One of the most powerful aspects of gaming is the prospect of visiting new, alien worlds. Even familiar worlds are a treat to visit, as long as they are fresh with life. The success of many games is based solely on how well the designers are able to create a credible, realistic world for players to explore. My personal favorite is Tamriel of Elder Scrolls fame. Especially in Oblivion, the game conveys a strong sense of a living world. NPCs have seemingly random behavioral patterns, walking into shops, talking with the shopkeep, returning to the streets. They meet in secret, they spread rumors, they get arrested, and they get killed. No action feels inconsequential, no character useless.
In this regard, World of Warcraft is often taken for granted. At endgame, most players will rarely leave Orgrimmar, instead using the Dungeon Finder and the in-city dailies to provide their sustenance. Even for the tasks such as materials gathering, rep grinding, and questing that most players perform, very little of the game world is actually seen. But Azeroth is a wonderfully lively place, especially in Cataclysm.
While the online aspect of WoW prevents it from becoming the masterwork that Tamriel is, Cataclysm has made great strides in making the world seem alive. NPCs fight each other along the battle lines. Phasing makes your actions impact the world. Patrol mobs in zones are more common. There are more voice-acted, scripted quests. The world seems far more important, far more worth saving than it ever has.
Do you feel the life behind WoW's game world?