Here is something I did in an MMO 13(Thirteen!) years ago:
I started by creating a new character on a different shard than the one I had already been playing on for a few years. Rather than start completely from scratch, I was able to choose for my new character to have Archery proficiency at 50% and the combat damage multiplier skill "Tactics" also at 50% proficiency. I was then able to choose one of about a dozen cities to start in, and so I chose the island city of Magincia where I knew everyone was meeting.
I begin with a basic bow(not cracked or weak or minor) but just a bow, and some arrows. I made my way to the meeting spot where about 15 other players where hanging out wearing all the same shade of blue, top of the line armor and carrying top of the line weapons(except for 1 or 2 magic items, these were nearly all player-made). My friend, who was a member of this guild, met me and provided me with a top of the line player made bow, a good amount of arrows, and a basic set of leather armor.(All of which I could equip and use within minutes of starting the character).
Once we all gathered one of the players opened a gate and we went through one at a time to find ourselves immediately in one of the game's most dangerous areas surrounded by Ophidians and Terathans that could have shredded me in seconds if I was on my own. Despite most of the other players being at 100% proficiency (max level) for their various combat skills I was able to contribute quite well by standing back out of danger and firing on the targeted and already aggro'd monsters with my bow. Unlike in level-based MMOs, my arrows(fired from a character less than half an hour old) were draining about 10-15% health per hit. At no point was I a burden and I was able to hang out and enjoy the guild event as the first step of my membership application process.
By the way, for those not familiar with Ultima Online, we were not on a quest or a game-driven raid. In UO, every dungeon and continent had areas that were more challenging than others and you just simply chose where to go based on how many people were with you. Two or Three? Shame Level 1 with Earth Elementals and Scorpions. Three or Four? Shame Level 2 with Air Elementals and Water Elementals. A Dozen? Blood or Poison Elementals on level 4.
MMOs need to be skill-based again(the above example illustrates how perfect the system was), they need to contain non-combat related skills and professions capable of making money. In UO, you could play for years and amass a fortune simply through mining and smithing, or lumber-jacking and carpentry. This brings in a lot of unique gamers(*cough* girls *cough*) that wouldn't normally play MMOs and it actually sets up the chance for you to really feel like a hero. One of my favorite moments was coming across a Player Killer chasing down a miner who was trying his hardest to make his way to the safety of a nearby city. I managed to stop the Player Killer from killing the miner (only because he escaped while the PK was handing my ass to me) but it felt so much better than stopping a warrior from killing a hunter who would been able to fight back. On top of this, if the Miner had died he would have likely lost 10-30 minutes or more worth of ingots while in nearly all other MMOs my sacrifice would have meant someone would have lost a few minutes travel time when the spawned back at the nearest city.
Lastly, like someone below already sorta mentioned, MMOs should get rid of quests. At the very least they should be cut down considerably for only the special high-end situations and maybe a brief tutorial. Personally, I can see the appeal of quests when they keep you motivated to keep playing by giving you purpose, but I never felt that I lacked purpose playing Ultima Online for the five years that I did. Imagine how great the mechanics of an MMO would be if all the time, money, and talent that when into creating the hundreds of simple to elaborate hours long quests was focused entirely on just making the game better. We'd have more skills, more crafting items, more transportation options, and a much better focus on guilds and other social mechanics. I'd easily sacrifice quests, even the good ones, for an overall better MMO.
One last thing: UO had player controlled boats, dozens of different clothing and armor options with dozens of possible shades, and it had cartography, Seriously, that game came out 15 years ago!