Quests for storytelling
First of all, it's worth noting that the initial quest will take you quite some time to complete. If you started the game as a Disciple of War or Disciple of Magic, you can probably blow through the whole thing right from the word go, while crafters and gatherers will want to pick up something a bit more combat-oriented for a portion of the quest later. Just don't make the same mistake I did and forget that there's a fair bit more quest after you've run to your first camp.
Quests remain the main path to advancing the storyline and giving players a bigger sense of the city culture as a whole, but they're not going to be the bulk of content you run across. Generally speaking, new quests become available every five ranks (not levels), and several of those quests are limited to classes capable of combat. So if you're running around as a 15 Botanist and not noticing anything new, that's probably the reason.
Main story quests have slightly more irregular intervals, but you can always tell when one has become available, because the NPC linkshell in question will light up. If you're by the NPC needed to start the quest, you'll also see the little exclamation mark in a bubble that signals a quest. These only show up on your minimap if you're within a certain radius of the NPC in question, so be careful.
Although quests are nice and unlock some useful rewards, the most important ones from an achievement point of view are the main story quests (watch your Adventurer's Guild shell) and the various guild quests (at rank 20, 30, and 36) for each class. Otherwise, quests offer decent rewards without being the core of your leveling content.
Levequests for leveling
The process of leveling in Final Fantasy XI had nothing to do with missions, quests, or anything beyond a simple camp-and-pull procedure. (That changed when Abyssea launched, but we're talking about back in the day here.) Levequests are more engaging than that, but until you start getting the level 30 leves, they're not going to be marvelously different, which is fine -- they're meant as leveling content, the stuff you use to pad out the distance between levels.
The basics of leves are pretty easy to understand: You get a randomly generated batch of possible levequests every 36 hours; you can pick up eight regional leves and eight local leves, with local leves covering crafting and regional leves covering everything else. Enemies, harvesting points, recipes, and everything else you do in direct pursuit of a leve's objectives earn you extra experience and skill points. (It seems to be about a 150% reward, but I've not done the exact math.) Needless to say, you're generally rewarded for picking up a full assortment of both regional and local leves, doing as many as possible, and then turning them in after the reset for another batch.
While leves will not be maddeningly interesting most of the time... again, they're meant as leveling content. Pick them up when they reset and use them in place of grinding. Grouping is obviously better than soloing as you do the leves, but it's not usually necessary.
Everything else for expanding
The most recent patch, 1.17a, has added a new form of content: tasks. The tasks correspond to the crafting and gathering guilds within a given city, with each one asking you produce a certain number of fairly simple items for a reasonable reward and a batch of skill points. It may seem pretty trivial, but here's where the game starts really driving home its sandbox nature.
Quests advance the game's story, and levequests provide a solid means for leveling, but a lot of your time within the game will be spent pursuing self-imposed quests. If you want a new weapon, you'll have to either purchase one from a crafter or level the crafts needed to manufacture it yourself. Needing materials means looking for them in the market wards or figuring out where the materials can be found in the world and then setting off, sword in hand.
When you start the game, you're going to be working through leves when the resets come up and doing quests as they become available. But before too long, you'll be trying to figure out if you want to level Blacksmith or Armorer because your retainers are dripping with various ores that need a good smelting. And while you desperately need a new set of armor for your Gladiator, you'd also love to make some nice tools to improve your Miner's chances of success... and so on and so forth.
So where do you go after you finish the tutorial? Out into the world.
As always, comments and opinions are welcome in either the comments or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, I'm going on a vacation, and you're all welcome to come along -- but bring an airship pass or a fast chocobo.
From Eorzea to Vana'diel, there is a constant: the moogles. And for analysis and opinions about the online portions of the Final Fantasy series, there is also a constant: The Mog Log. Longtime series fan Eliot Lefebvre serves up a new installment of the log every Saturday, covering almost anything related to Square-Enix's vibrant online worlds.