Hands on with Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae

If you were bold enough to pre-order the Final Fantasy Type-0 HD remastering you got your hands on the demo for the upcoming Final Fantasy XV.

And despite what you think about Type-0 (which is a remarkably fun game to play), it is so worth it for Episode Duscae.

I played demo, and its rather short quest line, this weekend and have reported back on what blew me away… and what has me a bit worried.

Don’t worry, no spoilers here.

What I played

4 hours exploring the Duscae area, following the main quest-line, engaging in many battles, and trying not to cry because it’s all so pretty.

Pretty to look at

Final Fantasy XV is gorgeous. This is what “next-gen” feels like. But you didn’t need me to tell you that.

It’s difficult to “sell” the game’s graphics properly, because anyone who’s seen the screenshots and videos of the title can already tell that FFXV is going for visuals that will make you swoon.

But actually sitting and controlling your own tour through the game world is on a different level. The grass, the trees, the water, the beasts – everything just feels so right.

Well, until the lag hits. But more on that later.

I won’t gush about the game’s visuals too much – there are plenty of images/videos that will do it justice – but I will say this: Square Enix has put in a lot of time and effort (especially into the characters’ hair).

Lovely to hold

The move to action-RPG battle systems makes everything far more active and fast-paced. You engage enemies as they become alert to your presence and you don’t get whisked away to some battle area.

To be blunt, battles feel a lot like Dragon Age: Inquisition – though things don’t feel as ‘simple’ as assigning abilities to face buttons, and then spamming attacks.

It’s all about the weapons here: each weapon carries its own special ability (which consumes MP), and where it’s equipped in Noctis’s slots determines how you go about attacking.

Put a small sword in the Ravager slot and you attack quickly with lighter blows. Slap a great sword in there and you hit hard, but slow.

Getting to grips with the dodge/parry system proved quite challenging – especially when swarmed by enemies – but the warping is definitely one the coolest moves I’ve used in a game to date.

You can use Noctis’s warp ability to either engage enemies from quite a distance, or to quickly evade when things get hairy. During battles you can also warp to relative safety to regain HP and MP, before heading back into battle.

When you get knocked down to 0HP, you need to move quickly to regain health – either by smashing a potion or getting your buddies to help out. Each hit you take at 0HP reduces your ‘total HP’ bar. If that is depleted, it’s game over.

During the demo, Noctis’s companions mostly did their own thing, with no real way to adjust how they should act in battle. Presumably, this will change in the full release.

But if you break it…

The demo was not without its flaws, of course.

This is by no means the final product and there are a lot of things that will need to be ironed out before launch, but it is a bit worrying how even this small bite of the game puts the PS4 under a lot of stress.

When enemies swarmed, or I landed a big, sweeping blow, the frame rate dropped significantly and my PS4 groaned a bit. There was one instance where Noctis unleashed a tempest-spin with his great sword and I was worried the game might freeze up.

Read the Digital Foundry break-down if you like the nitty-gritty stuff.

These moments weren’t very common, thankfully, but even in exploration there were more than a few instances of sluggishness. The price we pay for eye-popping visuals.

Square Enix has already stated that the demo is running in the old engine, and the full game has already been upgraded to the latest version.

How the full game will run remains to be seen, but it’s tough to imagine the game running much smoother without some sort of visual knock.

Consider it sold

The Duscae episode isn’t a massive outing, but it’s more than enough to whet your appetite for what’s still to come.

Without spoiling too much: if Duscae sets the standard for how the rest of the game is going to play out – in terms of set-pieces, summons, and the mosnters we will face – we’re in for a treat. A massive, thunder-smashing, chorus-from-the-heavens treat.

Running in the new engine, with some of the more niggly bits of combat and exploration ironed out, Final Fantasy XV is looking to be an amazing return for the series.

I can’t wait.

If you have any specific questions about Final Fantasy XV’s gameplay, feel free to drop it in the comments below, or on the forums, and I’ll do my best to give you a run-down.

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Hands on with Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae

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