For the second time in a one-year period, Blizzard is planning a major change to WoW Mounts. It was less than a year ago, in Patch 2.4.3, that Blizzard reduced the level requirement for the non-epic ground mount from level 40 to level 30 (with a corresponding drop in gold cost). The next patch's changes are more sweeping.
Changes and Fallout
That entry level mount will now drop to level 20, just beyond the newbie zones and literally a matter of hours into a character's life. The old epic ground mount, once an achievement that required level 60 and the princely sum (in those pre-expansion days) of 1000G, will now sit at level 40 and a mere 60 gold (compared to the 100G that the slower level 40 mount originally cost). Level 60 characters will now be permitted their entry level flying mount 10 levels early. Moreover, the speed of that mount will be drastically improving, from +60% to +150%. The epic flying mount will remain at level 70, but the training can now be discounted for faction with the trainer, a potential savings of 1000G.
Beyond the boost for players who do not want to purchase the epic flying mount training (apologies for those of you who have done so recently), this change is leveled squarely at low level alts. Blizzard is increasingly hinting that they do not want to raise the game's starting level to 55 to skip players past old-world Azeroth. Travel time in many of the old world 20-60 zones was occasionally quite onerous, and players can now look forward to substantially faster travel in each of those level brackets. That, plus a faster exp curve and the massive boost from heirloom items, might be enough to entice veterans like myself to dust off neglected old alts.
As to the reduced level for flight in Outland, I'm less convinced that this is a good idea. Much as I love zipping around places at 280% flight speed, I believe that giving players controllable flying mounts was a mistake. While Outland and Northrend were supposedly designed with flight in mind, granting players the ability to swoop into the middle of an enemy camp, avoiding all of the guards, to swipe an object or assassinate a boss and then fly out guts the challenge level of many quests. It seems especially contradictory that Blizzard went to the trouble of restricting players from flight in Northrend to get players to experience the world at ground level, only to turn around and turn all of Outland into flyover country.
Baseless speculation for the future
Looking to the future, streamlining mount progression may also be a way of paving the path to some future new level of riding skill in the next expansion. Underwater mounts perhaps? Or a revamp of old world Azeroth to permit flight?
The other interesting point is that this feature is slated for the "next major content patch", presumptively patch 3.2. Between this change, announcements about the Argent Tournament and Colosseum dungeons, and a full image gallery of new models for druid cat and bear forms, the amount of information we know about this patch is increasing rapidly. Historically, things pick up like this as the patch gets closer to release on the PTR's (at which point players will discover everything that hasn't been announced). This latest change makes me wonder if patch 3.2 might be coming sooner than people (myself included) expect.