2007 truly was the year of the casual, but 2008 continued the trend of Blizzard developers to make more content accessible for those of us with limited playtime. The biggest patches for us (and everyone else) were 2.4 and 3.0.2. And there was that little expansion that happened. Overall, there is more for us to do in less time. Here is my list of the top 5 WoW improvements for us this past year.
5. Standardized Gear
This didn't happen until the Echoes of Doom patch, like most of the items on this list. We are now able to use more gear that drops because many of the stats have combined. Spell Damage and Healing have combined into Spellpower making caster and healer gear very similar. Crit and Hit Ratings now affect both Melee and Spells, so a lot of gear can now be used for multiple specs. Raiders may complain that this means more classes fighting over instance drops, but more gear usable by more people is really only a good thing.
Events got bigger and better this year which is always helpful for the casual player. We earned more experience and had more fun than ever before. The improvements of the Midsummer Fire Festival and Hallows End as well as the addition of the Scourge Invasion periodically made our gameplay more varied and more productive. I hope that the future brings even more of these holidays because they are my favorite part of the game.
3. Death Knights
We didn't get this new class until Wrath of the Lich King, but it was worth the wait. Overpowered while leveling and easy to play, Death Knights have completely changed the game. Anyone with a level 55 of any class can make a DK on that realm (and in the future, on any realm) and everyone has. The leveling is fast and furious, making those of us with limited playtime able to see so much more of the game. If you haven't made a DK, then you are one of the very few and you should find out what you are missing.
If you like collecting Achievements, there is always something for you to do. Bored on your Druid? Port over to Moonglade and love a bunch of critters. Only have a few minutes to play before dinner? Ride around a lower level zone until you've discovered the whole thing. Even if you don't go for Achievements, they have still made the game better for you. All of the old dungeons are regularly getting cleared these days just so that people can get their Achievements. This means that casuals are able to see previous endgame content that they missed out on -- without the 5 hour wipefests that the raiding guilds had to originally go through. Though Achievements did not get implemented until patch 3.0.2, it is hard to remember the game without them.
Blizzard implemented some Daily Quests in 2007, but 2008 saw a real push to fill the game with Dailies. Starting in Patch 2.4, Fishing got added to the Outland Daily Quests and the Isle of Quel'Danas was one big goldearning Daily Quest-Fest. And now with Wrath we have even more to choose from: Crafting Dailies, PvP Dailies, Faction Dailies... I'm sure there are some I'm missing. They earn us recipes, experience, honor, faction and gold, gold, gold! You can afford even the most expensive mounts in just a few weeks with diligent daily questing. Sure, doing the same quests every day can get tedious, but now there are so many, you can vary them if you like. Being a casual at max level used to mean you had nothing to do but PvP, but now, if you can't get into the shorter instances or just don't want to group, you can still do your dailies and progress your character as far as professions, gold, faction, etc.
Of course, every change that benefits the casual player benefits everyone, so we're not hoarding all of the fun for ourselves. Raiders are out there alongside us getting Achievements and doing their Dailies when not leveling Death Knights or saving reindeer. Fun game is fun. I predict more casual friendly content this year and all the years hereafter in our favorite MMO, which is hardly a risky prediction. So, stop smirking, Captain Obvious, and let's go play our DKs.