So I used the Search function to find these posts of mine, about skill challenges and some related 4e-isms, from the first half of 2008:
Nearly all the posts that I've read complaining about the new power system, the new skill challenge system, the new damage and healing system, etc, are just special cases of a general complaint: that the poster prefers purist-for-system/sandbox simulationism over player-driven narrativist play. It seems to me that the 4e designers agree with Ron Edwards that more people will enjoy roleplaying if the system empowers them to create the stories they want to create, than if the system subordinates those desires to the imperatives of the ingame causal relationships in the GM's imagined world.
4e looks like the most narrativist-friendly version of D&D (assuming "narrativism" is being used in the Forge sense of the word). It provides rules which are clearly not about determining the story via a mechanical modelling of ingame causality, but rather are about providing a framework on which players and GMs can hang the stories that they want to tell.
the action resolution mechanics of 4e are so obviously not intended to be interpreted in a simulationist fashion, they look (to me) nothing like video game mechanics. They are to support story telling (perhaps mostly lowbrow stories, but that's D&D for you!).
I am not a video game player, but 4e (from all that I have seen) is far and away the most attractive version of D&D to me, because it promotes rather than hinders player protagonism, and thus roleplaying (in one important sense of that word).
The notion of "the answer" here is unhelpful. A skill challenge is not about the players guessing something the GM is keeping secret (eg what skill to use). It is about the players, using their PCs as the medium, taking control of the storyline of the game.
The system is a way of improving (for certain RPGing preferences) the way that non-combat challenges are resolved. No one has ever suggested (at least to me) that HeroWars would turn a bad GM into a good one - but this does not mean that the HeroWars mechanics are not better than those of 3E for facilitating a certain sort of play.
Are you comparing the mooted system for 4e with other known systems of this sort, such as HeroWars? If so, there is no problem in divorcing the goal from the precise skills used - and there is no such thing as "intended skills". The point of the mechanic is to allow the players to shape the story by narrating the relevance of the skills they wish to use.
There is only a loss for those with simulationist preferences. But this is so obviously the case with 4e that it can hardly be a surprise that its non-simulationism extends to its non-combat mechanics.
I'm not as worried as I get the sense that you are that D&D is becoming a little more precise in identifying the sort of play experience its designers feel confident that it can deliver.
If the net consequence of being expressive, from the point of view of action resolution, is nothing - I still just roll the d20 - then the game itself gives me no particular incentive to be expressive. I may of course choose to be expressive nevertheless, but that expression does not ramify into the game itself.
On the other hand, in a framework in which the degree and content of my expressiveness is actually relevant to the evaluation of my skill check - for example, it helps determine whether or not it makes a legitimate contribution to resolution of the challenge, and perhaps the degree of that contribution (by helping settle the difficulty of my check) - then I have a good reason to be expressive. By being expressive I am actually shaping the gameworld.
I see the "skill challenge" model as giving the players much more scope to determine the success conditions, because (i) if we know that 6 successes are enough, whatever exactly they consist in, and (ii) the players get to choose which skills to use (provided they make a narratively plausible case as to relevance) then inventiveness and a rich player engagement with the broader context is unleashed without the players having to worry that their PCs will fall foul of the GM's predetermined matrix of possibilities.
My feeling, however, from what I've read, is that there is intended to be a difference and that narrative control is therefore being redistributed. An earlier paragraph indicates why I think this must be so - it cannot be otherwise if (i) a small and pre-determined number of successes is sufficient and (ii) the players get to choose to any significant extent which skills will be used to achieve those successes.
I worry a little that the DMG may balk at the hurdle of explaining how it is meant to work, however. Hopefully I'll be proved wrong in this respect - traditionally D&D has had a lot of trouble expressly stating any limits on the GM's narrative authority, but maybe another sacred cow is going to be slaughtered.
It's good to see that nothing has changed in the intervening 15 years!The way that D&D plays means that the real time consumed by combat is almost always far greater than that consumed by scouting, trap finding and trap disarming.
It is possible that 4e's new "skill challenge" mechanics will change this, but this would itself create pressure to make all characters able to meaningfully participate in such challenges so that their players do not get stuck at the table with nothing useful to do.