Probably like many of you, I have gone through the initial zones in Lord of the Rings Online more times than I can count (confession: I can only count to eight). And probably like you, I have formed very strong opinions on which of these older regions are better and which have aged like moldy cheese.all of LOTRO’s expansions to date, today I want to organize a worst-to-best list of Eriador’s 15 (!) zones with my personal observations on what makes them work and what makes them stink. I will note that I’m not going to include Ettenmoors on this list, as it’s not a PvE leveling zone and, as such, I don’t really care about it.
I think that the “worst” and “best” of this list are the obvious picks for many in the community, and I don’t see a reason to go against that. Angmar is, by far, one of the worst zones in the game, both by atmosphere and by design. It’s a depressing region with a shrill soundtrack, hard-to-navigate regions, and deeds that laugh in the face of your optimism. I don’t even feel like it has any good stories there whatsoever, which might’ve bumped it up a ranking or two.
If this name doesn’t strike a bell, that’s probably because you’re used to thinking of this area as “Isengard.” It’s pretty much Isengard plus a stretch of bombed-out land, and it’s all hard on the eyes. Isengard may be very iconic and key to some of the books’ — and MMO’s — major scenes, but I’ve never, ever liked going here, either in the “before” or “after” versions.
North Downs is a huge region that, to me, lacks any identity. It’s just… there. It’s an older zone with Fornost, that Ranger city you have to go to a million times, an Elf refuge for some reason, some Dwarves, and I think one cranky ghost. It’s not absolutely terrible, but it languishes due to its age and scattershot approach.
Gap of Rohan
Despite the name, this tiny stretch of land isn’t in Rohan proper, so we have to count it here. But it is too small to register as “good” or “bad,” so I’m plopping it here.
I always think that I like Misty Mountains more than I actually do, mostly because I have a soft spot for the Hobbit book as well as snow zones. But this is another example of an older zone that could use some sprucing up because it doesn’t really offer that much other than a trip to Goblin-town. And I hate Goblin-town.
Dunland is, to me, “the” Rise of Isengard zone. You know, it’s that one that has a dozen clans that you have to appease one at a time before moving on to the next one. It gets some points for being slightly more modern in design, but I still don’t enjoy being there very much. And the Falcon Clan can go dunk its head in an icy bucket of cow urine for making me do all of those chores and then turning on me.
Now here’s an example of a Day One zone that’s actually fared pretty well. It’s gotten a bit of additional development over the years, but really, Lone-lands today looks strikingly familiar to its original incarnation. I think it works well as a gateway to a wilder, more sparsely populated world, and summiting Weathertop is always a geeky pilgrimage that I like to make.
Yup, good ol’ Everswim! It’s far less annoying now that there are boats to cross the lake, which definitely helped change public perception on this zone. I do appreciate the beauty of this lakeside region, although there’s too much futzing about in Annúminas for my tastes.
Most players know Eregion as the Moria prologue area, and that is certainly a big part of its identity. But I do enjoy its no-frills questing and traveling, both of which is never that difficult nor frustrating. And there certainly is a big thrill in approaching the gates of Moria for the first time on any character.
Autumn in a zone! Trollshaws is quite gorgeous in its own way, especially when you get down into Rivendell but even before it. I adore the foliage, the tie-ins to the Hobbit, and the wilder feel. It always seems like there are more places to explore in this region than I’ve ever properly seen.
I’m ranking Ered Luin as the lowest of the three intro zones for its split identity and rather skimpy questing. It’s not the place I would ever advise players go to right out of the gate, but it is nice to visit for some screenshotting and easy deed hunting.
It’s weird to look back and see that the lead-up zone to Rise of Isengard was actually better than the zones that came in that expansion, but it’s true. Enedwaith is a surprisingly good region with memorable quests, diverse biomes, and plenty of eye candy for travelers.
My biggest complaint about Bree-land has to be that it’s too big for an early spot in the game. It’s kind of like three zones in one: eastern Bree-land, western Bree-land, and the town of Bree proper (plus Archet, if you want to count a fourth). That’s a whole lot to get through before moving on.
That said, it’s a really good huge zone with so many excellent locales, from the Prancing Pony to the Old Forest to the Barrow Downs. It’s got a warm and welcoming feel to it, making it a perfect place to funnel all of the leveling races together after their separate starting areas.
You either really love or really hate Forochel, and I am a lover. Middle-earth’s version of the arctic is so strikingly different than the lands that came before and after it that it arrests the imagination. The culture there, the igloos, the mammoths, the northern lights, the icy bay… all of it makes for a frigid but fun trip to the far north.
Best: The Shire
Likewise, there are people who really dislike the Shire for its huge quest density and fewer combat quests. But it has to top this list because it’s so very Hobbity that thousands of players have fallen in love with the region and continue to gush about it even now.
Factoring the pastoral sights, the gorgeous music, the many taverns, the hilarious quests, and the sheer number of towns and vistas to visit, the Shire is a region that had a whole lot of developer love poured into it — and it shows. And let’s not forget, this is also where we get to meet and start our adventures with Bingo Boffin!
What’s your ranking of Eriador’s zones? Let me know in the comments!