Depending on how you count it, at the present Lord of the Rings Online boasts somewhere around 45 zones — a vast improvement on the eight or nine original regions of Shadows of Angmar.
During all of that expansion, the design and art teams have put in a staggering amount of work to bring Middle-earth to life. We have areas of high civilization and places of low barbarity, as well as desolate wilderness. We have delved deep into Moria and galloped across the plains of Rohan. With all of those places, it’s to be expected that there is a range that flows between striking beauty and stark ugliness.
Most beautiful: The Shire
The simple pastoral beauty of the Hobbits’ home land has captivated LOTRO players ever since the game’s release. It got a minor touch-up last year, although in my opinion the Shire didn’t need it; it’s still a lovely stretch of farmland with a surprising amount of biome density, including bog, woods, hamlets, hills, and even a quarry.
Most ugly: Angmar
You can hear that sound in your head right now from looking at this picture, can’t you? Angmar is what depression looks like if you had to make an MMO zone out of it, and it’s among my least favorite places in the game. Everything is dreary, difficult, dead, and dull. Add an unsettling sky and that screeching warble on the soundtrack, and it just repels players more than attracts them.
Most beautiful: North Ithilien
In my opinion, LOTRO’s art team has been bringing out some of its absolute best and most unappreciated work in the last few years. I absolutely fell in love with North Ithilien when I first set foot in that region, as it reminded me of the best vistas from the American west. With tower pine trees, lush flowers, a clear blue sky, a crisp river running through, and a downward slope, there are so many picturesque views as to fill up a hard drive with screenshots.
Most ugly: The Wastes
Mordor as a rule is an ugly place, but perhaps the very ugliest of all is right on its doorstep with the Wastes. It’s a shocking transition out of North Ithilien, as players venture into this battle zone that’s kind of like a toxic radioactive dump. Mordor didn’t really spring for a lot of great interior decorators or architects, either, so don’t expect to see anything attractive in the few structures that dot this landscape.
Most beautiful: West Rohan
“What blasphemy is this!” you rage, flexing your fingers in preparation to write an 800-word treatise on why I should have included Lothlorien, Ered Luin, or another personal favorite here. And while there are several other pretty zones, for me I have to go with West Rohan as one of my favorite places when it comes to the eye candy. I love the wide open plains, the log cabins of their towns, and especially the valley camp of Dunharrow.
Most ugly: Talath Úrui
I was torn between the aftermath of Mount Doom’s explosion and the tree-stripped Isengard, but in the end Talath Úrui won out for being nothing more or less than yet another MMO lava zone. I had lava zones. They strain my eyes, make me feel claustrophobic, and have nothing to look at other than red, black, and grey. I couldn’t be done with this place soon enough, a feat that was made more difficult by its horrid layout and lack of stable points or milestones.