Run, Don't Walk
The most obvious changes in the latest live update were the increase in run speed and the elimination of shards. Both of the changes caught me by surprise, since they didn't seem like parts of the game that were broken. The addition of the griffon towers in Thundering Steppes and Nektulos Forest seem related as well, though they came a bit earlier.
SOE made it fairly easy to get to the zone of your choice even before these changes. You can buy a ticket from the docks to Thundering Steppes and Nektulos Forest, and one more click will get you to Enchanted Lands, Zek, Everfrost, and Lavastorm.
Within these zones, you might well be in for a trek, and the design team did a marvelous job of making the world seem expansive and large. A journey to the Thexian Camp always seemed like a very long trek, even though it took perhaps 8 minutes.
And I don't know that I've heard a lot of complaining about the death penalty as it stood two weeks ago. For those rare occasions that I've left a shard that's hard to recover, I have played other characters for the three days it takes for the shard to reabsorb and the debt to disappear. And we had just received wands of debt cancellation as the birthday thank-you gift, so that makes this change seem a bit spur-of-the-moment.
I've come up with two possibilities. First, perhaps they want to speed up the rate at which people level. Maybe they feel that people are falling behind, and want to get them to a level where they will be interested in purchasing expansions. Less time traveling and recovering shards means more time adventuring, after all. That's a fairly cynical view, but Everquest, after all, is a business.
Second, it may be that they feel that the remote areas and zones are being played too little. There are very few people to be found in Runnyeye, Ruins of Varsoon, or Nektropos Castle these days. Maybe they would like to spread the population around more, since that means fewer servers will support more players.
I guess it's possible that they are simply trying to make the game more appealing to those with a low tolerance for frustration. Was this really a problem for people?