WoW right now is like original Everquest: You are forced to group. But, in contrast to EQ, you don't even decide with whom!
I understand why the companies make single player games with 8-hour (or less) narratives. These games feel different even if the gameplay is the same and they are cheap to produce. In a world in which a lot of players apparently play a game only for 8 hours (or less) this is clearly the correct business decision. I actually buy these games every now and then. It's a nice diversion from movies - even if the stories are always much worse.
That having said, MMOs don't profit from narratives like this. I just quit a short Rift session, because I couldn't stand those hundreds of quest givers who talk my ears off. Or rather my eyes. I don't care about these stories that an 8-year old could have come up with! It is obviously just a way to keep me busy. And it fails. I get bored. I don't want to read and read and read irrelevant background information somebody obviously only invented to keep me playing. It just doesn't work like that.
Moreover, don't add to these stories vertically, please. Logging into my Rift characters feels like coming late into a movie; a movie that is told by dailies. I don't care about YOUR story, Trion. At least not to the extend that you assume. I enjoy some good background information for a fantasy world. I also appreciate the possibility to read up on it. But what I really want is to log on and get into the action. No, not fast-paced action with finishing moves that make my screen explode: Just normal, good-old MMORPG action!
I guess, I'm pretty damn 'casual' nowadays. But maybe I have always been: other people in MMORPGs are fine. They add a lot to the game. But I don't want to be forced to play with them; especially not in anonymous groups! In Rift, leveling is a bit more fun, yet far from perfect.
All I want is to log in, get out into the world, and play my character. No instances or teleports are required for that. Certainly no grouping is required for that. I want to group when I meet someone I want to group with; maybe if I come across optional content that requires more players in an organic way. Just let me play alone and explore a world!
What is so difficult about designing a huge (huge!!) world full of caves and forests and deadly deserts and oceans and lakes and mountains and hills and mobs that populate these areas in an interesting way? Interesting means that some of these mobs move. Some of them move in groups. Some of the groups guard something valuable. Some mobs are just alone. Some areas are guarded by groups of mobs, but I can try to sneak past by discovering an 'unknown valley'. Or group up and kill them. This kind of gameplay - just a bit worse - kept players playing Diablo II for forever!
If the landscape is large enough and methods of travel, like carvans and over-night travel exist, it's not necessary to have the world instanced and generated just for me. Just procedurally generate it once and keep it static. Perhaps allow me to build a house somewhere. Add mechanics that encourage building villages in the nowhere. Have different areas of the world drop different materials. Add some player-run trade in one form or another.
Allow me to hunt for gems or rare materials or anything that I can trade for better equipment or a house back in the villiage. No teleport is required for this if the act of traveling is actually kept interesting by good placement of mobs. You don't have to kill everything in sight, you know. Evading an army is fun, too.
Quests in original WoW have been successful, because you didn't have to read them. They simply pointed you towards some area that you would discover next (not with an arrow that determines every step of the way). These quests could just as well have been roadsigns. The reason this was successful was smart placement of mobs and incentives to explore. Making these quests better doesn't make the game better. Understand those quests for what they are, already!
Why do I have to become ever stronger in Rift? Just remove these stupid levels and allow me to gain abilities while 'leveling up'. I still become more powerful (and versatile!) by playing this way. But in a much more interesting way! And content doesn't become outleveled! And I can play together with everybody I meet - if I want to!
Nobody feels more powerful when his spells do 800 instead of 400 damage while the mob has 4000 instead of 2000 health! Especially not if this higher number is not the result of anything one does and flies by together with 10 other numbers! What keeps us leveling is the anticipation of new skills; not doing more absolute (equal relative) damage with the same fireball spell.
By removing these higher numbers, you allow all players to play together. You gain immense amounts of endgame content for cheap that right now is irrelevant leveling content! I can suddenly play together with my friends who just started !!
Kring recently asked why we would have to play together with other people if all these other people do is annoy us? A good question, I think! WoW right now is like original Everquest: You are forced to group. But, in contrast to EQ, you don't decide with whom! Oh, and you never see them again which turns most of everybody - including you - into an apathetic asshole.
Anyway. Hope you enjoyed this completely unfocused rant .. somehow.