Final Fantasy XV's first real slice of downloadable content, Episode Gladiolus details a part of the story from the main game that was left frustratingly vague. A decent way into the adventure, burly bodyguard Gladiolus - Gladio for short - up and leaves the party with little explanation. He comes back later brandishing a fresh scar on his forehead and a newfound confidence. This character episode fills that narrative gap, as you guide Gladio through a linear combat-packed dungeon in his quest to become stronger.
To start with, it's worth pointing out that Episode Gladiolus only costs £3.99/$4.99, assuming that you don't own the season pass. It's certainly an affordable add-on, but don't go expecting more than what you're paying for. It took us just over an hour to complete the DLC on its normal difficulty level, and although it has its own list of Trophies and extra modes - such as score attack and a tough optional boss fight - we didn't really feel the urge to stick around once we saw the credits roll.
This is mostly because playing as Gladio just doesn't quite cut it. Final Fantasy XV's combat system definitely isn't perfect, but it has a nice rhythm to it and pairing up with your allies to dish out special attacks gives the otherwise standard hack and slashing a much needed kick. But here, you're stuck with Gladio's somewhat monotonous sword swinging, and your comrades are obviously nowhere to be seen.
For much of the adventure you'll be joined by Cor - a reasonably cool character that the main game utilised for all of five minutes - and even though he does his best to help you during smaller skirmishes, his presence is no substitute for the dynamic that Noctis and his buddies have.
Speaking of the wayward prince, Episode Gladiolus unsurprisingly does away with all that teleporting business in favour of a more predictable defensive option in the form of Gladio's shield. When you're not cleaving beasties with your great sword, you'll be blocking incoming attacks. Raise your shield at just the right time, and you'll be able to perform a counter hit that does big damage. It all works well enough, but the combat system's fundamental lack of depth really begins to show once its flashy exterior has been stripped away.
As such, the DLC's battles quickly start to feel like you're just going through the motions. This is especially true once you're used to the timing of Gladio's aforementioned counter attack, allowing you to smash the add-on's few boss enemies with relative ease. That said, the final encounter does make for a pretty engaging duel, so at least the episode ends on a high note.
And that's just about it, really. There's not much story here - just the odd typically stilted conversation between Gladio and Cor - but we do like the setting. Caves can often end up being some of the most boring locations in gaming, but this particular set of tunnels and treacherous pathways kept us engaged thanks to some pleasant lighting and a load of interesting environmental details.
For its asking price, Episode Gladiolus is a decent little distraction, but a distinct lack of substance keeps it from being an essential addition to Final Fantasy XV. Combat doesn't have the same spice without the usual party members, and although the DLC ends with an enjoyable boss fight, it's not quite enough to make this a memorable test of strength.