Here's a post I wrote up for some FFXI friends about my first impressions:
WoW has even more of a "Warcraft" feel than FFXI has a "Final Fantasy" feel. Probably because it's a specific world it's based on and not a general theme. They've added in some new things and tweaked a few others (Tauren as well as Night Elves can be Druids, Dwarves can be Paladins, the Undead PCs are part of a rebel group that split off the undead Scourge from the WCIII game...)
The crafting system is a very different approach. First of all there are two kinds of crafting skills, the first set are for gathering materials like herbs or skinning animals. Basically the harvesting functions in FFXI are their own skills in WoW. Then there are the actual item-making skills.
You elect to buy the trade skills with Skill Points that you get from gaining fight xp. For instance, maybe it costs 15 skill points and you get Tailoring (Clothcrafting) at the Apprentice level. (Prices vary, I think Herbalism was 5). You also start with 0 or maybe 1 point of actual Tailoring skill. With that, you get a couple basic recipees, something the equivalent of weaving a bolt of cotten cloth out of 3 cloth scraps. Kind of similar to our low-level synthing, really. You can use the starter recipee easily and you usually get a point in Tailoring with each use.
To actually make items, say a brown cotten shirt, you have to BUY a formula. You can't just experiment with ingredients you have to have added the formula to your crafting skill info, then if you have the ingredients you select it and make it. The formulas can't normally be purchased from a trainer if you can't use it, but you can get some formulas as treasure or quest rewards. They're color coded as so easy you can't get skill through really easy and you can maybe get a tradeskill point out of every 5 or so uses, to normal and likely to give a skill, tough but highly likely to give skill, to too hard to succeed. Pretty similar to synthing's maximum skill gains on recipees, but totally apparent.
The skills are extremely synergistic. I messed around with this stuff a lot. I got tailoring up to 40 on one character and then hit a formula that required light leather pieces (I'd been selling it). When I asked, I was told that light leather was something that a skinner could sometimes harvest from a dead animal, or a leather-worker could make it out of other material (leather scraps). So I ran to the other side of the area and bought skinning and then tried it on some dead animals lying around and since they weren't low-level it failed at first but I eventually got some skill up and harvested some. If I'd known what I needed to do at the beginning it would have helped, I wasted points on Herbalism and Alchemy and my party member is already doing Herbalism and Enchanting and blowing thru herbs like crazy. Also, my tailoring was lagging behind what we were finding as drops but at least one time I was able to make a new armor item that was clearly superior to what we had on one slot. I gave the equivalent of a linen robe, linen cuffs, and gaiters to some random person and he was "OMG THANK YOU SO MUCH!" so it clearly has its uses
On the other hand we tried some alternate characters and I bought skinning and leatherworking right away and I created leather "armor kits" which were expendable items that added +3 armor to a body, leg, hand, or foot wear item. Can you imagine that? Buffing your self with +3 def on a couple items and I did not buy anything, it was all harvested from skinning and synthed with leatherworking.
So on the one hand, I think it sucks you can't experiment, on the other, wow, nice....
BTW eventually you have to buy the next grade, Journeymen then Master. We're talking 150 Skill points and then some to move up to higher level synthing.
FFXI has missions. WoW has so many quests your eyes will bleed. Some of them are the boring "go kill bats and bring me 5 wings" types. But you get XP for them. And they all have little mini-storylines. There isn't the big overarching plot with cut scenes you get in FFXI but they did really draw me in. I would say that doing these various quests drove my levelling and while some were more challenging than others, they were very much keyed to my abilities. No Eco-warrior quest on day 1!
The zone I started in was really big and it was divided into a lot of mini-zones each with their own location name. Lots of roads, but the map was hard to follow. You're exploring blind "going south until you reach the blahlbah hills" a fair amount of the time if it's not a town location right on a road. I guess it would be comparable to say that their equivalent of a Region is one continuous mega-zone. That was a lot smoother then our constant zoning during travel. I would say the starting area would be equivalent to the entire Sarubata area, including all of Giddeus and possibly most of Tahrongi Canyon to boot.
Kind of cartoony. Really really similar to WCIII. I'm getting used to them but I really think I prefer FFXI's style.
Soloing vs Party
Soloing seems more achievable. There isn't the "after x level too weaks can still kick your ****" thing, at least so far. Party XP seems similar to FFXI. My friend played a bit without me and had several levels at start. Stuff I could solo for 150xp I was getting 85 for when we paired up, or less. (We partied to keep track of each other and do /p chat; I could have still soloed slowly and I was playing a Priest). Oh, and I got Raise at level 10. @_@
Almost painless. Find it hard to believe actually. If you die, you have 5 minutes to be raised or you can release your soul and become a ghost and spawn at the nearest graveyard. If you want your body brought to you and to revive there, it costs you XP. If you're ok with running back to your body tho, then you can run at an accelerated rate on the ghostly plane (you see nothing but other ghosts and only the monsters that are near your bod when you get back to it) back to your body. About 5 minutes to run at the most so far. You don't have to revive right AT your death spot, you just need to get close and thus can hide behind a tree from the aggro mob that killed you.