I was preparing to write a blog post for today in which I lamented how much more difficult going into Cool Ranch is than the rest of the game. I started up the other night in CR and kept getting beaten, hand's down, by the side quest mobs I was trying to fight. I would lose my whole team and only have killed one of them. It was very frustrating. I ended up quitting for the night and watching a movie instead, wondering if I had finally hit a wall in this game and would be unable to continue without going back to the previous area and grinding out an extra level or two (which would take several hours and severely test my patients).
When I logged in the next evening, a thought occurred to me: what level are these mobs that I'm fighting? I got into combat and looked. They were lvl 22-23. I was level 17. Of course I was getting destroyed! I went back to the main story quest and started down that path and discovered that the first mobs I faced were lvl 13. So, there was the problem.
I would recommend focusing on the main quest line when you first get to Cool Ranch. I was level 17 when I started it and in 3-3.5 hours had gotten to level 20. The quest line gives a ton of xp and is fairly quick. I'll follow it a little while longer until I get to at least lvl 21 before even trying the side quests.
Moral of the story: pay attention to the mobs you're fighting. If the battle seems wildly out of balance, there may be a good reason!