A Plague Tale: Requiem – Exclusive Preview
Playing two full chapters of A Plague Tale: Requiem, I felt completely immersed in the harrowing world first created in developer Asobo Studio’s original game, A Plague Tale: Innocence. The moving storytelling, engaging mix of puzzle and stealth gameplay, and yes, trucks full of rats, still remain. But what impressed me the most were the steps forward the sequel seems to take in all of the above areas. With much more involved combat systems and a smarter approach to stealth, there seems to be plenty of fun to be had among all the blood, rats and tears.
Requiem picks up six months after the events of Innocence, with the brothers Amicia and Hugo seeking to put behind them the horrors of their first adventure in 14th-century France. Predictably, where they go, trouble quickly ensues. And in this world, trouble means rats. Despite a victory at the end of the original, all is not well with Hugo. He clearly hasn’t completely overcome the disease that haunts his family, and so a trip to southeastern France awaits him in order to seek a cure.
A Plague Tale: Requiem Screens [2022 Update]
If the original Tale of the Plague centered around a loss of innocence for the children of Rune, then the sequel is about them grappling with the guilt that comes with their actions. The disappearance of every enemy soldier (and there were quite a few in the short section I played) that comes between Amicia and her objective weighs heavily on her mind. She is often seen hunched over on the ground with her head in her hands, wondering why this nightmare is happening around them. It’s not too different from her reaction to the murder in the first game, but this time around Amicia has more dimensions with a greater range of emotions expressed – namely anger.
Halfway through my time with Requiem, rage washed over Amicia, showing her in a completely different light than we had seen before. Guard after guard fell victim to my slingshot, as boulder after boulder cannonaded over heads like a timid coconut mortal. It was a display of sheer violence never seen before in A Plague Tale, but what stuck it so strongly in the memory was the complete lack of remorse on the part of Amicia, who scolded as every stone shattered in the air.
This new acceptance of what she believes to be a necessary course of action is reflected in the new tools at her disposal. A heavy crossbow can now be used to down enemies, including armored soldiers that slingshot projectiles would only bounce off. It takes a few seconds to complete (after all, these are 700 year old weapons used by a teenager), but they pack quite a punch when unleashed. To compensate for their potency, it seems crossbow bolts are fairly rare, with only a handful found dotted throughout entire chapters. However, these bolts can be combined with materials to produce an even greater effect, just like any type of ammunition like stones and disposable pots.
Some of these alchemical blends will be familiar to those who have played Innocence – Ignifer and Extinguis, which ignite and extinguish flames respectively – as well as new ones. In the section I played, I was able to try out one of these additions: Tar. Throwing tar at a burning flame temporarily increases the radius of that light source, providing a potential solution to one of the game’s many puzzles. It also has its uses in battle; lure enemies into a pool before setting them on fire with a carefully thrown Ignifer.
There are over 20 different gear and ammo combinations to play with in Requiem, and managing them is all the easier with an improved crafting and weapon wheel. Switching weapons is fluid, and the fact that you now have unlimited stones to throw at any given time is frankly a godsend. It’s not just Amicia that has new toys to play with; his little brother Hugo is now able to ease his special relationship with the ongoing rat infestation in France.
Things went pretty badly for the young man at the end of Innocence when he discovered he could control rats with his mind. Hugo now seems a bit more in tune with his powers and has some new tricks up his sleeve. Borrowing from other stealth action games like Hitman or the Batman: Arkham series, an Echo ability can spot enemies through walls at fairly long distances. At the same time, the Imperium ability that allows Hugo to control rats has been revamped. You’re no longer targeting where you’d like the rats to swarm from a third-person perspective, but instead taking a position inside the pack and stalking your prey by directly controlling your tidal wave of rodents. It’s a much more satisfying way to unleash a horde on your foes, with the results being quite vicious as the rats overwhelm and consume enemies so quickly that the echoes of their screams survive them.
It won’t surprise anyone to learn that there are a lot of rats in this game. And despite the events at the end of the first game, that doesn’t mean they’re all your friends now either. Step away from the light and you’ll still end up having dinner, so carefully working through puzzle sections is still a huge part of the game. they pour into a valley like a black and deadly tsunami. Innocence’s technical limitations allowed 5,000 rats to be on screen at any one time; with Requiem, those shackles are removed, with technology allowing more than 300,000 people to surround you at any given time.
A Plague Tale: Requiem – 2022 Xbox and Bethesda Games Overview
At its core, A Plague Tale: Requiem’s stealth combat and environmental puzzle gameplay loop is largely similar to its predecessor, but there are improvements across the board. Requiem allows for far more experimentation in its combat situations than Innocence ever did, and its new, much larger arenas only encourage it. They also lend themselves to a much more satisfying stealth experience.
Stealth games are at their best when they allow the player to feel smart and in control of an encounter. Innocence’s small, linear, often hallway-like sections never quite offered that, but some of Requiem’s battle locations are cavernous by comparison. It now feels like there are many interesting options in each area, rather than just one way to deal with a group of enemies. It feels less like a simple paint-by-numbers puzzle, and more like the challenge of building a LEGO set with half the instructions missing. The influence of The Last of Us was evident in Innocence, and those larger combat areas and the way you can sneak around them strongly remind me of Part 2 of 2020.
Some of the annoying quirks that can get you out of a stealth game have also been smoothed out in Requiem. Thankfully, one-hit kills are no longer inflicted on Amicia outside of specific scenarios (unless you’re playing hard mode), allowing you to take a bit of damage before taking cover and healing. If you get too close to an enemy, you sometimes have the chance to counter them. It also now seems much easier to get back into stealth once your cover is broken by breaking lines of sight and finding long grass – another benefit of the larger arena sizes.
In a segment of my demo taken from a later part of the game, I was confronted with a large open area of a quarry where a dozen soldiers were patrolling. I could choose to go the pacifist route and stick to the tall grass, crawling under well-placed carts and distracting the guards with ceramics until I reached safety. Alternatively, I could choose to go less Solid Snake and more Rat Crawler, extinguishing every flame in sight before unleashing a pack of flesh-hungry rodents on everyone in sight before wandering through the wreckage. Or, if I prefer, going back to basics and breaking them out with Amicia’s new ability to stab with single-use knives found all over the world.
Passive and deadly routes are offered, and you are also encouraged to choose a style. The new skill enhancement system reacts to the way you play and rewards you for your relevant actions with an invisible XP system. Take a deadlier approach and you’ll unlock new combat skills, but lean more towards being a silent ghost and you’ll get new abilities to help you sneak around more effectively. It’s a clever system that makes you think twice about how to approach each scenario, while subconsciously influencing the mindset your specific Amicia takes on through the story.
Outside of combat, what struck me the most was how much more color and life there is in the world, especially compared to the largely gray and brown Innocence. The original was already graphically impressive, but Requiem looks gorgeous at times. The weather effects in particular are striking, with dark clouds rolling in and waves of light crashing against the trees. This sequel is set in a region of France where you can see glimpses of civilization before the plague had its full impact. One of the places I saw allowed me to wander through bustling streets full of all the welcome (and some undesirable) sounds and sights of a butchery district, while more genuinely enjoyable surroundings included rolling fields and a cheerful campsite. While I can only assume this won’t ultimately be a happy story of two siblings enjoying all the beauty that the south of France has to offer, it’s very welcome not to constantly feel like you’re in the gutter this time around.
So it doesn’t look dire for Runes, with the variety I’ve seen in environments echoing the improved range of gameplay options. While I can’t help but think it all looks very familiar and not necessarily the giant leap some might have expected, Requiem at the very least seems like a refinement of an already successful formula. Whether that all comes together to take A Plague Tale to the next level remains to be seen, but from the roughly 90 minutes I’ve played I’m hopeful we’re all in for a fun time, but no doubt emotionally heartbreaking. .
Simon Cardy doesn’t like his chances in a plague scenario. Follow him on Twitter at @CardySimon.