So far I'm getting more and more frustrated with it. With this last patch they 'fixed' more stuff that wasn't broke. BC and LK actually added something to the game and the lore. There were even more places to explore, and in BC we got two more races. Although, I will point out that Blizz was kicking around the idea of giving Alliance pandas in BC. I don't know why they didn't. I just know they had sketches and stuff up on the official website, and then the dranei came out of nowhere, and didn't even really seem completely fleshed out when the game was released.
In Cata, they just had a dragon trash the world for sensationalism it would seem. I get that the same old starting quests were getting boring, but they didn't have to go and do that. They changed stuff up a little in most of the starting areas without destroying them. Now Darkshore is difficult to navigate. They gave every little town and encampment a flight path, so very little running around now. I remember the days where you had to work your ass off for a mount at 40, and you really appreciated it. Lowering the level to 20, and making it a bit easier wasn't a bad thing. It's the flight path thing that is just so annoying to me. You don't even have to go to that area anymore, and the whole map is crammed full, and it's impossible to find anything.
Now this panda stuff, which doesn't seem to add anything either. If they're giving both factions pandas that's going to cause a problem, especially in pvp because nobody is going to be able to tell who is who. The patch they had so much hype over fucked everything all to hell. The talent system was fine like it was in the original, but no, that wasn't good enough. Now it's... I don't know... They don't allow ranged weapons anymore. They still have them, it's just you have to put them in one of your 2 weapon spots. You either have to use it to fight with close up, or not at all. Some of these changes, I don't know what the hell... I'm a casual player, and they're pissing me off, so you can't even say that's what they're doing.
It's funny, that. Most of the changes you lament in this post I applauded. The draenei are probably my favorite race, even though they constantly keep getting passed up by Blizz (yet another thing to add to my list of grievances). I was thrilled to have them in BC, and they fit in perfectly with Alliance ideals.
Deathwing was a terrible, poorly handled character, and the entire Cata expansion suffered so much for it. However, the breaking of the world was a cool mechanic, and it did give Blizz the perfect excuse to revamp all of the old world zones. They could have just done a "poof, now everything's different!" but instead they came up with a lore explanation for it. One of the few good things about Cata.
I loved the new Darkshore, mainly because I felt genuine sorrow that I would never walk Auberdine's docks again, or explore the interior foothills for mysterious beacons and savage moonkin. When a game evokes emotion, you know it's done its job right. Plus, the devastation is beautiful, in its own way.
You're spot on with the mounts. They're way too easy to get nowadays, what with lower prices, super-fast levelling, and lower level requirements. I'd personally stick 60% at L30, 100% at L60, flying at L70, and 310% at level cap, whatever it may be, and make it expensive as FUCK. At the moment, mounts are a given. Any shmuck can afford one. They're no longer a reward, just a delayed tool.
Also spot on with the flight paths. I noticed one day that you automatically receive flight paths to zones your level, without even having to explore them first. One of the worst design decisions possible, it just shrinks the world even further. There's no incentives to explore. You don't even have to know where a dungeon is to queue for it!
I don't know about you guys, but when I PvP, I'm looking at the big red names above my enemies heads, which are much more visible than their race, especially from a distance. Pandas being able to be played by both factions, I think, was an excellent design choice, and one of the few times Blizz has encouraged RP (albeit indirectly).
Hype is hype. It's not changing anytime soon.
I like the new talents, but I will miss the every-other-level system. They both have their advantages, but I will not miss cookie-cutter builds at all.
I'm not a fan of the weaponry changes, or the removal of hunter's "dead zone," or the removal of resistances. The stats one has to worry about has been shrinking since BC, and is one of the surest signs of WoW's decay. Optimizing stats is easier than ever!
My point wasn't that every single little detail of the game is still the same, that's an obvious falsehood. I was saying that everything that made it World of Warcraft is still there, and the people who insist that it's only gone downhill since [Vanilla/BC/Wrath/Cata, choose your Point of No Return] Ruined It Forever need to take off the rose-tinted glasses and/or tone down the elitism. I remember runs like you describe, I also remember great runs where everyone got along amazing, but it's elementary human psychology to emphasize the negative in memory.
I can't speak for anyone else, but I tossed my rose-tinted glasses a long, long time ago. Vanilla blew in many ways: the logistics of 40 man raids, a cruel and long gear grind to raid-readiness, many zones were incomplete or understocked on quests, and classes were reduced to a few optimal specs (poor protadins...). What I'm complaining about is the fact that, although Blizzard has fixed these issues, they've also broken some of the things that made Vanilla great! Stuff like being forced to explore, a slow leveling process that gave you a sense of satisfaction for every ding! you earned (and you did
earn those ding!s), a sense of community on your server, complete with blacklists for griefers and vast social networks spanning guilds, and the constant reminder that one day, if you worked your ass off, you could have your own shiny purples and curbstomp some bosses, and feel like you actually earned it. I miss that shit. That's what made WoW great. That hero's path of adventure.
No, I am not an elitist. I never raided until Wrath's Naxx, and I was okay with that, because I earned that raid spot goddamnit!
There was definitely some Alliance-neglect (Note, not Horde bias) going on in Cata. Alliance zones are an endless litany of crushing defeats, humiliating retreats, and wince-worthy pop culture ripoffs. Their leaders are cardboard figurines who do nothing, or even betray their own race to work with the Horde (*coughMalfurioncough*). And their women! Poor Jaina, so concerned for her male leaders that she's been reduced to a tear factory, and Tyrande, who has lost her spine and must constantly be comforted and saved by Malfurion. "Hush, Tyrande"?! Warcraft 3's Tyrande would have decked him.
Horde's got their fair share of screw ups too, but it's nowhere near as bad as the Alliance. There was such an immense backlash from Blizzcon '11 and the announcement of Theramore that I think Blizz has taken notice, and will be more even-handed in Pandaria. I've seen the intro cinematics and quest chains, and I don't see any bias.
Damn, I never should have responded to this thread. I am raging hard
. Yet, it is somewhat cathartic.