This is a beautiful post, thanks for the effort to formulate the points in detail!I started playing again a few nights ago (10 day trial) and I'm pretty disappointed. Pandaria is beautiful (including the dungeons, which are aesthetically great). The leveling is ok. Random stuff in the world to find is fun. Being forced to use ground mounts until 90 was an excellent decision. But that's where my list of good things ends.
1. The Social Experience is (almost) Gone
Not once during this process did I have to be social. I queued, said nothing, did the dungeon, and left. 'But that was your choice', you might say. Well, yes, it was. And I made that choice because the majority of social investments made in this game are nullified by menu options and cross-realm mechanics. I'm not going to invest in building a social relationship if I know I'm probably never going to see that person again.
This is compounded by the lack of reliance on other people. Warlocks brought summons, mages brought food, some people had enchanting (and you had to get enchants in person) etc etc. We've moved into a state of almost complete non-reliance on other people. This is a bad thing. One of the main reasons we are social creatures is because we need other people in order to accomplish tasks, not only for defeating enemies but also to improve oneself. This, combined with the lack of social investment mentioned above, make it pointless, even stupid at times, to be social in this game.
I think it's useful to here mention the adage 'bring the player, not the class'. I don't think this is true. The class brings flavor, and creates reliance, and creates a demand for people's unique skills and thus for social activity. Classes are highly homogenous now in what they can accomplish. It's important for each class to have well-defined strengths that the player can attempt to exploit and well-defined weaknesses that they can try to minimize. These well-defined characteristics are mostly gone, because every class can do a little bit of everything.
2. Content Overwhelming
There's a lot of content in Mists, and there's a problem with it. The problem might not be the quantity, but rather its presentation.
Questing has evolved drastically. Now, we have a hub of quests designated to a specific part of a zone with the zone divided entirely into little parts. It's not the worst system. But it's pretty close. Questing is the single player experience. It should be as epic as multiplayer content, but right now it's just a mandatory prerequisite that few people enjoy (I do enjoy it though). A better design would be to reduce the number of quests, but make each more meaningful. Again, if we aren't investing anything in the questing process (emotionally or otherwise), we won't enjoy it nearly as much. Don't make me go to the bottom of a lake to collect 10 pieces of amber AND THEN give me increased swim speed and underwater breathing. Why would you do that? You just seriously devalued this quest. Make me work harder to collect 2 pieces of amber. Make me have to come up for air. The time it takes might even be the same. But now I feel like I'm doing something.
Dungeons suffer from a similar problem. They're too short. They don't have complex pathways (actually incredibly linear...). Getting lost in dungeons forces us to reach out to other people for help. Not knowing the way, not knowing mechanics forces us to ask. Reliance, again, is crucial. And again, if you place higher value on the content, we as players won't feel the need to rush through it, ignoring all of the aspects of the game that make it an otherworldly experience.
Raids. Raids are okay with one major exception - Raid Finder. It has to go. Not having access to content drives people to gain access to it. If you walk by that instance portal every day and think of what you don't have, attaining it will be incredibly rewarding (and force you to socialize - the reliance on guild members is the last real form of reliance in the game, and even it is being eroded). If it's just a menu option, you don't think twice. And then when you get inside the raid, you don't talk to anyone. You just do your rotation and then leave.
There are also too many difficulty levels in raids. I hit 95 and was overwhelmed by the options - and I didn't know which one was the 'right' one for me.
Do we really need seven tiers at any one time? No. But the problem here runs deeper. By having so many tiers of gear, we as players are forced to focus on that which is only the highest attainable ilvl for us and ignore the rest of the content. What's the point of all that content if so few people see it, and more importantly, understand it?
3. Challenge Level - Unmotivated
Items are too easy to get. If they're easy to get, their value goes down. Simple economics. Make them harder to get, and we might actually bother to read the item's name. I'm mostly looking at timeless isle here. I don't have a solution; but I know that 2 hours and 15 epics is not a valid equation for the success of a game.
Providing both challenging and unchallenging modes of content will result in a watering-down of the content's value. There is no thrill to raid finder. And because everyone can see the content, the exclusivity is diminished and thus the accomplishments feel diminished.
Questing is not epic. It's 'do these chores, don't worry, they're slightly different from the 300 others you just finished'. Quality and immersion should be key here, not quantity.
I'll be brief here: exploration is in serious trouble. A lot of this is because zones are saturated with quest material. Anywhere you go, the mobs there are probably for a quest. This immediately signals to us that it is not novel information, and exploration is not involved (BECAUSE questing is so linear). Having non-linear hubs is damage control, and it's poor damage control because the exclamation marks are on the map (...).
Exploration means going out into the wilderness, where there is nothing, or something. You don't know. What you do know is that you're doing it to escape the guiding hand that pushes you along the quest line. If you're guided to a spot (especially by economic coercion, which in this case is xp and money), it's no longer exploration.
I see what's happened to this game as a form of capitalism. The emotional aspects of it have been drawn out and away either through removing benefits or providing incentives that lead to antisocial behavior. Gear maximization is the only goal, not character building. This is not a single player game. You can't remove its emotional and social aspects, and expect to succeed in the long run.
Many points are even true for games in general. There is a reason why Skyrim is praised
The leveling experience is so easy now. I died 2 times in Elwynn on a classic server (with time travel of course and not a silly private project) in that spider cave. Epic. I died more than once in redridge in that castle and i had a blast with my 3 hour deadmines journey (sadly the time travel machine is broken and not every mob worked correctly). The thing is: Don't believe the fanbois that we are crazy. No, WoW was really that great. It was big, immersive and dangerous - a great experience from the beginning. Todays leveling experience is a bad joke. I rather play a browser game than leveling a new toon. Oh wait, instant 85 available? Did Blizzard stole this idea from that silly private projects?! Oh wait, i did not mention them!