"It is a guided bus tour through Azeroth, more so than ever, an on-rails experience. The elements of challenge and failure, the whole *game* has been removed."Aside from a discussion on the merits of this argument, I don't consider this exactly breaking news. The state of the game today is a natural continuation of a trend that has been going since the launch of the Wrath expansion two years ago, if not since the quest system was expanded from the tutorial zones to the entire leveling game during WoW's pre-launch testing.
The game that people talk about when they complain about the current "rails" was gone long before last Tuesday. Two expansions' worth of talent tree revamps left players vastly overpowered compared to formerly even conned mobs - my wife and I tried to pick up our old duo from the pre-TBC days sometime a bit after Wrath launched, and we had to go 2-man instances that were supposed to be designed for five to find any semblance of challenge. Meanwhile, the time to level was drastically decreased, partially through direct reductions in exp to level, and partially through time-savers like improved access to mounts and (recently removed) teleport options. Less time spent on each level meant less reason to leave the beaten path for anything else, which naturally downplays the value of exploration.
With these changes, there really wasn't a point to the world remaining in the state that it was in - even for players who actually wanted the 2004 experience, the content was no longer serving that purpose. For players who actually enjoy the low stress guided tour approach to questing, there were 40+ levels of unpolished old world content to slog through before getting to the expansions. Players who just wanted to blaze through to the group endgame had even less reason to enjoy this part of the game, until the dungeon finder functionally replaced it by enabling low level instance pugs last year. Whether or not the 2010 version of Azeroth is better than the 2004 version, it's definitely better than the 2008 version because at least now it's consistent.
Aside: too much content?
Ironically, Blizzard may have caused problems for themselves by actually creating TOO MUCH content in the low levels. There's a reason why the stereotypical kill quests calls for ten rats, rather than five or twenty; the number of kills is supposed to move players out of each area after they've had a chance to take a look around but before they feel that they've been trapped in a boring grind.
Blizzard seems to have made an effort to build satellite hubs around every camp that was in the pre-Cataclysm game, at least in the early zones I've seen. The result is that they have to move you on from some areas at six kills, rather than ten, because the exp from the extra four mobs would push you out of the level range for the zone. This is faster than players expect, and leaves us feeling like we're being dragged along by the metaphorical train. Dun Morogh, for example, might actually have been better if Blizzard had declared half of the zone exploded by the Cataclysm and had doubled the kill requirements for the remaining material.