Final Fantasy XV was the first entry in the series that grabbed me. The scale, the action, the characters and the urban-fantasy aesthetic all came together to make a JRPG I could sink my teeth into. One element I wasn’t all that big on, though, was Gladiolus: a character whose only real trait is “I am muscular.” Compared to the other three central boys, Gladio irritated me almost every time he spoke.
And so here we are at FFXV’s Episode Gladiolus DLC. A short mission that follows Mr. Muscles as he goes off on his own to prove himself a worthy shield for Prince Noctis. There are some impressive moments, and the mechanical changes from the core game work well, but it convinced me that Gladiolus is, for all his good looks, the worst boy. Oh, and the fact this is paid DLC stings a lot.
Episode Gladiolus takes place in the middle of the main game’s story. Following Gladio suffering an embarrassing defeat, he goes off to prove himself to the Blademaster and try and regain confidence in his own skills. The mission is dang linear, following Gladio’s trials to prove himself through a series of perilous caves and tunnels. The environments vary from “rock, rock, and yet more rock” to some of the most stunning landscapes seen in the game so far – valleys and caverns of gleaming crystals look gorgeous.
Some of the most stunning landscapes seen in the game so far
As it’s separate from the core game, Episode Gladiolus does away with almost all the JRPG elements and leans heavily onto the series’ new-found hack and slash mechanics. Gladdie has a rage meter that boosts his damage output with every block and bit of damage taken, and successful attacks will open access to devastating special attacks. He’s a lot slower than Noctis, relying on meaty broadsword swings more than flitting around the battlefield, but it feels fantastic none-the-less.
Taking Gladio away from the support of his three chums makes the hordes of enemies a real threat, and the bosses encountered can be incredibly challenging. There’s a greater focus on reading the enemy and carefully-timed parrying, conserving the few restoratives you have at your disposal for when they’re absolutely needed. This newfound focus on combat and planning over grinding levels in the core game is a nice change of pace, and Gladio’s fighting style complements it well.
Its position in the wider story doesn’t make sense
Besides a few cool fights, there really isn’t enough to Episode Gladiolus to warrant it being a paid-for DLC. It doesn’t add anything to the overall story, doesn’t add to Gladio’s wafer-thin character, and doesn’t introduce anything worthwhile to the lore. It’s the most boring of the foursome going off to do some trials that we’ve never heard of before to prove himself to someone we know nothing about for no reason other than to boost his own ego.
What’s worse is that Gladio decided this is obviously the best thing for him to do, despite his closest friend, the person he is duty-bound to protect, being in the biggest danger he has ever been in. Its position in the wider story doesn’t make sense, and it directly contradicts Gladio’s cool, level-headed personality.
Worst of all is how cut-content the whole affair feels. Ever since the main game’s launch, at the point where the DLC is meant to happen, Gladiolus will trot up to Noctis and say “yo, I need to go deal with some stuff” and then bugger off for an entire mission (a mission that is significant story-wise, too). He then returns with a new scar and vague hints at what took place, and then the story continues like absolutely nothing happened.
Later on, the newly-added (as a free update) alternative path for Chapter XIII, a path that follows Gladio and Ignis and utilises the DLC’s mechanics, serves as an ad, complete with a “play more of this with Episode Gladiolus” pop-up at its completion. I’d have been okay with this obvious “get ready to buy more story, player!”, immersion-killing moment had the story been worth a damn, but it wasn’t.
Episode Gladiolus is DLC you can safely skip. While the new combat mechanics are neat, and there are some cool bosses to face off against, how it fits into FFXV – from its lack of plot significance to literal “buy the DLC now!” pop-ups over the course of the game – reek of the worst kind of DLC this side of pay-to-win. Sorry Gladio. You’re nice to look at, but not much else.
A copy of this DLC was purchased by the reviewer.
Platform: PlayStation 4 [Reviewed]/Xbox One
Developer/Publisher: Square Enix
Release date: Out Now
- Great environments.
- Meaty combat.
- Challenging bosses.
- Very short and linear.
- No character or story development.
- Feels like cut content.
The fresh combat and stunning environments don’t make up for a small and inconsequential piece of DLC that really should’ve been part of the main game.