Final Fantasy XIV is in a tight spot. Following the poorly-received Final Fantasy XIII and carrying on the legacy of Final Fantasy XI, it has a lot to live up to.
And originally, it failed to live up to this. With 1.0, it had a lot of major issues including XP caps, lack of group activities and general bad design. This was a major problem that could've caused the death of the game.
However, Square Enix did something different. Instead of following the generic "Make it Free-to-play" model, they set out on rebuilding the game. Almost completely scrapping the original game and rebuilding it from the ground up, they made a game that can serve as the true XIV that people wanted. This is A Realm Reborn.
Following the failure of 1.0 and the implementation of ARR, Square Enix decided to keep the universe of 1.0 semi-canon, with ARR following on. Set 5 years after 1.0, there was a catastrophe that served to bridge the gap between the 1.0 world and the ARR world. With many features such as landmass, NPCs and areas staying almost identical to that in 1.0, the whole storyline is completely a new, almost sequel to XIV, with gameplay vastly improved and expanded to meet those of other modern MMOs.
The storyline, although generic, does follow the Final Fantasy formula of an evil Empire ruling over the world with an evil agenda, and you and your companions have to fight against them. With this, it is almost a retelling of Final Fantasy VI, with many story elements shared across the two universes, and this is strengthened in the expanded storyline with locations and characters having similar names.
The characters within the game are all pretty unique, although it does have it's own versions of "Biggs", "Wedge" and Cid". Each character in the world feels fleshed out, with most having their own questlines and stories separate from the main storyline. This serves to flesh out the universe and make you feel like you're in an actual world rather than a half-baked MMO.
Although the storyline is a major aspect of the game, it does serve mainly to unlock additional content, although this is in no way a bad thing. The storyline quests give a good step on leveling up your first character, guiding you through the leveling process whilst not serving to hand-hold the player. Although it is easy to gain levels through quests, it would not be easy for a character to max out by simply completing quests.
Instead, the game has a number of different ways to level up, mostly these are through group events.
Firstly, one of the most commonly encountered events are FATEs. There can essentially appear anywhere in the field, outside of towns and other sanctuaries. FATEs have a simple objective, often something such as "Kill all of x enemy", "Kill x boss" or "Collect all of x". Usually they involve beating on enemies until the quota is met, which is pretty satisfying. These give the player additional XP and Gil. Mostly these FATEs are level-limited, so many higher-level players would not be inclined to do older FATEs or do them if they are max level, however this has been changed through late-game content that requires players to return to areas and perform in FATEs, meaning that they are available for everyone and serves to keep old content fresh.
Secondly, are Leves. Similar to FATEs but for single player, you are assigned them in each town by a special NPC with a unique tasks such as "Kill x and collect their item" or "Plant an item at x". These are pretty fun to pass the time and have a number of benefits, similar to FATEs.
Finally, the most common way of leveling up is through Duty Roulettes. Once a day, the player is given a boosted XP and Gil bonus by performing in the Duty Roulette. By choosing to do this, you are randomly assigned a party for a Duty, which can consist of a dungeon, a Trial (Boss fight) or Guildhest (Similar to FATE and Leves). These are unlocked as you progress through the story, and as it is random you can get assigned to any duty that you have previously unlocked. This means that a maxed player can get assigned to a level 20 dungeon. This ensures that the game is kept fresh and that new players can progress through lower level dungeons without the risk of there being no available players, which is also reinforced as an XP bonus is rewarded for all party members who participate with members who are new to that duty. As you progress, more and more duties are unlocked including high and extreme level, with their own rewards. In addition, once the player hits level 50, an additional reward becomes available as a substitute to the XP.
I currently have 150 hours registered to Steam for this game, and have just completed the main storyline. There are countless other things that I must complete, as well as the content unlocked in the latest update coming soon. This will add large amounts content which serves to increase the playability for both high and low level players.
Square Enix are very good at announcing and presenting new content to the games, with regular livestreams showing off new content to keep up the hype. This builds good relations between both the players and the company. In addition, the moderation team of the game (GMs) I have heard are very helpful, and can resolve most issues. In addition, in the two times I have contacted Square Enix support I have received an adequate response within a few hours.
In all honesty, the game is great. Although it is different from other MMOs I have played, it does have a great playerbase who will help newcomers with any issues. I fully recommend this, even if it's only for the 30 day trial.