I am a newer player, I freely admit that. I remember reading about the epic ground mounts when they where being reduced in price and waiting to buy mine being I just had become able to. I needed to save gold, gold was not easy to come by when I did not know much about the game. All I hear about now is how "hard" the game used to be and how "easy" it is now.
Having to travel by foot was not "harder" then it is now. It was annoying however. Taking you 15 minutes to get from point a to point b or 5 minutes to get from point a to point b is basically what people talk about with mounts being for lower levels now. Getting a mount sooner just cuts down the time of doing things, in most cases that is all it does. It is not harder to spend 15 minutes doing something then it is to spend 5 minutes doing it. It was longer. It was not "harder".
When I went to level my second character I loved getting a mount earlier and I even said, it is going to be so much easier having a mount sooner. I used the wrong word. It was going to make it so much quicker, that is for sure, less annoying, that is a given and in a way that means it will be easier. Easier on our time spent, but not easier on the game play.
The older players can get heirloom items to help them level. That gets them extra experience, that makes it easier. Maybe that is one of the reasons that they think it is easier now then before. They are leveling with a bonus, so of course it is easier. They are getting their mounts earlier, so they think of that as easier. They already know where the quests are, where the objectives are, which quests have hard drops to get and which ones they can do quick. So over all older more experienced players have an easier time leveling.
New players however, do not. They still do not know their way around, they will sit get lost for an hour trying to find some places even with maps, they will still foolishly spend 3 hours trying to get moonstalker pelts when experienced players know the drop rate sucks so it is not even worth doing that quest. The game is still as hard for the new players as it was for the older players when they first started. (with the exception of some quests no longer needing elite kills any more)
The only thing that is different is that blizzard has made an effort to not make it as time consuming and annoying as it used to be by allowing them to get mounts sooner. And as I said, getting a mount sooner is not making it easier, it is just helping them not waste as much time because in the end the only time you mount is to get from point a to point b and you theoretically do not need a mount to do that but use it only because it saves time.
So next time you hear some asshalf (not even good enough to be an asshole) say that the game is too easy for leveling now just ignore them, they are obviously partly brain dead and we should be feeling bad for them.. It is not too easy for a new player, it is just quicker.
In truth, it is us, the players that made 80 already that made this idea that it is to fast to level now. We made it easy for us to level another character so we start to think, wow, this is easy for us now which must mean it is easy for a new player now too. Next time you do that think that here are a few things you should compare regarding you leveling to a new player leveling.
Experienced Player: Researches the class they are going to play.
New Player: Starts with a class that sounds good and really has no idea how to play it.
Experienced Player: Will have heirloom gear for extra experience gains and health and/or mana regeneration.
New Player: Will have whatever they are lucky enough to get a drop of.
Experienced Player: Has the professions they know will make them money as they level and even planned it out ahead of time.
New Player: Will take whatever sounds good regardless if it is something that will make them money or cost them money.
Experienced Player: Will wait in an inn when they log off so they gather the killing bonus and have other characters to play so they will get more rested time built up.
New Player: Might not even have a clue that resting at an inn gives more experience and even if they did, when they are on they are always on that character so it does not build up as much.
Experienced Player: Will know what stats to look for on their gear then they start getting the random green drops.
New Player: Will take whatever has the biggest numbers from those random green drops even if what is on them does not help them.
Experienced Player: Researches the spec he will be putting points into so they maximize their abilities.
New Player: Might not even notice they have points to spend for a while and then puts them anywhere that seems like a good idea.
Experienced Player: Will know what quests are not worth wasting their time on and skip them.
New Player: Will try and do everything they can even if they waste three hours for one quest.
Experienced Player: Will have their main send money over to help level their profession if needed.
New Player: Will spend countless hours grinding for things they need to level their profession.
Experienced Player: Will have their main send them cash for riding as soon as they can get it.
New Player: Will grind the areas they noticed had the best drops so they can make money for riding.
Experienced Player: Will move instantly to the next best place to continue leveling.
New Player: Will spend hours trying to find a place that does not have mobs that are to low or to high being their areas are not really set up in a nice progressive order.
Experienced Player: Might have a friend port them to Dalaran, making questing so much easier being able to jump all over the place.
New Player: Most likely has no clue what Dalaran even is.
Experienced Player: Will already know most of what they need to know so they will not spend lots of time researching.
New Player: Will sooner or later get to the point where they want to know more and will find a good website to help them.
Now, this is only up to level 30-40 most likely. I can continue and the differences get much bigger the long we go on. As you see, this is most likely 6-10 hours into playing for the experienced player and for the new player it has been 3 or 4 weeks of a few hours a night.
So, for the experienced player, it has become super easy to level (I still wish it were easier, leveling alts is still annoying even if I like doing it). For the new players, it is still hard, just not as annoying as it used to be because they can travel faster sooner, but hard because they do not know what to do or how to get to the places that they need to do things.
In the end, I think blizzards needs to find a way to make leveling easier for new players. By easier I mean making areas to quest go in order. So when you are trying to find the next area to quest in it will not take you forever being it is not connected to the area you are in now. It seems they are doing that in cataclysm, so that is a start.
They also need to fix those quests then send you from point a to point b to point c back to point a then back to point c before going back to point b and back to point a once again before ending at point b. (if you have ever done those quests from westfall/red ridge/stormwind you know which one I am talking about) That results in 2 hours of just flying back and forth and nothing else. Again, not hard, but just annoying as hell being it is wasted time and really, unneeded.
They also need to fix those quests where you search for an item that could take hours to get a drop for. The black heart? The moon stalker pelts? Has anyone ever went on killing sprees to get these to drop? I have, and it was lost time I will never get back. I really should submit a bill to blizzard for wasting my time for nothing really. There is no need for anything that is a quest drop to be lower then a 1/3rd chance of a drop unless it is an epic quest and even then you should never need to kill 200 things for 1 drop.
Also, riding should be sooner and cheaper and flying (when cataclysm comes out) should be as soon as possible. Flight paths should also have an option for instant transport for twice the fee instead of flying for 15 minutes to go all across the continent. Once more I repeat... wasted time is not harder, it is annoying. There is no reason to waste time in an effort to keep people from saying "you are making it to easy on new player". No, they would be making it less annoying on new players.
On a short side note. I have tried to get many of my friends to play. They all came to me after their 10 day trial and said the same thing. The game moves way to slow and is boring. They did not say it was hard, they said it was boring. Get that... wasted time equals boring it does not equal hard. Now back on topic.
All those things I just suggested will not make it easier for new player... but it sure as hell will make it less annoying and as we know, less annoying makes us happy. Happy people seem to think things are easy.
That is why everyone in heirloom gear with sugar daddy characters thinks that new players have it easy. Because they are happy leveling with that 20% bonus and seemingly endless gold. They do not realize that new player have neither of those things.