In the lead up to Cataclysm, I've been a bit concerned with the lack of interest being put into overall character development outside of levelling and gearing. Indeed, Wrath of the Lich King has been blighted by this issue because, once at the level cap, players can only chase gear as a means of doing anything worthwhile and that has meant that the proliferation of alts has exploded synthetically. I'd wager that there is only a small percentage that genuinely enjoys rolling alts, while most others do it because they feel they have nothing else to do.
This is the main reason why I was so disappointed to see Path of the Titans ditched and archeology gutted. I honestly hoped it would plug the gap of character development in a fully customizable and compelling way, a way that did effect how your character performed in PvE and PvP but in several ways that couldn't be easily datamined into one optimal choice and everything else being sub-optimal. In short, an avenue of individuality and differentiation that didn't have a negligible time investment. As more news has come out and the Beta has worn on, we've been seeing nothing else that seems to address these particular concerns and it's even appeared that we're losing customizable options in favour of idiot-proof talent specializations that prioritise stock efficiency over quirky individuality.
This is not good for the game.
Fortunately, Blizzard is addressing some of the issues that have, by and large, wrecked Wrath of the Lich King for many of my guild members. During The Burning Crusade, our guild was a PvE guild and not a designated raiding guild; a notion that is surely alien to those who have started playing over the last two years. But during that time we enjoyed all manner of things that immersed us in the world, including dungeon runs, quest completion, exploration, reputation chasing and flavour item collection. Nowadays, a PvE guild and a raid guild are synonymous because there are no other interesting options open to players who want to engage in PvE. But what exactly do I mean by this?
1) Five man instances are now mindless zergathons, where every pull is conducted in identical fashion regardless of circumstance/environment.
2) Questing has been gutted throughout Wrath of the Lich King as they've been too easy to complete and there hasn't been enough of them. Additionally, questing in the Old World has lost its charm due to the sheer volume of time spent navigating flight paths as opposed to actually doing quests.
3) Reputation gains have become shortened into necessities. Due to inscriptions or arcanums and the new tabard system, you would become Exalted with a faction that you didn't necessarily know a single thing about.
4) Solo item collecting, such as tabards and mounts, is almost a thing of the past.
Now, as many will know, a lot of this is being addressed. Five man instances are seeing crowd control pulled back in and I honestly hope it's a success, as it's the group interaction that made me enjoy running them so much. The quest revamp is possibly the greatest thing Cataclysm is going to achieve, as it's totally redesigning some of the horrid quest areas that were a chore to play in, but the insertion of several thousands of interested and phased quests is going to give solo players a heck of a lot to do. With regards to item collection, though, I had hoped archaeology was going to be something of a renaissance in solo flavour. Of course it may well remain to be so, but we'll have to wait and see what actually happens with it. I suppose the magic of it is in the fact it can be updated, patch to patch, and even see quest chains added in depending upon what you find.
But it's in reputation grinding where I'd perhaps like to see the largest change. Personally, I despised the Wrath of the Lich King model of tabard reputation farming. The quest chains that accompanied the Sons of Hodir or Ebon Blade were really good fun while they lasted and I believe it should be the model for future faction reputation. I enjoyed the quests and item turn ins that accompanied factions like the Mag'har, Ogrila or the Consortium and they were entirely optional because the rewards were fun as opposed to functional. Personally, I'm a bit of a tabard collector and enjoyed the time taken to amass my compendium; I really did not enjoy being handed one at friendly and wearing it for a period before dinging Exalted.
Another idea could be to use a quest chain that introduces you to the faction, while having a different (potentially phased) quest chain that unlocks at each reputation level. This completion could put you at a certain percentage along the line for the next level, with dailies and item turn ins providing the rest of the reputation required.
Anyway, I've gone on a bit. Suffice it to say I have been deeply disappointed by the lack of meaningful character progression at the level cap and sincerely hope that it's brought back into Cataclysm in an interesting way. Let's face it, the fact that some people don't want to do it is never a reason to inhibit those who do.
All told, I'm quite positive about what's in the pipelines, I'd just like to hear more about it.