In the past six months, Wano's ending was said by several sources to be "unique" (Greg), "surprising" (editors), etc. Where did that go? I just don't see it here.
Good question but let's get a few things straight.
First, the editors.
People can hate on the editors all they want for whatever reasons they want but there needs to be some level of established ground rules for what passes as damaging or negligent behaviour i.e. statements of behaviour that is actually deserving of being upset over.
The editors saying it will be surprising....or anything in the series will be surprising, is something they will always say. They cannot say anything other than that. Those statements have parallels in many other professions of entertainment. Sports stars don't say they're going to play average. Movie stars don't promote their movies by saying it will be average. They will always say it will be surprising and, when it comes to the core target audience they're addressing, they're not wrong.
I've said this before but, One Piece is not written for anyone at this forum. If you're dedicated to the series enough to the point where you discuss it at length on a daily or even weekly basis, you are not OP's target audience. OP's target audience is casual fans. One Piece is intended to be the perfect toilet reading material. I could never be an editor of One Piece because Oda does not want a hardcore fan influencing the direction of the series. He wants/desires individuals who are light fans because that's who he wants to write for.
So 'surprising' might mean different things to different people, but for the people Oda is writing for, I guarantee you they're surprised week to week by stuff most of us take for granted or just assumed would happen.
Anyone is free not to like/respect that, but that would show a gross misunderstanding of how the entertainment industry works as a whole. <spoiler> It's based more on image than reality.
As for me! Yeah, Oda really flubbed that didn't he? I felt that the fire matsuri would be the conclusion/party for the Strawhats. We knew the GB encounter (or something like it) had to occur and if that happened directly after the fire festival then yes, the end of the arc would have played out exactly as I thought Oda was setting it up.
He ignored not only the conclusion of the fire festival, but also the significance of that dawn (which the anime will no doubt fix). When it flashed forward a few days and the Strawhats were just hanging around I was shocked. I thought they would celebrate at the fire festival and have to move on almost immediately. But that was not to be and they just sorta bummed around for a bit.
Really odd choice and most definitely the easiest route in terms of wrapping things up.
I don't think anything changed during the break whatsoever. The recent events were mostly all established already.
While I'm certainly happy that something I didn't expect happened, it also seems like a disappointingly easy route. As you said, it's basically cookie cutter. Yes, there are some unique events that occur (Wano warriors defending the country themselves) but otherwise, it's like Oda waved a magic wand to get his characters healed up and then set for hijinks in a very A to B to C progression.
Oda had a chance to do something unique, he fumbled IMO, womp womp.