If you're just getting to the Wheel of Time series in the 21st-century like I am, expect to be whisked back in time. I don't mean as far back as a time where princesses lived in high towers, and mighty warriors fought for their hand, but to the 80s and 90s, when basically all fantasy fiction was a Lord of the Rings derivative. "The Eye of the World" is basically old wine in a new bottle. You have young buddies being forced out of their idyllic little country homes due to events much bigger than they (there's even a scene where the protagonist wonders at how if he makes one step more, he'll be farther from home than he's ever been -- sound familiar?), mysterious and cloaked beings chasing after them, some mountains called "Dhoom," a powerful and wise wizard, a stoic ranger-type, etc. Reading this for the first time now, when authours are rightfully making painstaking efforts to leave this Tolkien-inspired fantasy behind, and in turn all falling into a similar trap of producing the same generic brand of "dark" fantasy, "The Eye of the World" might seem a little cheesy and retro. And, well, it is, but that's not necessarily a bad thing so long as you read it within the context of the year it was released.
Robert Jordan is meticulous in his world-building. Everything possesses detail, and while it doesn't quite go to the lengths that a certain Steven Erickson goes to, it's pretty close. The only thing is, all this world-building is Tolkien-inspired, so it's not really all that original. This might not be a problem if you just want an old-fashioned high fantasy read, but I feel it will likely turn some others off from the saga.
Personally, I'm still on the fence when it comes to liking or disliking the characters. Unfortunately for Robert Jordan, all the intricate world-building and fantasy cliches in the world can't disguise unlikable characters. Without people you actually want to see succeed, or at least care for in some way, no story will hold up, least of all over a dozen novels. The protagonist, Fro-I mean Rand, is rather whiny and indecisive, and the female characters are just plain badly written. I don't know any other way to say it. Egwene behaves like a 12-year-old (though they're all supposed to be around 20, I believe), and doesn't seem as if she would be able to survive without some form of male protection. I realize leaving the Shir--Two Rivers-- has come as a shock to them, but you would think they could be a little more decisive in some of the situations they are confronted with, and just a little less . . . dumb (Mat, I'm looking at you).
I went into "The Eye of the World" sort of knowing what to expect. I knew it was a throw-back to an earlier time in the fantasy genre, and that it was heavily Tolkien inspired. In a time when every other fantasy novel is now trying to be "different" by being as generically dark and "gritty" as possible, reading a novel with an unabashedly high fantasy setting can actually be refreshing. Though this novel gave me a "been there, done that" feeling, it also made me feel at home, comfortable, like I was returning to the old countryside I stomped across as a child and was meeting an old friend. Sometimes, I suppose, it's nice to accompany a troop of inexperienced youngsters as they explore new lands and fight new monsters, even if they are a little whiny and make you want to slap them upside the head every once in awhile.