FF15’s new multiplayer mode is more impressive than I expected, but it’s got some load time problems.
The launch of Final Fantasy 15: Comrades feels like a strange old thing. Sure, Square Enix has put out trailers and the odd news blast, but it still feels all rather unceremonious. After a slight delay in release it’s now in the hands of the public, slipped under the Downloadable Content option in the main menu alongside one-hour slices of additional story. It feels like it deserves more.
There’s a few reasons for that. For one, FF15: Comrades is actually rather impressive, taking the world and core design of FF15 to create a fairly successful non-MMO Final Fantasy online multiplayer experience. It feels like a lot of time, money and effort went into its development, and for that the developers deserve kudos. It also feels incredibly relevant for the future: much here feels like a test for the future, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Final Fantasy 16 end up being at least little like a Destiny, Division or Borderlands affair with an epic story set to the backdrop of drop-in, drop-out multiplayer.
“FF15’s combat seems to fit a player-versus-enemy online setting particularly well.”
The influence of things like Destiny and Monster Hunter runs deep in Comrades. The basic structure consists of a hub area and a variety of missions with various objectives. Some are monster hunts where you’ll typically kill a number of smaller creatures to draw out a larger boss, while others will see you defending a particular spot or escorting a vulnerable NPC. Any given mission supports up to four players, and if you can’t find real people online through matchmaking to join with you can hire AI companions instead.
Each quest you complete nets you experience points, cash, loot and crucially electricity, Comrades’ main currency of progression. When a mission is complete you get bumped back to the hub, and there you can buy and upgrade weapons, pick up new clothes, chat to NPCs and spend that electricity to spread power into FF15’s now less-open world, opening up new missions and even additional hubs that you can visit.
This is what separates this multiplayer from what’s been attempted by the likes of Mass Effect and Dragon Age and pushes it more to Destiny territory – there’s a story, proper progression and a real sense of belonging in the world of FF15 for your custom character. The variety of weapons means you can essentially take on very different roles in combat, while the purely cosmetic clothes let you pick up a signature look. You quickly want to progress in order to improve your character.
To jump into minor FF15 spoiler territory for a moment, all of this takes place during a gap in FF15’s main storyline. Hero Noctis goes missing in action and the world falls into chaos for years, with monsters everywhere. You and your friends play characters of your own design trying to survive in that nightmare world while major NPCs from FF15 show up to help advance the narrative and offer a bit more colour to proceedings.
It all works quite nicely, with the loop of going from preparation in the hub to a mission to spending your upgrades and then back again satisfying and engaging. FF15’s combat was good to begin with as well, but its ‘relaxed action’ nature where it’s real time combat but without the twitch reactions seems to fit a player-versus-enemy online setting particularly well.
The pace of combat means that you have time to breathe and thus to strategise, working with your allies to smash body parts off monsters to make them more vulnerable or exploit elemental weaknesses. In this sense, Comrades feels like FF15 in general was built with it in mind.
In other senses, however, it feels cobbled together and rough. Loading is the main issue. FF15 proper is an open-world game with GTA-style loading. It has one large load at the start and then unless you fast travel or complete a chapter everything naturally streams. Comrades takes place in a conquered version of the same world – right down to its open nature.
When you’re in the hub of Lestallum, for instance, beyond the gates the world appears to be fully loaded in – you just can’t leave. This means that despite Lestallum being a modest-sized area, the load to get back there is enormous. When you warp to a mission you’re first sent to a camp site – one of the real ones Noctis and company can use in the main game – where you can prepare and gather your party. You can see the world off in the distance and even see objective markers pointing to Lestallum or other hubs, kilometers away. It’s strange.
The issue is that every time Comrades wants to send you to a missison, it’s essentially fast-travelling around FF15’s fairly sizable open world – and it does this way too often. When you take a mission, you’re sent to a nearby camp site, incurring a load time. Once your party gathers there, the game has to load again when it warps you to the actual mission location. When your objective is complete it warps you back to the camp site again for a debrief and then finally back to the hub. These load times together stretch into the minutes, even on the Xbox One X, the fastest of the three systems (Xbox One X, PS4 Pro, PS4) I tested Comrades on.
It doesn’t make for a smooth or snappy multiplayer experience – frankly, getting into a match becomes a chore. One great sign of a strong multiplayer experience is being bitten by the “just one more match” bug, but that’s difficult in Comrades – committing to another quest means committing to all those load times, and it’s off-putting.
In other places the adapation to multiplayer stumbles, like with clunky solo story-advancing missions, the warning that you should complete the main game before even trying the online and even the method of delivery – as part of the season pass or £16 alone, FF15 Comrades is an expensive proposition, and it feels like it’d be smarter to reel people in with this as a freebie and then charge for some add-ons.
The final perplexing thing is how difficult it is to get into a game with friends – the easiest thing to do is to Quick Match with a bunch of strangers, which is always less than ideal. In this area it all feels like it could use improvement, but it also seems that like the original FF15 for better and for worse this is still a work in progress – areas are referenced that you can’t yet visit, suggesting more is to come.
At its heart, Comrades definitely has the right ideas. It has problems that appear to largely stem from being built as an afterthought atop a single-player focused game, but many of the ideas it has for a multiplayer Final Fantasy experience are pretty strong, and there’s a particularly impressive effort to tell a proper FF story in a multiplayer setting that pans out remarkably well. Oh, and it has a lovely new theme tune by Nobuo Uematsu. If this is indeed a test for the future, it’s a solid proof of concept – if not exactly a must-play at this point in time.
Tested on primarily on Xbox One X, but with several hours additionally spent on the PS4 Pro and PS4 versions.