It's just a base item that's essentially worthless on its own. Even then no one is saying that you shouldn't have to do something to obtain it. Don't forget that, while none require a great deal of effort, you don't just get curor/Dom. OPs credits/or Bastion points automatically.
Just about. I got all the dominion ops credits I'll ever need in about 20-30 minutes. Even less for bastion points. As far as cruor, it's even easier. You get it from anything you do in Abyssea.
Then after you get your useless base item, you then have to obtain 8 seals through questing or NMs to upgrade it.
Can be done realistically in 3 or 4 hours with pick-up groups.
Then you have another 6 items to obtain to upgrade it further.
Can also be done in about a half day, although probably not in a pick-up.
Bottom line is that if you set your sights on a +2 piece, you can go from NQ to +2 in a single day with decent planning. Even a semi-casual player should be able to finish seals in one day, and +2 items in two more days of a few hours per day, finishing the piece in 3 days work.
Compare this to the old days when you went to Dynamis Bastok 20-30 times at 3 and a half hours per run in order to get the piece of relic armor you wanted. Or camped Nidhogg for years to get the equipment you want (or get the equipment for someone else, in my case). Equipment used to take on the scale of months and years to obtain, not hours and days. If you think empyrean feet are hard to obtain, you obviously weren't around for most of FFXI's history.
The fact that accomplishments require significant effort has always been my favorite aspect of FFXI. It's the component of FFXI that makes the environment so much more mature than other games because it forces people to work together. It's this very thing that is responsible for the fact that for 7 years, the average person was not a spitting, swearing adolescent like in most online games. Those people were weeded out because they couldn't get help to accomplish things. Those days are gone, you don't need a name or reputation anymore because stuff is so easy that nobody cares. Can you honestly tell me that you don't think the average player quality has gone down significantly since Abyssea was released?
First, I was around for the old days. I've been playing since 2004. Not the longest streak by any stretch of the imagination, but plenty long enough. I've participated in pretty much every aspect of the game except for crafting and the new Voidwatch thing. I guess you can look me up on FFXIAH or Guildwork. About all the proof I can offer you.
I remember all too well going to Dynamis, Sky, Sea, HNM/Kings, Salvage, ZNM, Einherjar, VNM. Been there. Done that. Came away with some nice stuff, but I never got everything I wanted. Compared to some, it wasn't even that long of a list. I remember going time and time again only to come away empty handed or worse off than when I started. After a while, that ceases to be fun if it ever even was in the first place. Sure it feels good when you get that piece you waited so long for, but it's more a sense of relief than accomplishment.
Are empyrean feet hard to obtain? They're about right except for the randomness of the base item. Sure you can get them in a very short amount of time from start to finish, but most people don't play that way, and even Abyssea is seldom that kind.
Of course, someone could go 1/1 on a Ridill or Herald's Gaiters as well. What would you say about their effort? Obviously they didn't spend a great deal of time on it compared to most. They did manage to kill the mob that drops the item though. So is their accomplishment marred by their lack of time spent? Does their comparative lack of effort make them unworthy of that item? Or is effort measured by something other than time?
As for the state of the playerbase, I don't really see much difference. There have always been good, bad, and ugly players and there always will be. Some will always find a way to succeed and some will always find a way to fail. The group I run with is very good, and the PUGs I've been in have varied but I haven't run into anything awful.
I don't recall jerks really being weeded out in the old days. To be honest, I saw more nice folks weeded out than jerks, and the deeper I got into endgame the more jerks I saw. Oh there were and are still great people around to be sure, but absolutely no shortage of horrible ones in both skill and attitude.
Running mainly with friends and not having to deal with all the drama that past events brought us has made my experience a much better one. I like being able to log in for a few hours, and actually feel like I didn't waste my time like I did so many nights with pre-Abyssea content. Waiting months and years for a piece of gear? Is that an accomplishment or is it masochism? So what if I finish a piece of empyrean gear quickly? I'll just start on another one. The way my LS works the faster someone finishes their set the sooner the next person can start theirs. More people are happy, and more jobs are well geared. I'm not really seeing the downside to that.
My apologies for what's probably a rambling mess.