Unceremoniously tucked away under the downloadable content option on the game's main menu, Final Fantasy XV: Comrades is a full co-op-based expansion that takes place near the end of Final Fantasy XV's story. Without spoiling anything, it details the events of the world's darkest period, where humanity struggles to survive in a land that has no light. It's essentially a post-apocalyptic setting, and it's your job to help rebuild by restoring power to various different outposts scattered across the map.
You play as your own custom character this time around, and the expansion's plot focuses on your involvement. However, this isn't your typical role-playing adventure. Comrades has a lot more in common with something like Monster Hunter or Toukiden, in the sense that everything is hub and mission-based. You start out by selecting a specific quest, you join up with other players -- or computer controlled allies, if you want to play alone -- and then you're off to slay some monsters. Finish up the mission, return to your hub, upgrade your equipment, and repeat.
As mentioned, there is an overarching story here, but don't go in expecting it to be particularly deep -- it's really just a backbone for the many quests that you'll undertake. The majority of said quests see you lay waste to beasts of all shapes and sizes as you work to complete an overall objective. You may have to defend a certain location from waves of foes, or you might be tasked with taking down groups of enemies until a boss appears.
Unfortunately, the quality of missions can vary. The more basic tasks tend to be the most enjoyable, since you're just whacking creatures with like-minded people, but escort quests and more nuanced missions -- like having to stop a particular enemy from reaching a destination -- just feel awkward and, at times, frustrating.
This issue is driven home by the fact that missions generally only last a few minutes or so. Depending on how efficient your allies are, the action can be over in a flash, and this is where Comrades' biggest problem enters the equation: the load times are terrible. Bite-sized quests aren't necessarily a flaw on their own, but you end up spending more time waiting for the expansion to load than you do actually mashing monsters.
The whole structure of Comrades is defined by loading screens, and it all just feels so disjointed as a result. Boot the expansion up, loading screen. Select a mission, loading screen. Find players, loading screen. Finish pre-mission preparations, loading screen. Complete mission, loading screen. Prepare post-mission meal, loading screen. Eat post-mission meal, loading screen. Then you end up back at your hub ready to do it all again.
It wouldn't be so bad if you could simply stick together with the same players, but for some baffling reason, you can't. Once the mission's over, you end up all the way back at your hub, and you've got no choice but to repeat the cycle. It seems like such a significant oversight, especially when you consider how much time you're already wasting just to get to the point where you're grouped up with other players.
And ultimately, it's a shame that Comrades isn't better constructed, because there's definite fun to be had in banding together and taking the fight to the game's intricately designed enemies. The expansion doesn't do much to iterate on Final Fantasy XV's combat system, but it's the additional elements of teamwork that make it click. Healing your buddies with a well-timed burst of curative magic can mean the difference between victory and defeat, while chaining together warp strikes with your allies to topple huge opponents feels great.
Having said all that, we're not entirely sure whether Final Fantasy XV's combat system is refined enough to prop up an entire expansion. In the main game, combat was just one part of the whole, and when coupled with some enjoyable exploration, its shortcomings could be stomached. But with Comrades, it's really the core of the experience, and its lack of depth starts to show when you're hitting the same enemies with the same combos over and over again.
Different weapon types do encourage experimentation, as do various offensive spells, but even then, fights can all too often descend into chaos as players simply spam the most effective abilities and attack combos, negating any real need for tactical thought.
Taking all of these criticisms into account, it makes you question whether the grind is worthwhile. Buying new weapons and using creature materials to upgrade them can be rewarding, and the same is true of supplying power to other areas of the map -- but it's hard to keep yourself motivated when the game's so keen on placing obstacles between you and the action.
Final Fantasy XV: Comrades ends up being a missed opportunity. The groundwork for a good co-op-based grind is here, but constant bouts of loading make the whole thing feel like a chore. The bite-sized missions are mostly enjoyable, but they're overshadowed by how long it takes to actually get into the action, and Final Fantasy XV's somewhat stunted combat system just isn't strong enough to support an entire expansion. With a few updates, Comrades could get better, but right now, it's too flawed to recommend to anyone other than hardcore fans of the main game.