Immersion is a big thing with me. I want the world to feel like a real and dynamic world. I doubt it could ever really be that way but certain bits of design help create the illusion that the world is real and some bits of design erm...don't. For example you leave your starter city, enter your race/faction's newbie zone with nice farms and villages and it's swarming with monsters, bandits and wild beasties. It makes no sense. You find a farm with lots of aggro beetles, the farmer says "help", you take the quest to get the beetles, the farmer says "thanks the farm should be safe now" but nothing has changed, the beetles are still there respawning happily as thousands of players "save the farm" one after the other but nothing actually changes. Didn't bother me when i first started these games but now it's really annoying.
What i'd like...you leave your starter city and enter your newbie zone. let's say it goes east-west with a north-south river down the middle and the newbie bit is on the near side with some guards by the bridge. Some guards wander back and forth along the roads. All very peaceful. No monsters. That's the point of all those guards and of your character being an adventurer / warrior / priest / whatever for your faction. This peaceful farmy area is what you're defending, what your char is supposed to help protect.
There'd be villagy type quests (i'd call little tasks, tasks or jobs or something, save the word quest for epics) for newbie type characters like harvesting hay from the fields or finding a lost sheep. The main point of these would be to add to the sense of it being a real world with NPC's doing their individual jobs. Of course there'd need to be stuff to fight as well of but what I'd do is something like:
1) Three farms each with a granary building. Each of them would have an NPC outside and a portal with a mission to kill some big rats that have got in amongst the grain but only one would be active at a time and the NPC would wave at you if the task was active (no exclamation marks). You'd take the task, zone into the granary and fight the rats -- there'd be a condition for victory i.e all the rats need to be dead at the same time e.g 6 respawning rats but if you have them all dead at once then you get a win). You come out and get your reward and that mission is now inactive for a while at that granary. You did it. You stopped the rat problem. The world changed slightly. The guy doesn't just beckon over another player/group. There's a timer and after x amount of time one of the three granary NPC's goes active again and the same task becomes live again. The immersion is still ok because this is the kind of problem that could recur in a fantasy world but your actions would have made a temporary change. Small thing in
a way but i'd really like it.
2) Instead of permanently respawning beetles on the beetle farm quest you get a dynamic thing where there's a timer and when it goes active a model of a big hole spawns on one of the fields and beetles start to spawn on a farm. Farmer waving and shouting. Get quest to do something about it. Killing beetles maybe gets you some faction or something, or killing them all before one has respawned sets a flag that stops them respawning for a while (timed) and you get a better reward. Third option get into a group and go into the hole for a mini dungeon with a beetle queen mini boss. Kill the queen and the hole despawns and the beetles stop respawning. Get nice reward and the world is changed a bit for a while. On a timer again so after each time a group kills a beetle queen there's say three game days clear of beetles then a random chance each game day of another eruption on one of the three farms (random) and only one at a time.
3) Semi-remote section of road a little bit away from the safe farmy area where some bandits spawn. Same as the beetles they'd be a dynamic event where three would spawn in a little camp in some nearby trees and three along the road robbing travellers. You could get a task to deal with them -- could even make it so you could go tell the guards and they'd come with you to help get the bandits and you'd get a small reward or you could deal with the bandits yourself / grouped and get a bigger reward. As before, the trigger for winning would be having all six bandits dead at once, they'd respawn normally until you had all six dead at once and that would stop the spawn for three game days and then every game day after that there'd be a random chance of it starting again.
Win all three of these in your newbie days and get title "defender of newbieshire". Titles are fun.
Obviously the problem with this sort of thing is the content is not available to everyone all the time but I'd still like it anyway. You'd need something else that was always available but which didn't make your supposedly well defended farmy area look like it was a monster convention.
So on top of the dynamic bits I'd have a couple of newbie dungeons attached the safe area. So maybe in the section to the south of your safe farmy bit there'd be some low wooded hills that leads to a portal to the "deep forest" zone. Bit like the Old forest in Lotro, setting up a foresty area like a dungeon. Setting it up that way keeps the illusion of your main area being safe and defended. In the north section of the newbie zone i'd have a little wall with gate guards leading to some goblin caves. Again keeping the illusion of your faction actually defending it's terriotory from whoever they consider the baddies.
These two newbie dungeons could actually cover a large level range just as long as there's a good-sized section for lowbies. Blackburrow and Crushbone were two of thebest bits in EQ1 from a design point of view imo in the way they drew all the newbie players from the nearby starter areas and got them all forming groups etc. I'm very much a solo explorer type player by inclination but even I ended up grouping a lot in those dungeons and all my long-term socializing in EQ1 started there. It was easy to solo but it was also easy to slip into grouping too and you sort of switched from one to the other. Very good examples of the sort of zones that spark off the social aspects of these games, especially early on with new players.
So in a way my ideal newbie zone would include a lot of wasted space from a normal MMORPG point of view but the point of it would be to make the world feel more real. I think the immersion of that would be a good trade. You'd come staggering out of the newbie dungeon or deep forest zone with your loot and you'd be back in safe terriotory, not constantly dodging bears every 100 feet until you got back to the village.