I will admit, its not often that I even consider doing a full review for downloadable content. However, there’s enough to talk about for this DLC that it warrants some discussion, resulting into some sincere criticism that I would love for Square Enix to consider for future content. Sure, some games almost add seemingly better content well after release, while Square Enix seems to be enriching the other characters with Final Fantasy XV‘s new episodes. March saw the release of the first new piece of content, Episode Gladio, which obviously focuses on Gladio. Does this new story truly enhance what we know of the King’s Shield or leave players wanting more?
Episode Gladio comes in a few separate parts, starting with the main story of Gladio’s Trials of Gilgamesh. In this scenario, Gladio has left the party temporarily after taking a major beating from Ravus. Not wanting to fail his King again, Gladio pursues the Blademaster Gilgamesh and the power he could gain from defeating this legendary swordsman. Accompanied by his mentor Cor, Gladio dives into dark caves to find Gilgamesh, accepting all of the harsh trials within.
What results is a linear dungeon delve filled with plenty of enemies to take down and a couple stand out boss fights. Truly setting himself apart from what Noctis offers, Gladio plays with much more weight than the King, swinging his massive greatsword and studying his foes behind his shield. Fighting as Gladio is a ton of fun and focuses more on watching enemies closely and exploiting their weaknesses with well-timed parries and unleashing powerful special attacks. These special attacks build over time, bouncing higher with each successful attack. This mechanic is coupled with the Rage bar, which adds more damage to each blow when taking damage or blocking. At max value of these bars, Gladio can deal out some insane damage to anything that stands in his way.
Combat has an interesting rhythm to it, tackling multiple foes at once, blocking properly or making a slick dodge, all while swinging that iconic sword and unleashing impressive special attacks. I found it best to just wait until the best special attack can be used, although there are a couple that have situational uses. Gladio can also lift up pillars and swing them at beefier foes to do massive damage and stun larger monsters. Using the pillars has a satisfying crunch, but it does feel much slower. Also, many of the bosses can be bested by just wailing on them with pillars, filling up the special bar, and unleashing the strongest attack, which can be a bit lackluster in spots.
The bosses in Episode Gladio are a mix of some of the strongest monsters in Final Fantasy XV proper. Some of them even have special scripted moments, which when pulled off, look awesome. It takes some skill and timing to pull these off, but they’re not required for success. These battles never really feel impossible either, making Episode Gladio a fairly easy adventure. The main exception to this is Gilgamesh himself.
While Gilgamesh is not the ridiculous jester-like character we’ve sometimes known him to be, his character design in this episode makes him a total badass. Going for a wise, traveled swordsman, Gilgamesh fights with his one arm, pulling multiple swords from the piles of discarded weapons of those who have fought him over the years. This fight has two phases, with the second being an absolute blast. Blades clang against blades as the tempo of the fight doubles, leaving Gladio scrambling to keep up.
Defeating Gilgamesh is a big moment for Gladio, as he has finally surpassed Cor, who fought Gilgamesh as a teenager and was the only one to survive attempting the trials. Cor’s battle had him leave his Genji Blade behind, which is what Gilgamesh uses as his final weapon. After finally achieving more power, Gladio leaves Gilgamesh’s trial with that very same blade as his prize. He reunites with Noctis and friends at the end, where he shares his story over a campfire.
Unfortunately, there isn’t as much character growth or elaboration in Episode Gladio, leaving much to be desired as a narrative. This episode focuses mostly on the intense combat of the character, which it achieves with flying colors. However, even just tweaking the amount of dialogue could’ve given players such a deeper look into both Gladio and Cor. The story here just falls flat.
It’s also important to know just how short this episode is. I finished it in a single sitting, taking only about three hours. I also took my time to explore every nook and cranny of the caves, taking in the impressive visuals of the area. If anything, this dungeon has some great moments. With it being linear, some epic images can be forced, with my favorite being Gilgamesh’s bridge, which is littered with weapons. To get more time with the episode though, there are a couple other challenges to tackle.
Score Attack is exactly what one would expect. It’s the same dungeon of the main story, but with all the cutscenes omitted. Points are achieved by doing damage and the like, making running through multiple times encouraged. My first run I got over 500,000 points, which seems like a lot, but I’m not sure what other players have been getting. If anything, this mode is another excuse to enjoy Gladio’s unique combat, which is pretty cool.
Final Trial is the biggest challenge for players, putting Gladio up against the insanely powerful Cor. I still have not won this fight, as even my best attacks took minuscule amounts of Cor’s health. Items are also limited, which means success will entail absolutely perfect blocks and parries. One could compare this fight to Sephiroth, specifically his Kingdom Hearts incarnation. However, Gladio doesn’t have the toolset that Sora has, making this fight that much more frustrating.
Players who enjoy unlocking achievements and trophies will have a few more to unlock, forcing the player to gather every item or hit over a million points in Score Attack. If anything, getting these trophies are fun for those looking to beef their profile. Getting the one for beating Cor certainly has some bragging rights attached.
Also, the infamous Chapter 13 of the main game gets an additional section that allows the player to play as Gladio. This is pretty cool, if a bit trivial. When Noctis is separated from Gladio and Ignis, the two follow the King’s footsteps. Unfortunately, this doesn’t really add much to the story behind the game’s climax, merely extending the amount of battles. I did enjoy getting to play as Gladio more though, as I truly enjoy his combat style. I’m not sure its worth playing the entire game over again to get to this moment, but for some it may be an excuse to reload an old save file at the least.
A lot of folks have been complaining about just how small of an experience Episode Gladio is and I’m inclined to agree with their frustration, at least partly. This episode could have been so much better, but what is presented is a fun way to spend an evening. Players unlock the Genji Blade and an additional outfit for Gladio (which is the big man shirtless) after beating the challenges of this downloadable content, which is pretty cool when jumping back into Noctis’ shoes. I would have loved to see a deeper exploration of Gladio’s character, but at the end of the day this piece of content is incredibly inexpensive.
Hopefully, the next pieces of post-launch content for Final Fantasy XV will take more advantage at the opportunity. We get to play as Prompto next and if his teaser is anything to judge from, his story could be way more dramatic than what was presented for Gladio.
Episode Gladio is available for $4.99 on both Xbox One and PS4 or as a part of the Season Pass for $24.99. Three more pieces of content are planned for release later this year. Episode Prompto is coming this summer.