The middle zones always seem to be the red-headed step child of MMO content. Is it a function of population distribution extremes? Is it that in the case of Guild Wars 2 there are so many leveling paths to take? Is it that veteran players simply have no reason to be there except for friendship or exploration points?
This is the hardest puzzler. Nothing is wrong, per se, any more than… yes, clearly, as in all MMOs, the middle zones have lighter population distributions. The content in the middle zones, with a few noticeable patches, does seem pretty solid, especially with regard to renown content. It hasn’t felt like a chore to get through the zones on my way to 100% exploration. It still feels different, and I wonder how or if ArenaNet is going to draw more attention to these zones.
An interesting Reddit thread awhile back suggested adding legendary precursor exotics to the middle zone. I don’t agree that the middle zones needs carrots of that magnitude, but I really don’t like the sheer discrepancy in rewards for hanging out in middle zones.
A good working example is the Shatterer event in the middle zone Blazeridge Steppes (40-50). Even though it is only a level 50 event with so-so loot, the excitement of it still provides a draw. Any casually-leveling player running through southern Blazeridge Steppes is going to see a lot of exciting conversation coming across her screen regarding the upcoming dragon fight. There are timers popping up around fan sites dedicated to these dragons, two of which are in middle zones.
I think there are two good ways to promote activity. “Timed” reasons would be something where a middle-zone is spotlighted for a time. The Shatterer event is a good example of this, but the timer is mostly hidden. On the other hand, the Zaishen activities in Guild Wars 1 are very public reasons to hit up a middle-zone. Should the daily achievements be a little more directed? Another would be a “permanent” reason. Tree and ores that acted like loot-table herbs based on player level, and a better chance of getting level 80 loot in sub-80 zones would go miles.
A lot of seemingly veteran players were hanging around Mount Maelstrom last night. I happened upon a group just as I was finishing up exploration of the zone as we all headed in to conquer the Crucible of Eternity, which has an event chain to open up the dungeon. We all had fleeting purpose, but it was fun the moment we came together to wind that clock backwards. A bunch of them were clearly in a dungeon group together as they all disappeared inside the portal once it was open.
I imagine if the dungeon team was a pick-up group, they would’ve had to meet in Lion’s Arch. If it had felt profitable to play around Mount Maelstrom to find groups, I wonder how many people would still be complaining about the LFG mechanism (which still needs a lot of work even if ArenaNet doesn’t want a WoW-esque dungeon finder). Still, I wouldn’t mind actually playing while “finding” a group for the dungeon I am interested in as opposed to milling about Lion’s Arch. Arah has no lack of pick-up groups as Cursed Shore is probably the most profitable zone to be in.
I do not envy the dev team’s decisions on what to do with all the middle zones. I hope they can find ways to use all those maps for the veteran player’s benefit.