A while back, a commenter asked me what I thought EQ2s innovations were. A lazy Friday afternoon seems a good time to answer such questions.
I'm hardly an MMO or MUD historian, but here are a few things that I saw first in EQ2, and seemed to me to be big improvements or insights.
In-combat versus out-of-combat modes
In Everquest, you had a rate of travel, a rate at which you regenerated mana, and a rate at which you regenerated hit points. These held no matter what you were doing. Or rather, in or out of combat didn't matter. Mana regen only took place sitting down (or later, sitting on your mount, so you could cast spells and regen mana.)
This all changed with launch. You had an in-combat regen rate, and a separate out-of-combat rate. What this meant is that even in a fight that exhausted you, you could be full and ready to go in a few minutes. Food and drink then buffed your out-of-combat rates, but didn't work in-combat. This speeded things up tremendously. We all had to learn to stop sitting down between combats too. So we could take the next fight faster, crack, aka Clarity (a spell that boosted mana regen) was no longer a dominant force in the game. And players could wander around a lot more. Even your run speed was (still is!) different in and out of combat. Creating a "combat mode" separate from "wander around mode" was a critical innovation.
Everyone does this now. It's possible that EQ2 didn't invent it, but they launched before WoW, certainly.
Many mechanics were introduced at EQ2's launch to address griefing, and minimize it. One of the important ones was that if you ran far enough from where the mobs that were chasing you had spawned, they would stop, hitting the end of their leash. This wasn't necessarily true of Everquest, you had to get away by zoning. However, to prevent training, once the mobs have leashed, they went inactive, non-aggro, and trotted back to their position. Other agression mechanics were tweaked so that it was very difficult for someone to train a bunch of mobs over you and get some to peel off and attack you. This is pretty standard fare now for most MMORPG's.
Houses and house decoration
LOTRO does houses, but they aren't nearly as interesting or flexible as EQ2's houses. The housing game and house items that look cool continues to drive a fair bit of gameplay in EQ2. In a sense, this is EQ2's version of the sandbox. People can put together house items in their houses in open-ended creative ways. The flexibility has increased over the years, with resizing and floating being added as features. But even the first release edition of the houses, including the Lore and Legend awards that could be put on your wall, was way more flexible and interesting than anything I've seen elsewhere.
EQ2 players seem to love these. It's one of the most unique ideas in MMO gaming, and it's dead simple. It's an Easter Egg hunt on gnomish steriods. With marketplace trading, etc. Again, this is a major gameplay component. How long have YOU spent searching the broker for items to complete your collection?
This wasn't really there at launch, though we had gathering quests and simple, repetetive tradeskill quests for a little coin and faction. The tradeskill quest lines in the latest expansion Sentinel's Fate
are engaging, tell a story, and even open up some areas of the game that are difficult, if not impossible, to get to otherwise. Tradeskilling has been used in a number of live events, as well. Most games have tradeskilling, but these quests stand out, as well as the overall level of integration of tradeskilling.
City of Heroes had sidekicking, where a higher level hero takes a lower level one along and brings the sidekick "up" to his level. But EQ2 developed mentoring, which lets the higher level toons go back to a lower level will boosting the experience gain of the lower level toon. This feature couldn't develop until we had let go of our hate of "powerleveling" (Was it hate or just envy?). The mentoring mechanic has been so valuable and powerful that there is now a way to self-mentor in the game, and people pay plat to NPC's just to spend the afternoon running around at a lower level.
I think you'd have to call that a successful mechanic. It puzzles me why it hasn't been imitated more. Only EVE, in my opinion, does a better job of letting high and low levels run around together, each side doing something constructive.
Every single one of these features has undergone some major evolution over time. And it's possible that they are predated by some MMO, quite possibly City of Heroes. But I haven't played that game. There were many many warts on EQ2 at launch, ideas that had to be abandoned within the first year or two. Erosion of guild level, special level-earning guild members, WORT (remember WORT: Washes, Oils, Resins and Tempers, and the massively interdependent tradeskill system?). Character classes went through a complete revamp. Branching character development was abandoned.
A lot of this has a lot to do with why EQ2 lost so badly to WoW. But it's also brought us several unique and/or innovative gameplay features. Which is why we continue to play it, 5 plus years later.