Final Fantasy XV’s core experience is an open-world affair, which makes DLC challenging. Do you simply place more story events within the existing world the player is familiar with, or opt for locales entirely new? Square Enix leans toward the latter with its upcoming Episode Gladiolus DLC, a combat-heavy affair I had the chance to spend quite a bit of time with at PAX East 2017.
Classy as always, Square’s demo location was tucked away on the Westin Boston Waterfront’s Mezzanine, across the street from the main expo floor and complete with private demo stations and coffee. I’ll admit the caffeine helped me enjoy the gruff, charismatic, but occasionally vacuous Gladiolus as a character more than normal. After a short five minutes, I'd parted ways with the landfaring Noctris-lead clan of the main game, met up with Cor Leonis at some remote fancy watering hole, and began discussing someone called the Blademaster. It’s DLC, so I’ll accept any premise as long as it’s fun. And with that, I was off.
The primary thrust of the plot is Gladiolus’ intent to brave a trial failed by Cor 30 years ago. To do so, he’ll need to navigate caves, defeat four harrowing bosses, acquire capability, and eventually fell Gilgamesh, the so-called Blademaster himself. Yes, it’s that Gilgamesh, at least from what I could tell. The entire DLC happens during that brief period where Gladiolus runs off during the main Final Fantasy XV game. He definitely seems like the sort of guy to dismantle an ancient, agonizing series of fights to the death during downtime, so I’m all for the episode's setup.
A brief tutorial introduces Gladiolus combat, and though it’s a far cry from what you’re used to with Noctis, the core tenets of the system are the same. Teleporting is out, and instead you can expect crushing blows, use of the environment as bludgeon weapons, and a whole lot of flashy combos once your special moves are charged up. Shielding is handled by pressing square (he has a literal shield, remember), and otherwise, you’re free to hack n’ slash to your heart’s content. Of particular note is his Maelstrom attack, a pumped-up spin move that is part cutscene and essentially obliterates everything within a certain radius. Once acquired, you'll use it often.
As mentioned earlier, the focus here is combat; traversal is mainly through linear caves, connecting areas of undead, hellish monsters to slay, which in turn connect each trial boss encounter. A standout for me was the second boss I faced, a partially airborne, reptilian fire-breather intent on pushing my shielding abilities to their absolute limits. I’d just acquired enhanced shielding as reward for the completion of the trial prior so this worked well, and before long Gladiolus’ Soulsian ways began to feel second nature. In fact, the entire DLC walks a curious parallel with the Souls series in general, something I attempted to forget but was continuously reminded of. I suspect enjoyment of Episode Gladiolus will be greater if you kill this comparison and bury it immediately, but the similarities are definitely there.
And that’s basically it. Cor accompanies you on your quest but only between trials, which he is barred from, and he’ll issue entertaining banter or endearing double entendre like yelling “Fast and Hard!” on repeat while battles unfold. It’s nothing too vastly different from the main game really, just with Gladiolus and his unique fighting style as the center of attention. My demo only allowed enough time to reach the third boss battle, which I was not able to clear, but what I saw was enough to pique my interest regarding the episode’s ultimate outcome. Just be aware that it appears to be a largely linear, combat-heavy smackdown throughout, and that's what you ought to expect.
Episode Gladiolus is set to release later this month on March 28th, and weapons acquired while playing will become usable in the main game. For better or worse, you probably won’t see Gladiolus the same way once you play it.
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