FFXV "Episode Gladiolus'" Impressions: Refined, Brutal Combat Takes Center Stage

Gladiolus was always the tank in Final Fantasy XV. It was just never more apparent than in "Episode Gladiolus," FFXV's first premium DLC.

Due to release March 28 as Final Fantasy 15's first premium DLC, "Episode Gladiolus" is a fun romp through the world of Eos from the perspective of FFXV's resident tanky brawler.

Never in Final Fantasy 15's base game did Gladio feel more powerful than he does here in this DLC episode -- and that's such a good thing. From simply pounding enemies into the dirt to strategically doling out punishment, Square Enix has (seemingly) made "Episode Gladiolus" feel at once familiar and different than FFXV.

Highlighting the best of what Gladiolus has to offer as a reckless rabble-rouser, let's take a quick peek at what this first Final Fantasy 15 DLC will bring to the table in regards to combat. 

"Episode Gladiolus" Takes Final Fantasy 15's Combat to an All-New Arena

While I can't specifically talk about the story elements we saw during our PAX East demo with Square Enix, I can say that "Episode Gladiolus" pits the eponymous tough-guy against some truly vicious villains during a time where he leaves Noctis and crew to come to grips with his past. This means that Gladio also has some new tricks up his sleeve -- tricks that take FFXV's combat to exciting new arenas. 

Much more a powerhouse than Noctis' nimble, rogueish build, Gladio is slow, but his attacks pack a walloping punch that often devastates any and all enemies in his vicinity. However, this doesn't mean that Gladio is an invulnerable tank. To add a delicate wrinkle to this episode's combat sections, Square Enix has carefully designed a fairly balanced system of offense and defense that players must adhere to in order to make it through some of the DLC's dicier encounters. 

Let the Rage Flow Through You With Gladio's New Rage Meter

While we all love an invulnerable Chuck Norris brawler that takes hit after hit without ever going to the mat, Square Enix took a more eloquent route when designing Gladiolus' combat style in "Episode Gladiolus." Rewarding strategic defense and perfectly timed blocks, Gladio's new Rage Meter adds a damage multiplier to his offensive move set -- allowing players to meter out devastating blows at just the right moment. 

This is especially useful during "Episode Gladiolus'" boss fights, where high-damage attacks are encouraged.

Whereas players will be able to (most often) smash through hordes of regular enemies in many of the DLC's more linear sections, they'll want to adhere to a more strategic battle plan in boss arenas, where they can use Gladio's Rage Meter to its fullest and most devastating potential. 

Use the Environment to Smash Enemies Into Oblivion

Another really interesting aspect of the combat in "Episode Gladiolus" is the implementation of environmental attack options. Over-the-top in every single way, Gladio can now rip huge pillars of stone out of the ground and use them as veritable baseball bats -- inflicting huge amounts damage upon his enemies. 

The downside to this is that doing so significantly slows Gladio's movements. He essentially becomes a seething snail, slowly ambling around the battlefield until an enemy comes within striking distance. But when they do, the payoff is well worth it. 

In my time with the DLC, I found that using these pillars was most effective when Gladio was overwhelmed by NPCs in tight places, or when facing off against a powerful boss. While fighting in more open areas, where enemies are far more spread out, the pillars often slowed Gladio so much that this powerful trade-off was negated. 

When Did FFXV Become Part of the Dark Souls Universe? 

Aesthetically, "Episode Gladiolus" -- at least in the demo I was able to play at PAX East -- looks a lot like From Software's Dark Souls series. From tight, dark corridors to dingy, tattered expanses, each locale I visited was infused with a grungy and dismal design that often evoked a feeling of torment and despair. 

Even its bosses looked as if they'd been pulled directly from the Dark Souls universe. One appeared as a beefier version of Dark Souls' Armored Hollow, while another looked like Dark Souls II's Guardian Dragon. Yet another could have been pulled straight from Dark Souls III's Farron Keep, replete with poison and necromancy attacks.

All in all, the design change, however slight, was a welcome departure from FFXV's often brighter and cheerier environments. 

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With a hard-hitting heavy metal soundtrack that fits its tough, yet refined combat, and sometimes terrifying enemies that border on spectral horror, "Episode Gladiolus" looks to showcase new parts of Eos and the Final Fantasy 15 universe in clever and intriguing ways. Coming in at about one and a half to two hours in length, this first piece of DLC will also introduce a score attack mode, as well as other goodies, once the core campaign has been completed.

Come March 28, players looking for a more aggressive alternative to Final Fantasy 15's core battle system -- and a look into the time when Gladiolus ventured off on his own to fight the blademaster, Gilgamesh -- will have a lot to sink their teeth into. 

Stay tuned for more updates and our official review of the "Episode Gladiolus" DLC as the release date draws closer!

Published Mar. 19th 2017

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