So after all that talk, I finally spent some time with the FFXIV open beta towards the end of last week. My initial impressions are as follows.
First of all, the graphics and animations are great. It's a gorgeous looking MMO, and the character animations, which you'll likely be spending hours and hours staring at, are fluid and natural. It's definitely a game that is enjoyable to look at.
Performance-wise, things have been a little laggy, but that's easily ignored during an open beta period. If the game still has lag problems after a few months, well... that's a different story. Additionally, the in-game mouse control was absolutely horrid. I've received emails offering a number of different explanations, including a diagnostics program running in the beta that will be removed at launch. I don't know. Either way, the mouse currently sucks.
I was prepared for this, as everyone has been telling me I had to play the game with a controller. Boy were they right. I plugged in a wired Xbox 360 controller, configured it, and to be honest even if they do fix the mouse, I doubt I'll stop using the gamepad. This game was designed with a controller in mind for the eventual PS3 release, and it just works really well. Also playing the game with a controller gives it a whole different feel.
Now, the meat of it, the gameplay. This is coming from a FFXI noob. I played it so briefly I may as well not have played it all. So going into FFXIV, there is a lot of terminology and a few game systems that I am completely unfamiliar with, but may be second-nature to FFXI players. So for me, there's a lot of new stuff to learn. That's fine with me. I already play and enjoy WoW, I'm not really looking for another WoW at the moment. So the more different FFXIV is, the better. And it's pretty different.
So far the game strikes me as a slower-paced, more casual MMO. That might be just how I'm playing it, too. There's a lot of traveling so far, a lot of cutscenes and store (which I'm patiently enjoying). So far I haven't been loaded up on a million newbie quests as I've been used to in other MMOs. In fact, for the first couple hours of the game I was just on one quest line. I'm fine with it, I don't mind a taking my time and playing at a relaxed pace, but it may bother someone who wants to grind grind grind. Again, that option may be there, I may just not really be looking for it.
There are a couple of creature comforts that either don't exist, or I can't find. First of all, there are no indicators that someone has a quest for you without talking to them. However it seems the game is simply designed to supply you with questing in other ways (guildleves), so it's probably less an oversight and more simply a different way of doing things.
The other though is the lack of a way to distinguish the relative strength of a monster out in the world. So far I've simply had to gamble on whether or not I was going to one-shot a monster, or it was going to one-shot me. I imagine as I get more familiar with the game I'll get better at gauging the general strength of the enemies. I hope.
The one other things that really bugged me, and I guess I shouldn't be surprised since it's a Japanese RPG, is the invisible walls and lack of jumping. I don't know if jumping is some sort of taboo over in Asia, but it strikes me odd in this day and age to build a 3D MMO/RPG where your character cannot jump. When you encounter a small three-foot drop, and have to walk twenty feet the long way around rather than jump down, it's easy to get a little annoyed.
I did a bunch of the early stuff solo, and then I grabbed a guildleve. You can do guildleves solo, or you can grab more people for a better reward. I wanted to check out questing in a group, so I went to the glowy stone (forget its name) in Camp Bearded Rock and spent ten minutes looking for people to group with. Although there were easily twenty people hanging around at any given time, nobody was talking. Somebody responded that I was in fact talking in the right channel, but for the most part, it was the most unsocial MMO I've seen yet. There also doesn't seem to be a regional or general chat channel.
If the overall FFXIV community is that intent on soloing everything, you may need to find yourself a regular group of questing buddies to call on if you want to do multiplayer stuff in this MMO. I hear grouping was a serious pain in the ass in FFXI, and I guess people have just carried that mentality over to this game as well, which is unfortunate.
Overall, I haven't found enough wrong with the game to justify cancelling my pre-order, and in fact there's enough intriguing about the game that I think I might play, casually, on the side for a little while.