I also recently returned back playing EQ after many years. Comparing to my active EQ days (first half of 2000s) the game now seems bit deserted. Let me share some observations.
1. In the past players were having difficulty finding spawn to kill. Now you have a lot of options and thats not a problem anymore. I guess decline in population, new content and avarage player lvl (most players are high lvls ) are important factors. Anyway, I would be surprised to see people arguing over KSing these days.
2.Mercs have huge impact on game. In the past you had to get in a group if you wanted to make headway. You could solo but the exp gain (due to many factors) was not good compared to grouping. Now depending on your class you can hire a merc and you can solo very efficiently. On the other hand, players seem to tend grouping much less compared to old days. Maybe it is because my level but I can hardly find someone to group with. Most people box (paly more than 1 toon) with mercs and you would see full groups of toons played by same player.
Having said that, mercs are the main reason I returned back playing EQ. My current real life status would not allow me burn time for trying and finding a group and then staying in it for a dedicated amount of time, as I did in the past. Now I solo my beastlord with my healer merc and I play whenever my time allows me.
3. One of the first things I noticed is that it is a lot easier to gain decent or above decent gear as you play. In the past that was out of question.
4. Spells, for one thing, are very easy to obtain now. As a beastlord I go to PoK and there spell merchants even categorized according to spell levels.
5. You can buy some importans potions from vendors, ie. mana / HP regen pots, haste , heal pots etc.
6. You can buy good stuff from vendors in PoK, like rings, earrings etc.
7. You can also obtain cool stuff via quests. I think Serpent Spine twist has huge impact on EQ since it is a very newbie-friendly content.
8. In some ways EQ has similar defects as it had in the past.
For example I read beastlord lvl 62 / 64 warders can *still* not benefit from pet enhance foci due to some technical issues (that is another story) But hey, what are the devs doing right there ? Isn't it their responsibility to handle this issue and repair whatever the issue is ? Nine years ago you wouldn't surprise to see such things but now I am surprised to see such carelessness still persists in EQ.
Another example; Durings yesterday's patching, server status at Everquest home page showed all servers as "up", but you wouldnt be able play EQ. How am I supposed to track the servers to see when they are up and when they arent if they don't show the correct information ?
These are my initial observations. I am sure there will be a lot more. Well, I am eager to witness them myself with my beastlord as I walk the land of Norrath :)