I think you'll burn in hell when chosing not to normalMap
But more seriously, the needs depend on the situation I guess. Pumping an extra 10k triangles into a character model instead of using normalMaps may also get you where you want, without bringing the videocard to its knees. But think about the environment. How much tris would a level cost if every brick-wall was modeled like, well, a real brick wall? The polycount would explode with every extra square meter you make.
You also see more and more "detailNormalMaps", a secundary (frequently repeating / tiled) normalMap to simulate the micro-structure of a certain material. Cotton, bumpy skins, leather, rough concrete spickles, wood nerves, et cetera. Even if the video-card would laugh about it, the artist that has to model your stuff won't! NormalMaps can often be recycled for various cases, and in some cases its enough to "cheat" by converting a greyscaled photo into a normalMap. Production-wise easier than modeling each and every detail.
Then again if you won't see the surfaces from nearby, there is less need to have a normalMap of course. When peeking around in other game's texture packs, you may notice that ceiling textures are often a bit simpler, without normalMaps. Reason? You're not looking at the ceiling all day, are you?
I think/hope that rendering will get more towards displacement mapping, or whatever its called these days. So (nearby) geometry would get tesselated into much smaller patches, and have their vertices offsetted by a "bump-" or "heightMap" kind of thing. That may kill normalMaps one day maybe, although you still need that extra texture of course.
Edited by spek, 06 June 2014 - 06:07 AM.