But I don't think it should be necessary to use pulseaudio for something as basic as sane volume control. Of course you are right that it's a clean approach to leave the drivers to alsa and the rest to pulseaudio. But then alsa should be stripped down to be just a thing hardware abstraction layer with a well-defined interface for sound servers, and shouldn't be used directly by anything but a sound server. And since that won't happen, I think they should provide an out-of-the-box usable system with alsa alone. Of course "usable" is debatable here.
On another note, pulseaudio still isn't trouble free, especially not for apps only supporting alsa output. It works well enough at the moment, though.
So my point basically is that they really should get together (alsa, pulseaudio, jack, etc) and decide which project does what and provide good standardized interfaces, easy setup and consistent behaviour. There have been some articles here on phoronix about game developers calling the linux sound situation insane and unprogrammable in a general way ... and still nothing happens to resolve those issues.