Sorry for the delay in posting this. Last week was another FFXI tour, this time for the July update and the new Vision of Abyssea add-on pack. There's a lot of new and interesting stuff, including new areas, new battle systems, lots of new gear, not to mention higher levels and more abilities for (almost) everyone.
Two of the new abilities I got to see were for Black Mage and Scholar. Black Mages got a sort of "mana shield" ability, letting them use their huge mana pools to survive a few hits if they "accidentally" (cough cough) pull aggro from a monster. To help them not pull aggro, Scholars now have the Libra ability, which displays how much hate everyone in the party has for the targetted monster. I also saw a few new job traits and abilities for Warriors, giving them some bonuses to make them better tanks, or to do more damage at the expense of crit when they're dps-spec.
One of the biggest additions with Vision of Abyssea are the new Abyssean zones, sort of parallel universes of existing areas. They work as timed dungeons: you zone into a staging area, talk to an NPC, and you get a 30 minute buff that lets you "exist" in the parallel world. Then, off you go to kill monsters and and collect a new type of currency, the abbysean equivalent of conquest points. Though, once your timer is up *poof* you get teleported back to the real world.
So the new expansion is based less on a set of story missions and more about combat zones. This has been building up a lot recently. Treasures of Aht Urghan gave players Besieged and Assaults. In Wings of the Goddess, Campaign gave players the opportunity to participate in big battles without having to spend three hours beforehand looking for a group. The new Conflux Battlefields, added in July, work upon this success and have become a sort of "public BCNM" for up to 36 players.
The new battlefields are set in the same areas that you got to see in Wings of the Goddess cutscenes, but now is the first time you get to adventure into them. They're full of monsters that drop temporary items to boost your powers, and the big monsters drop valuable synthesis materials for players who helped out in killing it (such as by dealing damage or healing other players), much in the same way as the campaign mechanic.
If you're a player considering returning, now's a great time. The biggest news is that, for the first time since Promy, the level cap has been raised: from 75 to 80. Whole new job traits and abilities, spells, and - of course - job/subjob combinations at 80/40. I think the cap is going up even higher in upcoming updates, too. Also, a lot of the new content I've seen looks even more accessible for high-level players, so dusting off your old level 75 and getting back into it should be easy and rewarding.