Is there any lore background given why Thrall is the only one holding up the world?
He actually isn't! There are powerful shaman like Muln Earthfury and Nobundo at the Maelstrom as well. They're just on different rock pillars. You seem them during a Twilight Highlands cinematic.
Is it okay to use a staff (I'm looking at you, Staff of Sorcerer-Thane Thaurissan) as a caster shaman? Do caster shamans benefit from the armor on their shields?
Mace/dagger plus shield/offhand is pretty much the way to go for elemental shaman, because staffs have a lower total item level budget than a mainhand/offhand combo. Plus, there's a +100 intellect enchant for offhands and shields now, and you can't really make that up with a staff. Lastly, the extra armor from a shield can definitely help in an emergency situation when caught in a Boooonestoooorm or something like that.
That said, using a staff is fine as a stopgap measure, especially if the staff has better total stats than the lower iLvl mainhand/offhand combo you're currently using. Just use your head.
Is there a way to avoid the lack of choices with your characters anymore? Three talents now, you can't be a hybrid of two, and you will find that only after avoiding all PvP talents you have completed the talent tree with no where else to spend your talents in it. Rotations are therefore not changeable, as with everybody having the same talents, there will always be one that works the best. How do I gain freedom with my class?
You're looking at this from the wrong angle. There was always a "right" talent distribution, and not speccing that way was just handicapping your character. Rotations were never really changeable -- not if you wanted to be an effective player. And being a two-tree hybrid usually just meant taking advantage of a gimmick that Blizzard hadn't fixed yet.
What Blizzard has essentially done is made all of your DPS talents obvious and attainable. When you're done filling in those talents, you have points left over. This is intentional. All of the remaining talents are where you gain freedom, not lose it. Give yourself a little survivability boost. Improve your mana regen for long fights. Become more effective on add fights. It's up to you.
Stop thinking about the remaining utility talents as "PvP talents." It's an outdated view. Those points don't have anywhere else to go; you're not missing out on some important DPS talent by picking them up with leftover points. You're just making yourself more effective in a pinch.
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