Not bad, just different. Definitely worth a try!
So first let me say that I did not play the Beta version of the game so I can hardly compare. I was told that the Beta was hardly playable. Thats not quite the case with the full version. I haven't had many problems with FF14 so far but I will admit that its not quite smooth as other MMO's, has a few performance issues and can lag sometimes. The performance issues are very annoying, for example, you gather a good party for exploring, then suddenly your game crashes. I'm not quite sure why this is, I'm running the game on a 8GB RAM, i7-920 processor and very fast internet. I do hope they fix this soon in future updates.
Anyways, the first thing is character creation. There are five races to choose from and many many classes. The races all sort of resemble the FF11 ones, they just have different names. The five races are Hyur (Humans), Elezen (Elves sort of), Lalafel (gnomes), Miqote (female only) and Roegadin (Male only). As well as the five classes, each class has two different 'clans', which differ slightly. Like in WoW, these races and clans differ mainly in appearance and a little in attributes. For example, the Elezen have a higher intelligence than normal - making them slightly better mages. Just as the Roegadins have slightly higher Vitality, making them better tanks. These attribute differences are marginal though.
After choosing the race and clan, you will be able to customize the appearance. There are a lot of options to customize your characters appearance. From size, to hair, to skin to facial details. Like D and D online, instead of a normal name, you have to select your characters first and last name, which is neat.
Moving on, you will then have to choose your class. This is something I was originally quite confused on. There are four different 'disciplines.' Disciples of War, of Magic, of Land and of the Hand. Each one of these has different classes depending on the weapon used. For example, the Disciples of War can choose to be Gladiators (1H sword +Shield), Lances (spear), Archers (bow) or Pugilists (fists). Each of these classes has different skills you can use with the set weapon.
However, in FF14 its not like as soon as you choose a class you have to stick with it. You can change classes at will in FF14. And even when you change classes, weapon skills and magic abilities that you learned with your previous class stay with your character. So for instance, you decide to choose a lancer upon starting the game, but then change to a conjurer sometime later. Then change back to lancer. Your lancer will now have access to the conjurer classes abilities! Though they won't be as effective, you now have access to crowd control and cure spells.
There is no leveling system. Instead you gain points from defeating enemies which you can spend on attributes or classes. Physical points upgrade your attributes. You can spend these points on Strength, Vitality, intel etcetera. Skill points upgrade your rank in a class. As you go up the rank, you can gain certain abilities. So if you think about it, all this makes for lots and lots of character cutomization! Stats matter a lot in FF14, and you can choose to allocate your stats to suit your style of play.
Combat is a problem in FF14. There is no automatic attacking, which is refreshingly different from the thousand other MMORPG's out there. Unfortunately, its not as good as it could be due to several problems. For one, the targeting is horrid. Then the laggy user interface can screw you up and etcetra. The game is best played with a joy stick as using keyboard and mouse is difficult. This is why I think this game will be far better suited to the PS3. Once you get used to the combat though, its not too bad, its just needs some work.
A good thing about combat is that you can only a limited amount of abilities. So in a group, you really have to decide which abilities will be useful and which won't be. All of them are quite circumstantial so you will find yourself using most of them instead of having a useless clutter of abilities like you usually would have in WoW.
The world is different to the FF11 one as well. Its more like the FF12 one, with ruins and small camps along with massive high-tech cities. Speaking of the cities, they are very large, though as of yet theyre arent many people in them. The world itself is quite large, and peppered with dungeons, camps, towns, merchants and etcetera. Around the world are crystals. These serve as transport points to other crystals which you have discovered. This allows for quick and easy traveling.
As usual, graphic wise Final Fantasy owns every competition again. The game is easily the best looking MMORPG I've played at max graphics, though you can of course put the graphics on low if you have performance issues. There are loads of amazing cut scenes, even in the beginning areas. In sound, there are some nice tracks, but overall nothing very memorable.
The community is not especially friendly, but you have to remember that the game is 2 days old in retail release. I have a feeling it will get better.
So in conclusion:
Gameplay: 8 - the level system is nice and new, the crafting system is fun and a departure from usual games as well. The combat isn't great but its still different
Story: 8 - lets face it, story has never been a major part of mmorpg's. But even so, the FF14 world has lots of lore and a good enough story.
Overall I feel that the negative response to the game is a combined result of performance issues and because its a departure from usual MMORPG's. Westerners are usually more used to games like WoW, AoC, Lotro etc. But this is refreshingly different. Personally, I enjoyed it and will play for the month then decide if its worth putting more time and money into. Who i suggest it for? Someone who is tired of the usual hover and click ones and wants to try something different. Over time, and with a few updates, FF14 will improve and grow as it has enough new stuff to attract lots of players.
Square Enix hasn't added anything since my review to improve FF14. Therefore, this game is a fail :(