No doubt, there was more/better "micro" story in FFXI, at the time of US release. I can talk to every NPC in Ul'Dah and the only way I can interact with them beyond a stock response is if I've been given a local levequest that directs me to them, or they're part of the main storyline and I'm on an active quest. There are no NPC quests whatsoever. Doing little things around town to build fame and get low level weapons/gear/scrolls when you first start out in FFXI definitely helps with the immersion. Building fame in a city makes you feel more like a hero. So does earning conquest points for your city as it competes with the other cities. The early missions also gave you more content and had more depth. The dragon to get rank 3 was a pretty big one that you do at around level 20. Getting khazam keys (ok, an expansion, I understand) at 25 was pretty big. Doing the rank 5 mission to get an airship pass was huge. Heck, climbing the spire in Quifm to fight the giant at the top was pretty big. Not to mention sub job quests, chocobo license and the original walk to jeuno. It seems like there's very little denying that there's a MAJOR lack of story and content in XIV. People keep trying to say XIV is new and there hasn't been an expansion yet but...
In XIV as of right now I'm level 20 LNC, 22 Physical, with several classes at 11. I'm starting the fourth (?) major storyline mission in the merchant ward in Ul'Dah. I haven't LEFT Ul'Dah or experienced ANY other town since I started. In fact, I haven't been more than 30 yards away from Camp Horizon/Drybone, at my very furthest from Ul'Dah.
In XI, by level 22/11, starting rank 4 missions, I'd have been in Bastok, N/S Gustaberg, Konstacht, Valkurm, Lathiene, Jugner, Batalia, Jeuno, Quifm... not to mention perhaps Selbina, Palborough Mines, Dangruf Wadi, Delkfut's Tower, Gusgen Mines. I'd have a Chocobo license. I'd have killed the 2-3 Dragon BCNM and been to the top of Delkfut to kill the giant. I'd feel SO MUCH more like an adventurer and hero than I do in XIV right now.
So far, in XIV, I've been grinding on rats and dodos in the desert without changing the scenery or traveling at all and I'm technically along. I'm not sure how much of that content came from expansions, but I'm pretty sure most of it was there from day one, even in Japan. At some point you call a spade a spade and admit XIV is lacking in this area big time.