle, Ranger, Summoner, Swashbuckler — Good at one thing but useless at everything else, or mediocre at many things.
Tier 5: None — Good at one rarely applicable thing, or mediocre at one thing, or simply too unfocused.
Tier 6: None — Objectively worse at their specialty than another (often Tier 5) class, without anything else to show for it.
Tier 7: None — Apparently received no actual playtesting, mechanics as written simply don't work. See this question for more details.
- These tier definitions were lifted from this post.
In terms of Tier list power related to versatility, one skill feat stands out above the rest: Trick Magic Item. This allows any character with some minor investment to activate magical items including scrolls and wands without needing to actually be a spellcaster.
Skills in general are very important in this edition, as magic is much less capable to completely override any given skill. And even the exceptions to this can be picked up by any character with some inconvenience, so I don't rate classes with spellcasting as wildly more versatile.
Rogue - Rogue is capable in combat with sneak attack and standard martial proficiencies, maximized perception and solid saving throws, and has twice as many skill increases and skill feats as most other characters.
Rogues can be built to handle most situations, and are often able to do so better than others because they have so much material to work with in the skills department.
Bard - Bard's are solid casters with some the best focus spells in the game. Tracking the amount of damage generated by inspire courage has always impressed, particularly with the +10 critical mechanics and tighter math.
Cleric - Cleric's are great for their divine font, having so many max-level heal spells each day is incredible for sustainability. Then they have normal spellcasting on top of that.
Fighter - Fighters are so excellent in combat with their maximized proficiency that they dominate expected damage in encounters. Paired with Attack of Opportunity giving them additional attacks at the highest bonus, fighters have always been welcome in a fight. They're very combat-focused, but they still take skills as anyone else does and can be competent out of combat.
Alchemist - One of the most interesting classes in the game to me, it really functions well at higher levels when it has the resources to hand out alchemical items to handle whatever problems the party encounters. At low levels, this is reversed where the alchemist struggles to achieve much outside of healing with elixirs or bombing weaknesses a few times.
I think at higher levels the alchemist can work its way up to tier 3 just for how much it enhances the rest of the party, but overall it spends more time at tier 4.
Investigator - Very similar to the rogue, but the combat gimmick of Devise a Stratagem has seemed less effective than the alternatives available to the rogue with sneak attack that can deal damage on multiple Strikes and Dex to damage.
This reduction in combat prowess is enough to justify its position to me, but it's still a very versatile class with the many skill feats and skill increases.