Perpare your pitchforks and torches you haters of Archeology, because today I'm here to defend it as a downright awesome profession. That's right - it's awesome. Well, ok, it's not "awesome" the way seeing someone slip on ice right after laughing at you for walking across the parking lot like you've got a stick up your ass awesome - but it's certainly not the worst thing to ever happen to WoW.
Like most things announced at Blizzcon the year we heard about Cataclysm (and I watched a really sad performance by Ozzy - I love ya man, but really - I was afraid you were going to die on stage), Archeology went through a plethora of changes during the development cycle. Some things were cut, others added, until you had a nice boring secondary profession. You get a little lore, some fun(?) toys, and the possibility of a couple of really great BoA epics (arguably BiS for their iLvl). Oh, and don't forget about the greatest item of all - the Ultramarine mount. Personally I'm disappointed it looks like a bug, but hey - at least it's the right color blue.
The complints - in summary
Once you work your way down through the general complaining, you tend to settle on just a few actually unique complaints about Archeology as a profession. First, it doesn't stack up against professions added in previous expansions. Second, it's tedious and boring. Thrid, it's about as random as it gets - though I still haven't seen bracers off Cho'Gall yet.
After that you get into the general hatred towards anything Blizzard produces, from nerfs to buffs to sparkle ponies to free epix for everyone! Let's skip past the bellyaching for now, and focus on the real issues.
Archeology vs. Jewlcrafting/Inscription
First on the hit list is how Archeology just doesn't stack up to JC/Ins as a viable and awesome profession for an expansion. Jewlcrafting and Inscription both had dramatic and immediate impacts on the game, primarially in the way of glyphs and gems. Sure, there were a few other items along the way that were nice, but those two are the heavy hitters. They provided (and still provide) great sources of revenue, and a lot of power to your character. The only profession that even comes close to these in terms of raw power gained in enchanting - and that was released with Vanilla.
Look at what you get with JC - and this is on my hastily tossed together PVP gear.
4x 40 INT
3x 20 INT + 20 SPI
2x 40 RESIL
1x 54 INT + 2% Max Mana(!)
1x 20 INT + 20 Haste
2x Cogwheels (ok, yeah they're ENG, but they follow the same principal).
Holy shit that's a lot. 294 INT, 60 SP, 20 Haste, 40 RESIL, and the mana boost.
Now let's look at Inscription.
5% more crit to Holy Shock, 10% bonus to Word of Glory (instant and no mana cost), plus 5% bonus healing for using the right seal. Then there are the major glyphs, which give everything from 10% mana when using Lay on Hands, 6% more of you MAX mana when using Divine Plea, and the ability to get instant Turn Evils!
Now the problem with all this, is that just like elixers, flasks, food buffs, and the luck of the Irish, Blizzard has to assume that anyone raiding will have these bonuses, and they have to adjust the bosses accordingly. Of course if raiders have them, then so will the PvPers, so it has to be counted there. It's really no different than if they just boosted the stats on all the gear they hand out. All it does is give you a tiny option of customization. That's generally an illusion though, since there are pretty cut and dried answers to which gems/glyphs are the best for your given situation.
This would be what Blizzard would have to balance around if they added say, the ability to add engineering boosts to everyone's gear - but to the nth degree. I'm talking jet packs, shoulder mounted missles, handheld sharks with frickin laser beams - it doesn't matter. You have to assume that whatever buffs that profession can provide to a group - everyone will have at all times. Just like the assume every group will have replenishment, you can bet your bottom dollar they count on every raider having a flask/double elixir and a +90 stat food buff.
Archeology vs Other Secondary Professions
Ok, so now that we've looked at that, and how trying to balance in a new profession (where will it get the raw materials, who's the competition in the AH, etc) as a primary would be a nightmare, let's compare Archeology to the other secondary professions.
Arguably the best of the secondary professions, Cooking allows you to prepare buff foods that are virtually required at the end game. Sure, you can make some tasty snacks along the way, but I am willing to bet that if anyone is honest they won't claim to make a big use of this profession along the way to 85. Sure, there's a few quests that you can do, and there are some special recipies you can get along the way, but at 85 all you really care about are those +90 foods and maybe a feast or two.
Leveling cooking can range from the rediculously simple (during the Pilgram's Bounty event), to the averagely irritating (while fishing), to the mind numbingly painful (those last few points). You can make some decent money selling buff foods from farmed or purchased raw materials. There's quite a few achievments for cooking, and a couple of novelty items. Overall it's not a bad profession, and one morst players probably have maxed out on at least one character.
Ahh, the bandage. Let's be honest with ourselves here - given the current state of leveling, the number of self heals that it seems every class has, and the sheer abundance of available food and potions (esp while leveling), who really uses bandages? Arenas, sure - if you can get a free second (well, 8) - I mean 35,000 HP isn't too bad. Raiding, not really - any incoming damage breaks the channel. Regular BGs, sure. Leveling - yeah, I guess. When you compare 35,000 to your HP pool at 85 though, it looks pretty bleak.
Now leveling up First Aid is as simple (these days) as spending a small fortune at the AH and standing around for an hour while you make bandages. Whee! There's nothing really fun about First Aid, there's certainly nothing painful with it. I know we've been clamoring for bigger bandages from day one - but it's really just a nice thing to have. Given the cost of Embersilk, I don't know how many players have maxed First Aid, much less maxed out on more than one toon.
Ahh - Fishing. The classic time waster. Providing the raw materials needed for some of the best food buffs in the game, fishing is arguably the most profitable of the original three secondary professions. Like everything else, leveling fishing has gotten far easier over the years, and if you play your cards right you can even pick up a pretty damn nice BoA ring in the process. You can make a pretty penny supplying folks with raw fish to convert into feasts or buff foods, and you can even fish up eternals in the right spots.
Now as far as excitement goes, fishing is just about the most boring thing on the planet. You have to watch a little bobber, and wait for the right moment to click on the stupid thing. Too soon, and you miss - too slow, and the timer will probably run out. It's not a bad profession, and you certainly don't need to have it maxed out (unless you were fishing up the Lurker in BC or that other boss in ZG with your mudskunk lures), though I remember seeing some raiding guilds (back when it wasn't a shoppers market) requiring just to show that you had a lot invested in your character. Dumb.
In total, these three professions aren't game breaking or terribly exciting. They don't provide anything you can't get off the AH from some other sucker who bothered to level them up (though you can't use the bandages w/out the requisite skill), and they certainly won't give you any tangible benefit once you've maxed them out - unless you count money from the AH.
So here's where the black sheep comes in. Archeology is pretty boring to level, since you don't get skill ups past what - 50 or 100 - for actaully digging up fragments. It's a tedious grind to the top, and the actual mechanic of surveying can be pretty annoying. Survey. Run 40 yds. Survey. Run 40yds in a different direction. Repeat till you hit the money. Sometimes it's fast, othertimes - not so much.
Archeology does offer two very distinct advantages over the other professions though. First, you get XP for digging up the sites. Like mining and herbalism, this gives a little bit of a boost along the way. Unlike those two however, you can't just gather the ones on your path, you have to survey in very specifc areas. It's not as convenient to be sure, but hey - if you're in the area - might as well nab a few free XP.
The second major advantage Archeology has over the other secondary professions is the possibility of gaining some pretty amazing BoA epic items - as well as some great cash prizes. There are a few pets, some mounts, a trinket I'm still using, and other great gifts. Too bad there's no Running Man home game.
Of course there are comprable items to the jackpot hits available for far less stress. Magmaw drops a mace for the 2H crowd, you can buy some decent trinkets for VPs and from Tol Barad, same with rings and such. If you don't care about collecting mounts or pets, or other sundry items (hello Inkeeper's Daughter!), then it's probably not worth having.
In the end, I don't think Archeology missed the mark too badly for a secondary profession. There's some sweet bonuses if you can get them, but there are other options available if you can't. You can make a little bit of money selling off your crafted junk, but it's probably less cash per hour than fishing. Plus at least with fishing, you can sit in one small(ish) area. With Archeology you're crossing the continent a couple of times an hour.
It doesn't have the market and end game impact that JC and Inscription did (thank goodness), and I would say it's at least marginally more useful than First Aid. Is it perfect? No, but nothing is. I'm sure I'll never level it up on another toon - but it gives me something to do while waiting for random BGs to pop.