We live in strange times when a demo can get a hefty patch, but it's well worth downloading Episode Duscae's several gigabytes 2.0 update. In our first, pre-patch look at this early glimpse of Final Fantasy XV, we noted that it's clear that the game has huge potential: the open map is quite absorbing, the title's sense of style and overall art direction is interesting, and it seems very much like an evolution of Square Enix's most iconic franchise. However, with everything that Episode Duscae 1.0 did right, one or two little things always seemed a bit off.
As you may expect from a demo, the whole thing felt unfinished. An unstable frame rate, a battle system that didn't quite click as naturally as intended, and some questionable design choices kept proceedings from being as impressive as they should have been – after all, this was our very first decent look at a release that's now almost a decade in the making.
Which brings us nicely to update 2.0, which, by and large, aims to bring Episode Duscae up to speed with the latest engine improvements and gameplay mechanics. Almost immediately, it's clear that the demo's just that little bit smoother: the camera is more responsive, the frame rate is more even, and the controls in general seem better adjusted.
This is no more apparent than during combat, where Noctis now reacts far quicker when it comes to holding down L1 to enter his defensive stance. When fighting against squads of magitek soldiers, for example, it's now possible to evade their blows just as they're about to connect – something that was previously much harder to pull off thanks to the stance's delayed start. What's more, Noctis now has a dodge roll, which is mapped to circle while holding down L1. Although the roll doesn't grant the well-groomed hero full invulnerability during its animation, it's still a very, very handy addition, and gives the defensive stance that much more versatility, especially when it comes to mobility.
Good stuff so far, then, and it gets better when it comes to offensive options in combat. With the 2.0 update installed, you'll reach a point after resting at camp where Noctis will be gifted with the ability to pull off team attacks, otherwise known as cross chains. A great new addition seeing as combat was previously lacking some spice, cross chains occur when one of your fellow party members calls for your aid, and a big yellow indicator is placed in the battle area. Move Noctis within the brightly coloured circle, and a cross chain will initiate.
They're essentially quick-time events, requiring you to push square at specified intervals during cinematic attacks, but, as hinted, they add some much needed kick to combat. Keep whacking square with the right timing, and the gang will beat the targeted enemy to an absolute pulp. The twist here is that as you keep your rhythm up, it gradually becomes more difficult to perfectly time each button press, and if you get it wrong, the combo comes to an end, complete with the team breathing heavy sighs of disappointment.
Your best bet, though, is to hit triangle when the opportunity presents itself. After several consecutive blows, pressing triangle unleashes a named, team-based finisher. The move that you get depends on your current party and how many hits you've racked up, and they're all great to watch. Not only that, but they're also understandably powerful, too, and make fights against big foes with tediously large health bars far, far more tolerable.
Moving away from battle, the patch also adds several small quests that can be found scattered about the landscape. While none of them are overly exciting, they do give you an excuse to dive back into the demo and try out the aforementioned cross chain techniques. However, in order to learn said techniques, you'll need to take advantage of one of the update's other main features: companion tours.
After resting at camp, you may be asked to go on a jaunt with one of your buddies. Following a quick cutscene where Noctis and his chosen partner decide to set off on their own, you'll be tasked with travelling to a certain point on the map. With the buff Gladiolus, for example, you'll stop by the roadside while he teaches you all about cross chains by slaughtering poor, innocent herbivores. He's a charmer, that one.
The tours are definitely a nice touch, particularly since we assume that they'll play a more important role in the final release. It seems as though these smaller buddy quests will be one way in which the game fleshes out its cast, although it goes without saying that what's on offer here is very basic. For instance, there really isn't much dialogue to be had, and most of what is here is usually made up of weird grunts and annoyingly deep sighs. We've said it once and we'll say it again: the English voice acting needs a lot of refinement.
Finally, we come to what is perhaps the demo's most talked about new feature: the ability to fight those gigantic creatures that dwell in the lake. The beasts, known as catoblepas, are insanely tough to bring down, and at times, make Deadeye the behemoth seem like a walk in the park. As such, it's clear that the option to face these new monsters has been added almost purely to extend your time spent with Episode Duscae. Still, fighting the beast is worth the effort for the sheer spectacle of it all.
Update 2.0 doesn't transform Episode Duscae, but it does have a hand in making you realise how bare bones the demo was before. The big deal here is that combat actually feels somewhat finished, and spending some time exploring the countryside now feels more enjoyable as a result. Undeniably, there are still numerous mechanics that the development team will have to smooth out before the final product eventually launches, but again, what's here shows some impressive potential – now more so than ever.
Do you still dive into Episode Duscae every now and then? Get your friends, get your car, and take a trip into the wilderness otherwise known as the comments section below.