I've said it before, but for Rifts to be more pivotal in the game experience, zones need to be better designed around them. Right now, they're more like afterthought additions that just spawn some mobs situationally. As a newbie zone, something like this wouldn't work, as it can mean halting progression. However, I'm also not fond of the approach EI took in being for "geared 50s" and stocked with mobs with artificially bloated HP just to slow people down from steamrolling and punishing people who focused on gearing as tanks instead of DPS while leveling/grinding.
When I imagine this potential zone, it might be easier to consider it 8 zones in one, locations affected by iterations of influence from the two factions and the planes. Depending on who controls where, the terrain will vary, the mobs will differ, and with that possible quests and challenges. Planar forces can be much more active, constantly trying to conquer regions from the players and other planes alike. Ideally, the zone should not look the same one day after the next when trying to be a more fluid, "contested" environment. However, just as I don't feel such an area would be newbie friendly, I don't believe such an area should totally slap the soloist/casual player in the face.
I share the sentiment that things to do outside of raiding are rather limited at the moment. Experts/DRRs aren't very exciting, plus they epitomize the faults of the RNG and rewarding large (20-man) groups with 1-4 (often trash) drops. The objectives don't really vary. The locations are lame and unchanging (within the rift itself). They're pretty much just zerg and gtfo. Personally, I have no interest in large guilds or affiliating myself with any kind of arbitrary player point system. They're prone to exploitation and mean nothing if said guild one day poofs for whatever reason. To that end, it's why things like marks, plaques, sourcestones, or even planarite are good things, since it takes the people element out of getting reward. These currencies just need to be better available for the non-raider as well as having more to spend on at reasonable prices.
At the moment, I'm holding out until Diablo III. Benefits of that game not having a monthly sub aside, it will be something "more fresh" when it finally does roll out May 15th. 1.8 and Infernal Dawn means nothing to me. Cooking and Survival will be fleeting distractions where, once maxed, probably become rarely used since platinum isn't really needed to play and crafted goods typically fail compared to raid counterparts. If EI IA retains the guaranteed IS per clear, that'll help a bit in fleshing out some planar gear more quickly, but it's still gonna be the grind of grinds when you consider the current sets are like thousands of IS to acquire. I maybe have roughly 600 IA to my name between SM and SS. Those weren't acquired particularly quickly, maybe over 2.5 months of active play doing it when I could. I am not a fan of the recent Zone Event changes that ultimately lessened the frequency of ZEs. It also seems like certain ZEs tend to be favored over others throughout all the zones, which kind of makes them old hat when you're getting Sand Worship for the billionth time. To that end, the earlier mentioned dream zone would basically be 24/7 ZEs, maybe even introducing situations where players team up with the NPC enemies to eliminate a common threat.
Overall, I don't care about weddings or housing. If I really wanted to roleplay, I know plenty of free text-based mediums where I could get a particular itch scratched without the game's combat system being a hindrance to the process (While RP itself is NOT rewarded like smacking mobs is). Housing reeks more of a resource sink that ultimately won't change the playing situation any, and if for some reason people with pimped out houses got buffs compared to those who don't, I'd expect some major backlash since it's one of those things that'd favor the hardcore/no-lifers even more who really don't need such advantages.
On the other hand, I'm aware I'm a harder customer to please, if not simply through age and exposure to media and gaming over the years. I've seen good ideas executed poorly. I've seen bad ideas given too much attention and shelf life. I've seen enough of the people element in online gaming to know it's both its greatest strength and weakness. I can applaud Rift for being a bit more pick-up-and-play friendly over past titles, but that style currently has its limits, perhaps due to pressure from the hardcores not wanting "lesser" peers being competitive. That's one of the ugly aspects of the people element.