After getting a delay, Final Fantasy XV’s multiplayer expansion Comrades finally launched last week. The long-awaited mode is included for those who purchased Final Fantasy XV's season pass, or can be purchased separately for $19.99. For a little context, Comrades allows you to create your own avatar and be a member of the Kingsglaive, the Lucian royal family's special forces unit. The expansion covers the missing 10 years of time near the end of the main story, so I recommend you play through Final Fantasy XV before touching it. However, if you don’t care about the story, you can still enjoy this new mode. After playing close to 20 hours of Comrades, I’ve learned the ins and outs pretty well. Here are my extensive impressions, which should help you decide if Comrades is a good fit for you.

Making Your Character
Going into Comrades, I didn’t know what to expect. The beta was far from smooth, and outside of its MMORPGs, Square Enix isn’t exactly known for implementing strong multiplayer experiences. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised at how captivated I was immediately. The creation tools are extensive, letting you customize everything from your facial features and body type, to even the color of your clothes and birthplace. You can go as crazy as you want with your appearance or create an avatar in your own image. I chose the latter (as you can see above) because, as a longtime fan, there’s something about seeing yourself as a Final Fantasy character that’s exciting as hell.

Getting Down To Business
As you complete missions, you unlock money, new materials, and meteorshards to help power up the world of Eos. This is an engaging loop, as in-game money can be spent on new weapons or even new clothing and tattoos. One thing that works in Comrades' favor is the lack of microtransactions; you can’t pay your way to progress or become more powerful. You use meteorshards to open up new areas of the world and missions. Watching your impact on Eos as you supply power to even more areas to save those in peril and seeing the map expand provides a satisfying sense of progression that had me hooked.

With up to three companions (friends, strangers, or A.I.), you tackle quests types that range from escort and defense to hunt and urgent. These different objectives lend variety to the experience, although sometimes you need to repeat missions to earn enough meteorshards to unlock new ones. Thankfully, missions are on the short side and usually don't take more than 10 minutes. My favorite quests are escort and urgent. While in most video games escort missions can be a drag, these force you to protect a target on the move such as a truck, while enemies come piling on you. Urgent missions have you taking on the biggest bosses, often providing the greatest challenges. The rewards for these clashes are worthwhile, such as letting you unlock a new branching path on the map or tombs to get Royal Sigils, which allow you to add stat bonuses alongside unique abilities to your character, from enhanced healing to extra combat maneuvers. 

The Art Of The Battle
A big part of the game is collecting materials to add to your weapons, which range from maces and shurikens to shields and pole arms. All weapons have a level cap, and deciding which materials to use can be make-or-break to your success. Some materials even imbue your weapon with passive abilities, from charge boosts to an increased chance to negate damage. I had a blast experimenting with weapons; nothing makes you feel more powerful than adding a new ability or watching its power increase before your eyes. Your weapon choice can be crucial to battle and also change up your play style. Shurikens and daggers may be fast, but do less damage, while lumbering maces hit hard but leave you more vulnerable. In addition, crafting can help exploit enemy weaknesses depending on what elements you imbue in your weapons. When I fought fire bombs, I made sure to make good use of my ice shuriken. Comrades does a good job encouraging you to experiment with different weapon types and their affinities. At first, I thought a shield wouldn’t be much fun in battle, but then I realized charging with it and blindsiding foes is fun, and its protection against status ailments is a great perk. 

If you liked Final Fantasy XV's battle system, you'll feel right at home with Comrades – the expansion sticks well to what made Final Fantasy XV’s combat feel so fluid. Warp-strikes are still a big focus, and you can initiate a chain with your party members with a well-timed block in order to do devastating damage. Swapping among weapons is fun; shurikens are perfect for slashing up enemies both in long and close range, and crossbows are a great choice for those who want to stick to the sidelines and focus on avoiding an enemy's reach.

While combat is just as entertaining as I remember, I enjoy it even more when I team up with friends. Technically, you can just play through the expansion with A.I. companions, which are adequate, but you’re missing out on part of what makes the experience so fun. Battles are still flashy and energetic, but I prefer marveling with a friend at a larger-than-life boss coming our way,  then teaming up for a well-timed chain of warp-strikes to eviscerate it. Better yet? Just like Prompto’s photography skills in XV, pictures are taken during battle as a way to commemorate your achievements. (And just like Prompto’s, some are hilariously bad). 

While I loved playing Comrades with friends, the load times can get in the way of the fun. You need a lot of patience at start-up and after missions, and even loading into the different zones you open that are essential to visit for new gear and weapons is a pain. When playing with others, I didn’t experience too many connection issues; only one quest dropped my party and they were quickly placed as A.I. members so I could still finish the mission. 

So, Should You Play Comrades?
That depends. Did you like Final Fantasy XV’s combat? Do you want to revisit the world and uncover a part of the story that’s been missing? Are you just looking for some fun with your friends? Comrades provides all of these things, and it’s much better than I expected. However, the experience is far from perfect. Comrades does a poor job of explaining its mechanics to you, so expect some guesswork. Also, anticipate repeating quests just to get more shards. It feels like a slow burn in a way. I’m level 16 and I’ve invested close to 20 hours into it. Right now, the level cap is 50, which means there’s a lot to do. However, the grind to unlocking new content often feels tedious. Still, nothing can replace the fun moments I’ve had playing it with my friends and the delight we take in unlocking new things, even if it’s just cool new clothing or a minor mission. Also to its strength is its callbacks to the main story. You never know when you’ll come across a cool reference to the main game or spar against a familiar face. Despite my few frustrations, I know I’m happy with the time I’ve invested in it.