As someone who's spent a good chunk of time playing FFXI, the games are similar, yet also different. It's certainly not out of line to say Rift has more similarities than WoW, but as a genre, all the games will inevitably share common themes. Given the age of XI, though, the UI will more than likely be one of the more common complaints you'll see from people, secondary to "PS2 Limitations" that might prevent changes to said UI or other convenience tweaks like wanting complete gear swap sets for various actions (Though the degree this takes place in XI is almost foreign to later MMOs).
Anyway, as I remarked in another thread, I'm still on the fence about picking up the game. I've taken February off from XI for a mix of reasons, among them a mix of MMO burn out and community fatigue. I can't really expect any of these to be better as people will be people, but I also know that, in part, XI's mechanics are what encouraged others to behave the way they have over time, be it through greed or simple entitlement issues. These will never go away as long as people have differing play styles and a random number generator is present, but I suppose you can say I've been aching more for leniency and reasons to include people as opposed to excluding them.
Messing around in the last beta, I'd say they've achieved that to some degree with the Rifts rewarding everyone based on their contributions. I'm not entirely wild on the FFAs you'll see on random gear that may drop from a mob (Cloth wearers lotting on Plate I could use as a Warrior, for example), but the best I can figure in such instances is that it's maybe best to consider it never dropped at all.
Graphically, I haven't really had issue with environments. I'd been playing at max settings and all seemed smooth aside from maybe highly populated rifts where you might have a rough time finding what you're targeting and get pwned by a lack of auto-facing. I'm kind of disappointed with the character designs, though. I view them as a step up from WoW ***** the cartoony ****), but a step back from Aion's polish. And while I had plenty of beef with some of the absurdities of Aion's character creator (especially in the hands of those with no concept of proportions), Rift's at least seemed like a step back if what we saw in beta is retail. I honestly had a hard time settling on a female face I found pleasant, let alone a hairstyle. Not exactly a good thing since I want to play one. Either way, I finally settled on a High Elf, but it seems like a good chunk of other people agreed with my sense of aesthetics as I bumped into a number of clones whose only differences were eye and hair color. To that end, it was like FFXI all over again with there only being like 12 head models for a race, technically 6 since each had 2 colors. Far as actual armor goes, from what I saw throughout my leveling, most of what I came across was too mundane. Now, I'm not looking for Aion's peculiar mesh of Tron and medieval or WoW's love for spikey shoulderpads, but designs almost felt too... mundane. For chosen warriors, looking like fodder scrub soldiers might work in the early levels, but I don't wanna have to hit 50 and get rare gear just to look cool.
Anyway, I can't even begin to speak for the game on the whole, its crafting system, or even PvP. The last of which isn't something I'm particularly interested in since I've rarely gotten along with the types the pro-PvP style attracts. If anything, I'll get the game for a change of pace, but at the same time, I know it's not quite.
Violence good. **** bad. Yay America.