Last night, I wrapped up a couple quests on my guardian in the Lone Lands and then did a bunch of stuff on my Hobbit hunter in the North Downs. I liked the Lone Lands initially. The music there is very well done and there are some neat ruins in the area. The problem I have with the place is that once the feeling of newness wears off, you’re stuck in a really big zone without a lot of stuff to do there. My guardian’s quest log is jammed with group quests in the area, but no one I trust well enough to run them with (my gripes about the guardian class and the generally low play ability of the typical LOTRO player are topics for other posts). The remaining quests are soloable, but tend to be in different locations meaning lots of travel time between quest areas. And it’s not like there’s a lot of eye-candy in the zone while you’re in transit.
In contrast, the North Downs is just right as a zone. There are interesting ruins to explore. The quest mobs are generally available in the same location and in most cases overlap with other quest mobs (ie: boars to get boar hides and goblins for a “kill x number of goblins”). The topography changes depending on where you are on the map as well. There are tall hills, even mountains in some parts while other parts are plains or farmlands. A large portion of the map is wooded, which is always a plus in my book. There are mobs available which are slightly below me, slightly above me and those higher up that I can take on as I level. Right now, I’m loving the Downs. My only gripe is the length of the map. Fortunately, there are a couple horse paths available to cut down on travel time.
It got me to thinking about what makes a zone interesting / fun and what makes a zone dull. Geographical variation seems to be key. I like wandering into a different space from one I was just in. I also like ruins. Lots of them. And variation between them. Having mobs there I can kill and many quests that are soloable (or that can optionally be done in a group) are nice too. I really don’t like grouping outside my kinship. There are way too many noob know-it-alls out there. I have high hopes for future zones. The area between the Lone Lands and Rivendell is potentially interesting. I've only seen it while running past high-level mobs at level 15 (the Trollshaws?). Then there's the Misty Mountians! But I still need to poke around the North Downs first. And, in fairness, there are still some areas of the Lone Lands I haven't been in so it may turn out better once I've checked them out.