My huge excitement about getting into the FFXIV beta was initially dampened by days of not getting into the beta. But hammering the application site eventually paid out and I got my account flagged. I'm just so glad I used that initial beta download option that they later took down; I didn't have too much trouble patching and getting in. Anyhow, I'm in and playing and have some initial comments to share.
First up, graphics are great, though I did have to upgrade from my old nVidia 8800GTS (320) to a newer ATI Radeon HD 5770 in order to play the game. The game was technically playable and not too poor performance on the 8800, except for the horrible graphical flickering and other artifacts. Oh well, that old graphics card was holding the rest of my PC back anyhow! Now I can crank up the settings and really enjoy FFXIV, and there's plenty of eye-candy to enjoy. Gorgeous character models with a lot of articulation and detail. I really like all the emotes they've got now!
In terms of gameplay, Squeenix have added introductory / tutorial quests for new players, taking them through the basics and giving them some cutscenes to get them into the game. Its quite a big difference from opening up FFXIV and my friend saying "ok, now go kill stuff until you're 10 and we'll team up". The introductory quest is completely different for each of the three starting cities, though they all have the same basic elements: you start by fighting some easy monsters in the early intro part to get a feel for combat, then some early exploration to the nearest outpost, and an escort quest at some point. The starting quests also provide players with some 30,000 gil to get them going, which is a great boost for buying starting gear.
The problem with the intro sequences, however, is that they're so great, so exciting, so full of cutscenes and quest guidance and what not... that you feel totally lost when it's all over. Objectively, it's not that different from FFXI: you go out into the wilderness and make your own adventure. But after the hand-holding of the intro sequence, I sort of feel like it's a very abrupt change in pacing. I really feel like some sort of follow-up quest should give players a bit more guidance: for example, a quest that tells players to level a combat job to 10 and go to some other place to get another, short quest adventure.
My other big complaint is a lack of the /search command. I've yet to party with anyone in FFXIV and I really have no idea how grouping is going to work without the /search command that was so integral to success in FFXI. They have some sort of party organization system, but my experience with those in other online games has been dismal at best. Given how integral grouping with other players can be in an MMO, we shall see how this plays out.
Smaller niggles are also present: every time you change weapon (job) you have to re-build your whole action bar from scratch. It would be nice if the game saved bar presets for each job. Also, there seems to be no healer class, unless I'm misunderstanding conjurer or thaumaturge? I've only tried the latter, and no healing magic there at the first few levels. In any case, stay tuned for more info on FFXIV in the coming weeks!