So, there's been a refreshed wave of complaints and praise about the concept of Mists of Pandaria. Some people don't like the theme, which I guess is a valid opinion to hold, albeit one that I find a little odd that in a game that sends you fully grown and domesticated dragons in the mail (What's the shipping cost on that? I can't imagine the hazard pay the Azerothian Postal Service Earns.), people are drawing the line at anthropomorphic pandas. Other people take umbrage with the new features, such as the minipet battles. I for one look forward to sending Stevie the Squire to bleed for my honor in the Ring of Death.
There's another wave of complaints. People whine about the game being a perceived pixilated hamster wheel. Level up another five levels, grind through the heroics again, and get back into raiding/PvP shape. Wooooooo...
This is an MMO. If you wanted a defined end state, well, Diablo III and Mass Effect 3 will both come out soon to sate your hunger for single player games with multiplayer tacked on. And threes, lots of threes this year. MMOs, particularly subscription based MMOs, are a treadmill. The entire plan is to make it so that you can't "beat" the game, and then shelve it until the sequel comes out.
Which brings us back to the people complaining about the expansion. I think they're right. Why should we pay $50 for a box that lets us keep running on the treadmill we're already on? What's the point of another five levels that endgame players are going to blitz through blindly in less than a week, and tacking on another five levels for a new player to wander through? The barrier to entry gets taller and taller, and as a result, the leveling content prior to the current expansion get stretched thinner and thinner, to the point where current players can go from Winterspring, to Hellfire, to the Borean Tundra, to Hyjal without spending more than a few hours in other zones. Level 58-80, and new players miss 90% of the content that exists in those regions.
The current leveling model is an annoyance to established players, and an increasingly insurmountable barrier to new players, whom Blizzard must court to feed Azeroth the bodies it needs to sustain its grim rate of attrition. Why? What's the point? What's the purpose of leveling in the modern World of Warcraft?
Is it to teach players how to play in endgame content? That was one of the old ideas behind it, and one that Blizzard attempted to return to in Cataclysm, introducing quests that simulate raid mechanics such as LoSing casters and dodging void zones, but the penalties were so light that the majority of player bulldozed their way through the quests without learning the intended lessons. This idea is further undermined by Blizzard's tendency to give players abilities right before they hit the endgame, that completely and fundamentally alters the manner in which the player plays their character, which pretty much obliterates most of what they learned prior to the acquisition of that keystone ability.
Is it to increase the power of the characters? They slapped differing scalars on ratings at different levels, leading to the rather humorous reality of a level 80 tank dinging level 81 and losing 60% of his avoidance, or fire mages just now crawling back the levels of crit that they had in Naxx. It's not like you're getting a talent point every level now, either. Come MoP, you'll only be getting six points total, and they're stretched out in a doldrum of 15 level gaps.
Is it a vehicle for new content? It is, but it's not the sole vehicle, and while leveling is failing at all its primary functions, those other vectors, raiding, dungeons, and daily hubs, not only do just as good a job of delivering new lore and content, but they also serve their primary purposes of providing gear, gold, and incentives to come back.
Now, I'm not advocating the death of leveling content. I believe that it should be returned to its roots. Leveling content should be difficult. It should introduce players to mechanics that are seen consistently throughout the endgame. Void zones, LoS, Interrupts, DPS and Heal checks, 3D maneuvering, and kiting should be introduced to players, and reiterated throughout the leveling experience. It should have real consequences, too. If you stand in that void zone when it blows, you should die, and the game should tell you why you died, and let you try again.
What I do want Blizzard to kill off are these little leveling breaks between raid tiers for each expansion. I'm here for the treadmill, not for cross training. You don't run for a half hour, stop and stretch, then run for another half hour, and stop to stretch again, repeating ad nauseum. You stretch to prepare yourself for your run, and then you run until you're finished.
Questing is not the sole province of leveling content. Questing can work as an excellent means for moving the story along. The 4.1 ZG/ZA questline was an excellent example of moving the storyline along through quests that were available only at the level cap.
So what I'm proposing is that Blizzard embrace the treadmill nature of the endgame of WoW. They need to acknowledge that they create two games, the leveling game, which is largely a solo game, and the endgame, which is both a single player and multiplayer game. They need to create a leveling game that serves their purposes, and then allow that to stand on its own. Once players complete the leveling game, the basic training of WoW, they should be at least competent at the class they leveled. That's when they hit the endgame. They've finished their stretches, and they step onto the treadmill. Content updates should come every six to eight months, and should introduce multiple levels of content. There should be a set of daily quests for solo play, along with quests introducing the new multiplayer content. There should be about ten to twelve new five man bosses, in two to three new dungeons, and a new tier of raids with ten to twelve bosses. What there shouldn't be is thirty hours of solo content acting as a barrier to entry to the new content. They can realign the talents when needed, and introduce new zones, new abilities, and new BGs as needed. You don't need a new expansion to do that. You just need a patch.