Times have certainly changed here, but more importantly in FFXI.
1) I'd be coming back as a 75 with Mandau and Homams. How much grinding is necessary to level up my Mandau and can I do it simultaneously as leveling up, or what's the deal with that?
Answer: You'll hate every minute of it and be annoyed with the once every 3 day chance to do the last trial. Additionally, you'll probably never, or rarely, find a reason to use Mercy Stroke as the WS is not really that strong compared to Rudra's Storm or even Evisceration with the right Atma in abyssea. Outside of abyssea it is still a decent WS. Fear not though, SE has stated they plan to improve relic output once again, just not how they plan to do that.
2) What is the majority of time spent doing these days? And what old content is it like? Is Abyssea just a 25k/hour exp party but in an alliance setting for 5x that exp rate? Is exping like this actually enjoyable, or is it basically a city Dynamis with crazy exp gain?
Answer: Majority of the time is spent in Abyssea. Unless you have an LS who still does a little of other things such as AV, you'll most likely find most of the time spent in aybssea. It is hard to say what abyssea is like without experiencing it yourself as it doesn't really relate to anything FFXI had prior. The exping can be enjoyable given the group you do it with, but initially xp starts off low. A good group can probably build lights/xp up to 600 cap in about an hours time. Dom-op pt then ever 5 mobs you get another 2500xp also. You'll eventually find yourself capped on merits in not time and looking to lvl other jobs, or just move on to getting new content.
3) How annoying would it be to have to catch up from 75-90(?). Mind you I don't really like grinding, I got sick of it in FFXI initially and even WoW-level grinds get to me. I generally can't repeat something for more than an hour or two at this point or I get bored, some content is excluded in this, but not generally exping.
Answer: It is FFXI, it is a grind period...but with how the new xp system is it doesn't really take that long. Abyssea PT's go as long as the Time extensions drop. This can be as little as 2~3 hours or as long as 13 hours straight, depends on the group.
4) If I get the $8 Steam super FFXI pack, I can still apply the addon stuff to my old FFXI account, yes?
Answer: ~shrugs~ I've never bothered with steam, so I can't help you on that. All I know is this is by far a better deal than the rest of us got paying 9.99 per addon =/
5) Elitist ranting ~omitted~
Answer: Yeah, I've lingered around here just as long....even I'd rate you down for that if I cared enough to do so. I've played with the same group for the last 4 years and I'd much rather have these "terrible 'nice' players" over a group of asshats anyday. This is also based on the eye of the beholder and how they interact with the group. If you don't think you can get beyond the reasons you left the game the first time then honestly just don't come back. It is more of the same just switched around. Once you get used to the changes that were made, you'll be right back where you left off with that mindset.
6) How amazing is Windower and the parser these days? A lot of my annoyances with the game stemmed from the delay when engaging mobs (in a merit party/Dynamis you can avoid this with the auto-target feature but still) and other delays LIKE that. Has windower managed to get rid of some of this stuff in some magical way?
Answer: Parser is still just that, a parser. Other then people proving there isn't really good/bad DD's only lazy people in abyssea there really isn't much point behind it now. Windower doesn't magically fix the re-engage delay since that would involve negating a mechanic of the game which the windower team has always been against. They are more about improving on certain aspects of the game by allowing limitless macros, visible recast, yarnball, etc.
Most of the elitism has pretty much been sedated by the ease in which things can be done now. It doesn't take a large group of people to get astoundingly amazing gear, nor super "skilled" players. An average player can get pretty awesome gear with just a little effort and time. Granted you can still tell the "good" player from the "mediocre" player, but other than this a lot of things are cookie cutter only augmented by atma and player willingness to pay attention. I say this from a linkshell leader point of view, not an condescending manner. Out of the 4 co-leads of the shell I'm in, we know when people are and aren't paying attention. Buy drudging our members through the task of getting gear, weapons, and still doing certain activities outside of abyssea...the only difference I see between a good player and a mediocre one is whether or not they put out the same effort as the rest by paying attention. Rather than ws'ing every 25~30 seconds you now have to "trigger" NMs in order to get desired drops. Someone not paying attention drags the fights out, or causes a "double proc" resulting in crap drops. If they don't pay attention, then they only have themselves to blame for not being up with the rest.
There are still some minor tweaks that need to be done to the "top tier" weapon group, as mentioned above when answering your mandau question, but currently Mandau is not "top bread winner" in the DD corner of daggers. It is still an amazing dagger all the same, but the WS and hidden effect just don't compare too well to the Abyssean counter parts Occasionally Double damage aftermath and WS damage potential. You'll notice a boost once you get it to 90, but as SE found out on official forums it wasn't enough to satisfy an upset mob of relic holders. A reply from the moderation team over there stated that the dev team is considering boosting relic again, but didn't elaborate on how or when this would take place. Edited, Mar 31st 2011 1:26am by Sohza