Back when I started playing EQ2X, I didn't know anyone to ask about which was their favorite starting areas, and why they were preferred. So what I did was to pick the one with the landscape that seemed more interesting: in my case, snow. I saw snow for the first time in my life two years ago, so yeah, it is still amazing to me :)
I won't give spoilers here on the stories, just list some of the comparable rewards and details of each city. City layouts won't matter much if you join a guild with a nice equipped guild hall though, since they generally provide bank and crafting areas all in one place, with portals to your house.
The general start:
You start off right in front of your first quest, marked with a feather on top of the NPC's head. You have to go through the chat balloons to proceed until the quest itself is presented and you get the option to accept or deny. Nearby there will be an extra quest from the Harvesting and Collections guide, to get you started with gathering. Once you complete this quest, which will give you a very big box to put in your bank to help you store your materials, you'll be given the first crafting quest. That will teach you the basics on trade skills, and direct you for further instruction on the nearest "capital" city. All starter areas will have some NPC that will give you instructions. So basically, the tutorial is optional, and the game will just give you that info if you go talk to the NPCs.
This is an area for Good or Neutral characters. New Halas is the major city, which will continue to be neutral no matter if you are Good or Evil, BUT if you are an evil character, NPCs will not want to provide you with services, other than the crafting related ones. That means you'll see all kinds of people here, and be able to visit this "capital" later on, no matter the path you choose at the start of your game.
The city itself is well organized and easy to travel. The bank and the crafting facilities are in the same area as the starter house, though far from the "teleporter globe".
If you hate swimming in MMOs, New Halas might annoy you. You'll be sent to some nearby isles repeatedly. The good point of that is that your swimming skill will go up pretty good. And yes, odd things like swimming, safe fall and even how strong you react to alcohol can be skilled up. The swimming one will let you hold breath longer underwater, and move faster.
The New Halas starter house is the one with the most space and light. You get a huge window and a non animated fireplace (player created fireplaces will have fire options). For pictures, please visit my housing album on MMO Voices.
The house items awarded you in this area are all about the coldain people. Think barbarians in frozen lands themed furniture. Not my favorite, personally.
The capital city I hate the most, Kelethin exists between trees, and the buildings are giant accorns. It is a Good only city, so the guards will hit you if you are aligned with an Evil city. For that reason, the city festival happens away from the city itself, so all characters can participate if they wish (I love to think of all the ogres celebrating the fae furniture and cute goodies).
Takes a while to be able to find your way between the many bridges of this city, not to mention the fact that you can fall if you are careless. This is why I hate this one the most, because I still get lost traveling around town. The bank is not exactly close to either the crafting area or the houses, but it still is one of the prettiest cities. There are teleport pads to help you travel around it though.
The starting area and quests are all cute and about defending what is good. There is a bit of cutie voice acting on some quests, and a hidden one not connected to fairies at all. A lot of running around, almost no need to swim, and some climbing.
The starter house is a two room accorn. The rooms are circular, and from what I've heard, that annoys the hell out of some people. It also feels like the smaller house of them all. For some reason, it is my favorite so far. For pictures, please visit my housing album on MMO Voices.
Furniture rewards are my favorite. Everything is cute, with some plants included. And don't let yourself be fooled by the small sized pieces, since you can alter their size.
Oddly enough, the dragon-lizard area is the one I find the prettiest. It is just so exotic, in a mix of something oriental, salty, tech and natural. It is the Neutral-Evil city, and like in New Halas, everyone can come in, but they won't really server good characters, just tolerate them.
It is an up and down, going around city, though still easier for me to go around then Kelethin. It has some teleport pads to go from the entrance to the housing and crafting areas, which are very close together with the bank, which is great.
The starting area quests are well organized in different posts and hubs, with lots of voice acting at the start. I am not a big fan of voice acting, but they are not bad. They actually sound like a grumpy dragon-lizard person, I guess. A tip I'll give is to go through the "fisher" guy quests. You'll be directed to him, no problem, but once he tells you of a special fish to be caught, go after it if you wish to have a giant fish mounted at your home. It is a "rare" drop from the fish pools that will start the quest. After some time, you'll get the fish mounted in the mail from completing the quest. Other than that, this area has gryphon posts to travel between islands, so no real swimming and climbing around on this one.
The starter house is a two room, two window, kinda dark house. The rooms are round with sharp edges, kind of like an hexagon. For pictures, please visit my housing album on MMO Voices.
You are given no furniture while questing in this area though.
Completely underground, it is obvious that R.A. Saltavore's Menzonberranzan city was the inspiration here. It is an Evil only city, with teleporters, but not too difficult to go around on foot if you know which cave you want to go. The crafting area is a claustrophobic little cave, with a bank, but a place I'd rather avoid for the lack of space. It is also far away from the housing area, which is isolated on a side cave of the city, away from the banks also.
The starting area is, in my opinion, the easier of them. All traveling is fast with the safe roads, no need to swim at all, or climb, and the terrain is pretty much smooth and easy to spot what you need to gather and kill.
The starter house is a two room spooky dark stoned building. It is square though, which can be easier to decorate. For pictures, please visit my housing album on MMO Voices.
The furniture given in this starting area are the most different of them all, and match the dark and evil theme perfectly.
Each starter zone will have a quest line that leads to getting a mount. Each mount increases your speed by 25% and looks different from each other. Be aware though that sometimes, if your chosen class has speed buffs, you might be faster on foot than this starter horse.
Kelethin: Tan with green saddle.
New Halas: White with green saddle.
Gorowyn: Brown with red saddle.
Neriak: Dark grey with purple saddle.
There is a nice guide to such quests here, with pictures to each horse, but it is very easy to reach the mount quests by simply completing all the starting quests.
You can change citizenship through quests. Sometimes there is an actual quest, like when I moved from New Halas to Qeynos, but sometimes it's just some NPC chat and you are changed.
To change alignment, you have to become an Exile. Exiles get their own city while they manage to improve the reputation of their newly chosen citizenship. It is a process I've never done, but I believe this link should prove useful for those interested.
My overall preferences:
After going through all these zones, the one I prefer to go back are Neriak for the easy journey and Kelethin for the cute furniture. All zones have a nice story, though I found Gorowyn more intriguing.
My favorite houses follow the same path, though the fae housing is the one I decided to buy a bigger version. I simply love how you can mesh flowers and other plants in there. Neriak is one of my favorites just because it is a challenge to keep it spooky-looking.
A little tip if you are going to start playing EQ2:
Open your game menu and select Claim. There will be some free stuff for you there, and among them, a cloak that gives you a speed boost. Super useful on the early levels. Limit is one per character, so even if you make dozens of character, they'll always be able to go claim one for themselves.