One of the things people seem to particularly aspire to when they start playing EQ2E is an unusual race. To some extent this is a perfectly normal and healthy desire to distinguish yourself from other people, basic individualism. But part of the perception comes, I think, from a notion that if you pay for it it must be better and that's simply not true.
I won't offer too much advice here in relation to aesthetics. You know what you like better than anyone else. Want to be a big hulking Ogre? Want to be an annoying giggling fairy?
The stereotypes in the lore are a little exaggerated. Fairies are very flighty. Gnomes are extraordinarily obsessed with complexity. It's very noticeable compared to WoW where there isn't really a distinctive Orcish voice. If you see quest text in WoW you wouldn't know the race of the quest giver. In EQ2 you quite possibly would.
Another factor to consider is illusions. If you want to play a fairy you can roll a Warden. At level 35 you gain the ability to transform yourslef into a giggling fairy that squeals while fighting. The guy I played with stuck doggedly with fairy form until he got me to complain about the high-pitched squeals and then, with some relief, turned back into a human.
Here's some analysis of the powers of each race, judged by their 3-4 starting traditions plus the extra ones you can develop your character with every 10 levels. A non-analytical list can be found here. Racial stats can be found here. Later in the game your stat numbers will be so high that it won't matter what you started as but early on the Ogre being 20 Strength points higher than a fairy is going to be noticeable on a fighter.
The Free Races
Humans are the best crafters. They can pick up 3 abilities that boost all crafting, one ability that boosts all crafting except tinkering and adorning and one ability that boosts transmuting. They get an innate ability to harvest faster. They get an innate ability that reduces the aggro radius of a mob, very handy when an aggressive mob is camping a rock you want to harvest. They can Call to town more often and pick up a 5% run speed boost and a sprint boost. If you are planning to build a stable of crafters you could do a lot worse than start out with a human. They are extremely effective harvesters in addition to being the best at actually crafting.
Otherwise their abilities aren't especially good. An ability like "increases Disruption and Defence by 5" isn't good because the classes that need a lot of defence don't use much disruption and the classes that use disruption don't want to be tanking. So, as might be expected, their combat traditions are mediocre because the race is so heavily oriented towards crafting and harvesting.
All of their starting stats are 20, meaning they are a little worse at any given career than a race that is more suited. Stat traditions are Strength and Intelligence allowing you to push those stats a little if you play a Fighter or a Mage.
The big advantage this race has is Tracking. Tracking is a great skill in a game where most of the time you're asking yourself "is that boss up?". Not only can you determine whether the boss is up but you can set a glowy orange line to it. All Scouts get tracking so this advantage is only useful if you are not playing a Scout.
The other innate traditions are pants. Sorry.
The progression based traditions are mediocre.
The stats favour Scouts and Mages. Traditions allow you to improve Strength or Intelligence.
I'd only really recommend this race if you don't want to buy a race but want Tracking on a non-Scout, possibly a Mage.
The outstanding Mage class. If you paid for a race to play a Mage you probably erred. They look horrible, they're not suited to any other class except as a gimmick but they make amazing Mages.
Starting Int is 30, they can take more Int as a stat tradition, their combat traditions offer things like Disruption and Subjugation (nuking and rooting) rather than Disruption and Defence. In other words buffs that complement each other rather than the pairs that only help one type of character (the standard Disruption package is Disruption and Defence ie nuking and tanking which no one really needs both of). Some of the traditions are simply better, eg +20% drink duration where other races only get +10% for the same investment.
They get pretty good starter traditions. 3 of them help your mobility - a teleport to a friend on a 12 hour cooldown (great for level 1 bank alts btw, no need to run across the zone to the bank), a falling speed reduction which helps with those cliff-leaping shortcuts and underwater breathing. The other is a vision which allows you to spot Mages and Healers. That is useful in pvp or if you are charming mobs (Coercer class).
Their good starting stats are Int and Wis, both of which can be boosted by race traditions. So in addition to being outstanding Mages they also make pretty good caster clerics (Templars, Defilers and Furies).
Innate traditions are +5% movement, improved sprint and a short duration buff that makes you immune to stun. Useful for anyone, the stun immunity is especially nice for tanks.
Progress based traditions suit tanks. Skilled Defender and Blocking Expertise are extremely nice for tanking.
Starting stats include high Strength and Stamina. Wisdom is slightly below average. Traditions allow you to improve Wisdom and Stamina. This makes them suited to playing Fighters. Wisdom (boosts resistances) and Stamina (boosts hit points) are solid tank stats.
The free races offer a great harvester/crafter race, a great Mage race and an excellent tank race. If you want to play a Priest then Erudite is a decent pick for a caster Priest. The main deficit is Scout. The only free race with above average Agility is Half Elf and their traditions are pretty mediocre. You could of course make your Scout your main harvester/crafter and pick Human. Scouts are excellent harvesters because they get stealth and fast movement.
Note that class traditions can be reset at an Acheivement Counsellor NPC. It's a very viable strategy to take movement and crafter traditions to start out then respec to combat ones for end-game raiding.