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Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Final Fantasy XV: Episode Gladiolus

Final Fantasy XV
Episode Gladiolus

While this is the second Final Fantasy XV DLC we've reviewed, it was the first to be released, having been released all the way back in March to a decidedly lukewarm reaction -- certainly less of a positive reaction than Episode Prompto, which makes sense, since Gladio is both a less likable character and the star of a less interesting (both from a story and a gameplay perspective) DLC.

Set during the span of time when Gladio was absent from the party, Episode Gladiolus follows Gladio and Cor as they head into the Tempering Grounds, a set of ruins inhabited by Gilgamesh, Blademaster and Shield of the ancient Founder-King, which only one person -- Cor himself -- has ever left alive. Working their way down into the ruins, Gladio must face numerous trials and, eventually, Gilgamesh himself, to prove himself worthy of being Noctis' shield, and to obtain Gilgamesh's power.

So, every DLC is meant to mix up the gameplay some -- they have to, since weapon summoning, magic, and warping are all off-limits to the focus characters without Noctis around -- and while Prompto's DLC represents a pretty big and interesting shift in gameplay, reworking it as a stealth shooter with driving segments, Gladio's DLC decidedly does not. You are, in essence, playing exactly the same game as the main game, except with most of the gameplay features removed.

And all you really get out of it is a jacketless Gladio.

Well, no, there are a small number of trifling gameplay features added: Most obviously, the rage multiplier, which fills up as Gladio blocks attacks, up to a maximum of 3.0x. This increases his damage in combos, which also allows him to build up his special attack bar quicker.

But that's really it. It's the base game with most of what made the base game's gameplay interesting stripped away, replaced by a well-implemented but not terribly exciting attack multiplier mechanic.

Nor does the game have any semblance of an open world, unlike the small open world that Episode Prompto has. From start to finish, you're in a single dungeon, and it's not even an especially long dungeon -- it takes maybe a shade over an hour to complete, and can probably be done slightly quicker if you're overleveled or you rush through it.

Much like Episode Prompto, this DLC is in many ways a delivery system for plot and backstory details, and those details are pretty interesting: We learn that there was a 'Founder-King' (almost certainly Ardyn) who fought in the Old War, and that his army -- led by Gilgamesh -- would eventually become daemons who retained some of their mind, seemingly a precursor of sorts to the magitek soldiers; we learn that Gladio is, at least, somewhat aware that Noctis is going to die in his quest, which means Ignis and Noctis likely know too; and we learn a lot about Cor's backstory, and how he was an arrogant youth who entered the Tempering Grounds and barely left with his life, having failed the trial but impressing Gilgamesh by cutting off his arm.

Potentially Ardyn's Shield?

(Speaking of, I do actually quite like the reworked Gilgamesh. He has no relation whatsoever to classic Gilgamesh, but there's something quite delightful about taking a character known for having many arms and making him a one-armed swordsman.)

But the actual A-plot about Gladio confronting his fears sort of falls flat on its face. For starters, Gladio has the weakest personality of the group, so character development for him is always going to be a bit of an uphill struggle, but there's also the problem that he doesn't seem to really have any development at all until just after the fight with Gilgamesh is done, where he cheerfully has an important revelation about himself and then goes on his way. That's not very compelling.

The dungeon is, at least, very pretty, and the DLC has a better selection of boss battles (four whole boss battles! Exciting!) than Episode Prompto, so that's nice, I suppose, but it doesn't change the fact that this was a poor initial showing for the Final Fantasy XV DLCs. Much like Episode Prompto, you also get a new outfit and the chance to fight Cor at the end, so that's also good.

Lots of armoured not-exactly-magitek guys.

Episode Ignis will be coming out in December of this year, around a year after the base game came out, and in the meantime, we hopefully have some updates to look forward to. It's entirely possible that we might get another big story update, like we did just after Episode Gladiolus, and maybe even possible that some of the dummied out open world areas will be added back in -- but it seems, perhaps, somewhat doubtful, at least for the moment.

(Please, Square-Enix, please add in some of those incomplete areas. Let me explore Cartanica and that snowy area, I beg of you. I beg of you.)

There are apparently also plans for an Episode Ardyn in the future, which may well end up being part of a new trilogy of DLC episodes. Could we be seeing Episode Luna and Episode Iris (or Episode Cor, or Episode Regis, Episode Aranea) as well? Maybe! Anything's possible.

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