So I recently gave a very low level review of FFXIV, but have continued to level on. Now is the time for a much deeper review as I would normally do.
To start with, character customization is almost as bad as with FFXI, a scar here or there, but you will still see many of your clones otherwise. This can be a big negative to many people, thus why I bring it up first. Like I said, it is slightly better then FFXI, but not by much. Don't come into FFXIV expecting Aion or CoX style character designs. The characters that you can create do look relatively good however, with decent animation for the most part.
Even during character creation, SE seems to want to make things hard. In most normal MMOs, many people just click the mouse and drag the direction they want the avatar to move while looking at hair and whatnot, but not in FFXIV. To turn your character around during character creation requires you use the 'L' and 'J' buttons to spin it right and left.
Near the end of your character creation you will be asked which profession you want your character to be. You can either be a fighter type (Gladiator, Marauder, Lancer, Pugilist), Caster (Conjurer, Thaumaturge), Crafter (Goldsmith, Leatherworker, Blacksmither, Armorer, Weaver, Carpenter), of a Gatherer (Miner, Botanist, Logger, Fisher). At first this does look like an amazing mix of classes, but something that can blindside a lot of folks is that you will more or less be leveling each any how. Those who had played FFXI knew about subjobs. WAR/NIN, DRG/WAR, WHM/SMN, ect all popular and it sort of works the same way in FFXIV, but much more micro-control over the abilities, as you get to pick individual abilities from your 'subjobs' rather then having a dedicated subjob and it's associated abilities. Lets say you are leveling Pugilist, you are going to need some abilities from Gladiator, Marauder, Lancer, and Thaumaturge to have the abilities you will need to either correctly tank or DPS as the situation demands. Of course if you only wanted to do the minimum for your class you could just level the min, but expect most others to expect you to have more then just your core class traits and abilities.
FFXIV, like FFXI has three starting areas, but in the end everything comes together in Ul'dah, so starting zone doesn't really matter. Gridania has a heavy Windurst feeling, as it is very closed in with walls, almost maze like (much smaller though). Ul'dah is, because of the fact everyone gathers there, a major hub and more like Jeuno/Whitegate. Pick any city and you should get a good intro and storyline set of quests to follow.
The UI in FFXIV, once again much like FFXI, has a very console feeling. This in and of itself is disappointing given the fact that unlike FFXI, FFXIV has only released on the PC thus far, so no excuse for the PC game not to feel like a PC game. Like FFXI you will use a large amount of macros from gear to ability swapping. The biggest change to the UI is the fact there is an actual hotbar that shows up when you are selecting a target. You can have abilities on the hotbar just like a normal MMO in addition to using abilities through your macros. Not much else in the UI has changed honestly.
While I am discussing the client set-up, many people will remember FFXI had it's windower for a long time before SE finally made a windowed-fullscreen option for FFXI. Instead of learning from their past, SE seemed to completely forget it. Windower is shut down for FFXIV, and there still isn't an official windowed-fullscreen mode. Just like FFXI, if you alt-tab out of the game in fullscreen, the game will crash. There are some independent programs not specifically made for FFXIV, but manages to do the job respectively enough. I personally use ShiftWindow and have been having decent results, while my wife has been using AutoHotKey on her end. Both work well and you can easily find the FFXIV set-ups quickly with a google search.
Making parties in also is overly challenging. There is now /who type search, so there is no way which you can search for other players and remotely invite that way, which makes spamming in town even more important then it was in FFXI. The lack of the /who command isn't the only thing missing. Those who played FFXI remember the /shutdown command that could be used to completely kill the FFXI client and PlayOnline, otherwise you have like five screens you had to log out of. FFXIV is the same way, except no /shutdown command to use. You HAVE to Logout > Exit > Quit with some rather long delays depending on the servers between screens. You will overtime find even more things that SE some how managed to make more difficult then it needed to be.
The biggest addition to FFXIV is the guildleves, which are more or less just daily quests. You are allowed a total of eight regional guildleves every 36 hours, and eight local guild levels daily. What this means to you is that you can do four regional guild levels from Gridania and four from Ul'dah, but you won't be able to do anymore from either of those cities or Limsa Lominsa. However, you can do eight local leves from each city, but these are limited to actual crafting, while the regional guildleves are your hunting and leveling style leves. It would have been better to just put these as quest givers around the town, rather then making players continue to run to a crystal over and over to start a new 'quest'.
Combat is fairly similar to FFXI; you gain TP to use your abilities, your give enemies TP from your hits allowing them abilities to use, many repeatedly reused skins. not much has changed here other then the aggro system. You no longer have the Too Weak, Challenging, ect con system of FFXI. In FFXIV you can actually see the enemy and if it will aggro you by the color of the dot behind the level, much more standard MMO style con system now. You will also notice the aggro in FFXIV has been greatly dumbed down from FFXI. Mobs no radar aggro rather then detect through vision, health, ect. If a goblin can aggro, it'll aggro you even if you walk behind it now.
Travel has been changed up in some both good and bad ways. Each person can teleport themselves where ever they might need to go, and they can also teleport their party members if those members are close enough. The counter to that is the fact that you are only given 100 points to spend in teleporting, and each port costs anywhere from 2-5+ point for even just the lowbie telepoints. You only get 4 points back a day, so if you are constantly teleporting around the map, you will quickly find yourself self drained and unable to port unless grouped with someone else. At this time Return and Teleporting is the only fast travel options, but in the near future airships and chocobos are supposed to be added in the next patch
I have to say, Crafting in FFXIV is actually one of the more annoying craft systems I have tried in a long time. When crafting you get a Progress bar, a Durability rank and a Quality rank. if the Durability ever reaches 0, then your craft will fail. Progress is your over all progress of the craft, and can be affected through various crafting methods. The Quality is ONLY used when doing the crafting guildleves, otherwise it has no known affect on your craft otherwise. Nothing overly annoying with that. When crafting you get the default Standard Synthesis, Rapid Synthesis, and Careful Synthesis. Standard is what you will use most often, as it give decent progress, little quality, and a hit to durability. Rapid gives a large burst of progress, no quality, and a large hit to durability. Careful gives large amount of quality points, little to no progress, and a higher durability hit. Both Careful and Rapid have a greater chance of failing when used as well, which will results in even larger losses.
The crafting has been called 'hyper-realistic' by more then myself. You have to craft everything from the cloth to be used, the dye for the cloth, the bulks, ect, THEN you try and merge them all into the final craft. In FFXI you normally lost the crystal you were using or maybe 1-2 crafting parts. In FFXIV however, if you fail a craft you lose everything involved in that craft.
Another aspect of crafting which is rather annoying is the equipment damage and repair system. Each piece of gear you have on gets damaged by ANYTHING you do. If you succeed to mine, craft, or kill a mob your equipment takes a hit just as if you died or failed in any of the above. To repair you have a couple options. There is an NPC that can do some simple repairs, getting your gear up to ~75% again, but no higher and for a price. The other, and better option though, is to have another player, or you if capable, repair your gear. For a player to repair your gear though, they need to have the craft the made the gear you need repaired, and have it high enough to successfully repair.
You might have noticed that I have not mentioned a moghouse, mailboxes, or auction house.... that is because there isn't any of them. To give items even to your alts requires swapping between players, the dev used the excuse of 'community' to validate this choice. As far as extra storage and selling items, you can get a retainer, more or less just an NPC that stand around in the Market Ward of the city you set him up in. You can then load him up with items you want to sell or just have him hold onto. You can search the Market Ward for items you might want, then you need to go into the particular area that has the retainer holding the item you wish to purchase to actually pay and get the item. As I said, it could have been much simpler, but SE managed to bone it up.
I have been pretty harsh on FFXIV it sounds, but there is some good to the game. Combat is still very fluid and now much faster then FFXI, the community is still top notch, the world is very nice to just stand around in. FFXIV in general has a very 'classic' MMO feeling to it, where the community drives most of the game. Players who expect WoW with FF lore will be disappointed, but they were most likely disappointed with FFXI as well. Is FFXIV as good as FFXI? No, it isn't there yet. I have hopes that things will continue changing for the better, but until then at least the game is buy-to-play. If you get the game cheap enough I say go ahead and play, but you won't miss out on much if you hold out till SE finally thinks the game is 'fixed' and announces the PS3 release.