And while I hate to devote only a single paragraph to this, the game is filled with ease-of-use abilities. Finishing a Guildleve lets you teleport back to your base camp to start a new one; all players can teleport to any previously visited Aetherite Crystal from level one; teleporting refills your HP and mana after Guildleves; players can increase skill gains during Guildleves by evoking the favor of their chosen Guardian; and more. Getting around and doing things is easy, but the game still encourages exploration and enjoying the massive game world.
Quests, on the other hand, are the multi-stage epics you might remember from Final Fantasy XI. This time, however, they flow much better than their FFXI counterparts. The addition of NPC Linkpearls, pearls that let you talk to various NPCs in your travels (duh), help smooth the way between viewing cutscenes and wondering where to go next. If your linkpearl is glowing, you have some fresh information on where to go.
The cutscenes are also much better at involving your character than FFXI's cutscenes were. While you're still the classic RPG silent protagonist, the cutscenes feature your character more at the front and center than as a silent observer. Plus, thanks to some excellent rendering, your character visibly displays her emotions as the story plays out in front of her.
And for cake's sake, use a controller
It's very rare that I invoke the power of cake, but I feel as if I need to make one thing clear here -- use a controller when you're playing FFXIV. I've seen that many of you are complaining about the software mouse lag, or how poorly the interface is set up for keyboard and mouse.
Long story short, the interface wasn't set up for a keyboard and mouse; it was designed around a controller. Yes, I agree with all of you who say that the interface sucks for a keyboard and mouse combination (because it does), but it doesn't mean that you can't walk out to your local Best Buy or Staples and pick yourself up a controller or try to track down a wired Xbox 360 controller.
Using a controller lets you avoid many of the problems people have brought up with the interface. I think you'll all feel that the game flows much better when you're flipping through menus with a few button presses, rather than dealing with a horribly laggy mouse cursor. That, and you'll appreciate being able to activate environmental object by pressing X and then A, rather than hitting a small icon on the screen when you're close enough to interact.
Walk free, walk free, walk free, believe
My short time with Final Fantasy XIV actually does fill me with hope for this game and MMOs at large. While it may not be a perfect game, it is one that's well-made and filled with ideas that challenge standard MMO conventions. Combat isn't the stupid hotbar combat that you're used to; quests are the "go here idiot" quests that you're use to; gathering isn't dumbed down into a single right-click; and the game actually expects you to think and explore.
You can't walk into this experience expecting your standard MMO. Walk into this experience expecting your standard Final Fantasy, however, and you'll be very well prepared.
Just remember to actually read the quest text.
Seraphina Brennan serves up her opinions in Anti-Aliased every week, and she's still blown away by the quality that is Nobuo Uematsu's "Answers." When she's not rambling here, she's rambling on her personal blog, The Experience Curve. If you want to message her, send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow her on Twitter through Massively and her personal feed.