Torch of Retribution
The torch used to be an item which was equipped as a 2h weapon. Players could keep it after the quest was done. This meant that the quest effectively supplied a cosmetic staff. Which btw, was an unusual item because it generated light. Not glowing, but actually light which would brighten the surroundings. Pretty neat item to have.
The quest was (is) available to both factions and all classes. It requires no instances, raids, or groups. It does not require level 80, 70, or 60. It is an accessible quest.
Does this item adversely affect PvP balance? Raid balance? Does it trivialize anything? Does it break lore? Immersion? Does it do anything at all? It does one tiny little thing: it makes melee characters switch weapons in and out a total of four times, ever. That's it. Four times a melee character will have this slight inconvenience and that's it, forever.
Okay it did one other thing: with it equipped a player would use unarmed skill but do zero damage, since they had a 'non-weapon' equipped. This made it a lot simpler to level unarmed skill, as a player could simply fight rats. So based on this I can almost understand the change, since Blizzard wouldn't want a quest to trivialize their intended difficulty for unarmed skill. Except that unarmed skill was removed, making this a non-issue and this item was left it for a very long time while unarmed existed as an achievement.
So in the current WoW this breaks nothing at all, but removing it hurts people who want to play dress-up*. In other words, it hurts fun for no good reason.
Another bit that bugged me was the XP change, so that if you are in the level range for the next expansion, the old zones only give 10% XP. So what? We all go to the next expansion anyway, right? Well no, no we don't. Sometimes people like to finish what they are doing or play in a different way. This doesn't hurt anyone or trivialize any rewards. Instead it serves one single purpose: It tells you to get back on the rails and don't you dare more off of them.
Oh maybe it's so that with the new challenge in Cataclysm Blizzard doesn't want us to be able to make it easier by staying in Northrend a bit longer to get another level or two. But why? I say, let people trivialize the game if they want to. Let them remove all fun and challenge for themselves. So what? Who does that possibly harm? Whose experience is ruined by it? No no... stay on the rails!
I've been bouncing this idea around for a while, wondering if it was merely nostalgia, or if indeed something was changing, and not for the better. I was able to dismiss many of my ideas and evidence as mere "making things easier/simpler is bad" reasoning. But it's all piling up. Pointless change after pointless change, which doe nothing at all to improve the player experience and instead just serves to push us onto the One True Path on Which to Level and Play in the World of Warcraft, that none may stray for long.
I left this comment over at Player vs. Developer, an often thought-provoking blog which I highly recommend.
I think what happened is that somewhere along the line a policy or person came along dictating absolute adherence to the correct way to play and design. This is why we end up with changes that do nothing for balance, or have a minimal effect, but come at a great cost to fun or flavor. An easy example is the old quest item that was a trinket that hurt you if you weren't worthy, in other words, killed you pretty quickly if you equipped it. I think it ended in Darnassus, if that helps anyone remember it.I can't really argue with the ever-increasing streamlining of quests. It is what has worked for WoW. I prefer fewer rails, but that's just a personal preference, an opinion, a subjective judgement. But there's a line between offering rails which will scoot you along to 85 with a modest dose of lore and minimal travel time and being lost. That's a good thing! Players want to go along for the ride sometimes, or for some, always; even I like sometimes being able to coast along. But an item that looks like a staff but does nothing, does that interfere with the rail system?
The XP change is them saying "you will get on this rails and you STAY on these rails". Why? I don't know. Something went wrong over there in the mindset.
In the end, I have a request for you to scour your memory. There was once a quest item which could be equipped as a trinket and had text saying something about being worthy and harming those who were not. Of course no player was worthy, so equipping the trinket would quickly drain their health and mana, killing them. I'm sure I wasn't the only player who never turned in that quest, since the item was such an amusing novelty. Since then it has been changed to just another item in our bags and the fun is lost. It sounds strange to intentionally not complete a quest, but isn't the truly strange thing that we'd think it strange to actually make a decision? We don't make many decisions these days, at least not many that matter, but it's empowering in a way, to be able to say "I would rather pass on a bit of experience in return for keeping this toy". But such choices may lead us off the rails, so away they go.