Despite it's rough start and rougher going on since, Final Fantasy XIV is still running and the folks at Squeenix are still convinced they can fix it up. They did, however, decide to end the more-than-a-year-long free trial for the game back in December, and that's when I got locked out of the game. So it was with much curiosity that I noted the announcement of the Welcome Back Campaign.
In February of this year I discussed the server consolidation plans for FFXIV and criticized their original intention to split up non-paying players. Thankfully, they changed their plan and my social circles weren't destroyed. Not that preserving them did much good: when I returned for the free week, most of the players I knew had left the linkshell of which I was a member. So it was basically back to square one anyhow, and that's a rough position to be in when you know you're only there for a week.
I was hoping the game would have incorporated better party-finding tools so I wouldn't have to build up a social network just to level up and do some quests, but I was pretty much out of luck on that front. FFXI's /search command may have been clumsy, but at least it was simple and direct enough that everyone knew what to do with it. Now there's a convoluted set of menus involving parties and searching and recruiting and, gosh, I can't make heads or tails of it. And neither can anyone else, apparently.
FFXIV is definitely the kind of game that would lend itself well to automatic grouping, both for quests and for grinding. Squeenix should look to what Rift did with Instant Adventures and incorporate that into the underlying structure of FFXIV: pick one or more roles you're willing to play, queue up, get teleported to the action and off you go! Happyness ensues!
In the meanwhile, I guess I don't have much to add about the game. They added achievements, but they're very plain (craft 1,000,000 items! yay!) and you actually have to talk to a whole wad of different NPCs to "unlock" each achievement category. Lame! They have a bunch of cool upgrades available through the Grand Company system, but I can't find any way to earn GC seals at level 26 and my GC main quest is stalled at a group quest no one seems interested in doing anymore. I guess everyone did it already.
That was one of my biggest complaints about FFXI: All the interesting story stuff comes to a crashing halt when you have to do a long, tedious group quest and no one wants to do it again after they've already done it once. Trying to get a group for it is like trying to pull teeth out of an angry crocodile with your bare hands. You'd think Squeenix would have learned their lesson by now. Player motivation 101: they're not going to re-do boring dumb quests if they can at all avoid it, even if it means leaving their friends in the dust.
For all the changes and work done to the game, much of FFXIV still feels unattainable. There's hoops to jump through, and those hoops are often not clearly visible. Maybe I'm just getting lazier in my old age, but scouring 3rd party wikis for guides on gameplay basics doesn't really interest me anymore. That's the thing I love the most about Rift: I have never had to look up a wiki for anything except for the true secrets (the zone puzzles).