A Plague Tale: Requiem PC Review
I was caught by surprise by how much I enjoyed A Plague Tale: Innocence by developers Asobo Studio. This French video game developer does not have the most spectacular resume but delivered a great game that was clearly inspired by other third-person, cinematic, action-adventure games before it, such as Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us. I think A Plague Tale: Innocence flew under the radar for many people during its initial release, but word of mouth helped the title sell over a million copies.
Asobo Studio is mainly known for a few Disney video games from the 2000s and for developing ports for PC releases, such as The Crew, and ReCore. A Plague Tale: Innocence was the studio’s first original title in over 10 years, offering a compelling story about a boy with a bizarre infection and a sister who dearly loves him and does what she can to keep him alive. Along with this narrative were fun stealth mechanics through a rat-infested French setting in the 1300s during a period when the Black Death ravaged Europe. A Plague Tale: Innocence ended up being one of my top 10 games of 2019, so I was excited to see what the sequel would bring when it was announced during E3 2021.
I can confirm that A Plague Tale: Requiem is a great follow up to Innocence. It brings everything that was good about that game and makes it better, bigger and more beautiful. Going larger in scope is not always a good thing, but this time around it is clear to see all the improvements that do not hinder the experience they started with A Plague Tale: Innocence. This is improved in every way possible, and fans are truly going to enjoy continuing the story with the two siblings in their adventure around France.
The story continues six months after the events of the first game and follows Hugo de Rune and his reoccurring problems with the mysterious blood disease that activates again. This disease is known as the Macula and gives Hugo the ability to control the rats. It’s a rather powerful ability that has people within France wanting to grab Hugo for themselves to abuse him. The power also causes the rats to follow him, causing havoc within any place he stays for too long. We see what the damage can be early on as thousands of rats lay waste to a city in spectacular fashion.
His sister Amicia, the main character who the player controls while Hugo follows her throughout the game – there is no longer the need to control him with “Stay” and “Come” commands in this sequel, as the game does all these automatically – stands by her brother in the most desperate of circumstances to make sure he still manages to live. Amicia is put through hell to stay with her younger brother. No matter how many people try to take him away, she will do her best to stop them, even killing them with her trusty sling and a well-placed rock to the head.
With such a story-heavy game, I would rather not go into many details about what happens during this 15-hour violent adventure, which is almost nearly twice the length of A Plague Tale: Innocence. This should give you an idea of how much content has been packed into the sequel. I can say that the story once again centres around the relationship between brother and sister, and just how far they will go to help each other survive, testing their relationship and endurance that has been established throughout the hardship they have to overcome – I swear Amicia would give Lara Croft a run for her money in how she manages to stay alive during all the chaotic events that happen.
Amicia and Hugo love to speak to themselves, and I could see some people shouting at the screen a few times to tell them to stop being too overdramatic, as they soliloquy many times over to fill us in about their feelings. Still, this is a strong narrative helped by a strong voice cast that does a great job delivering the lines and adding the right emotion. There are some gut-wrenching scenes here that test the capabilities of the voice talent. The story does a brilliant job of engaging the player into the relationship and hardships of the two main characters and their new friends, be it through their squabbling and fallouts to rekindling their love, it is a tale through many emotions that delivers a stronger story than its predecessor, helped by the increased scope, scale and satisfying conclusion.
Requiem does not stray far from the original’s gameplay loop, rather it takes that as a building block add adds small improvements to its gameplay. Requiem is still a stealth game that requires players to think of their position and look for the progression through the environment while sneaking past the guards to get through each threatening location. Violence is an option, so players can take enemies down through various means, such as Amicia’s sling or her alchemy mixtures – nothing wrong with setting a poor fella on fire – which comes in handy depending on the enemy type. The bigger environments make for more open stealth plays, and while the game is still a linear experience, the ability to find many hiding places within a wider environment means that this is not just a one-location approach to get through without being spotted.
Other improvements to the core mechanics make for better gameplay. For example, Amicia no longer dies as soon as she is touched by a soldier, as she requires two hits to die. The first hit will knock her down, but she will scramble to her feet with red damage, with the next attack killing Amicia unless she manages to get away to safety to recover over time. This is better than previously, because sometimes in the first game, a guard might spot you that the player did not see, which happens in this game as well, and they would smack you for instant death. At least now there is a chance to fight against this. Also, if the guard that has spotted Amicia is coming towards you, there is a new counter option that will stun the enemy for a short time, enabling Amicia to get away. This does not work against a larger group, as there is simply not enough time to counter each individual soldier. This safety net reduces the impact of how scared a player should be, as the threat of instant death is no longer there, but there is also a larger enemy presence to try to balance this out.
The threat in the world of A Plague Tale is not just humans but also those nasty black rats with evil red eyes that will do whatever they can to get a nibble. The only thing that stops rats is light, and so these fiends will wait on the rings of the light ready to pounce on any fool who comes too close, be it Amicia or her brother or any enemies that stumble out of the safety of the light. Light is a big mechanic in the game, as often progressing past rats involves carrying a torch or using fire arrows to hit wood to light up an area or setting alight bales of hay/braziers to supply enough light to clear the rats away. It is important to stay away from the dark because once rats pounce on Amicia it is pretty much over, because if she cannot get into light after a couple of seconds, then she’s a tasty meal for the little critters. There is a new piece of equipment in Requiem that enables her to spark the ground to scare the rats away. This is a rare item that is extremely useful in dire situations, such as falling into a dark cavern or getting through a pack of rats to a source of light that is not quite reachable without some help.
The developers went for an approach that offers more ways to be offensive against AI. This can be seen with the sling, which now has unlimited rocks, no longer must anyone worry about searching or stocking up on ammo to use when a situation arises, such as using them for distraction or launching one into their face. Knives can be found and used to instantly kill, be sneakily or when under threat, but these are rare to find, plus can also be used on sealed chests to gain resources for crafting. Amicia also eventually earns a crossbow after a few chapters into the game that also instantly kills enemies that do not have armour, but limited ammo means that it cannot be used constantly to reduce the threat that a group of enemies possess. These are good editions to change up threatening encounters, as they were quite one noted in the first game.
Alchemy and crafting return in their three flavours, plus a new addition, and remain as critical as ever. Fans will remember Ignifer, a mixture that can be used to ignite things. Extinguish does the opposite, while also being a gas cloud that can block the line of sight. Odoris is a fun option that attracts rats, so can be used to get the rats out of the way or set them on enemies. The new element added is tar, which can be used with Ignifer to set pools alight for safe light or to create flames to burn grass or set enemies ablaze. A neat thing is that all four alchemy abilities can be used on their own, with the sling for added distance in exchange for making noise, or in pots for a larger effect. For example, using Extinguish in a pot creates a huge smoke cloud, while tar creates a large pool on the ground that can be set alight for a huge fire. These bring new tactical elements to the gameplay, be it through stealth, distractions or offensive approaches to human or rat foes alike, even pitting them against each other when they are within the same environment. There is something seriously satisfying in putting out a soldier’s torch and seeing him munched alive within seconds. His life has not gone to waste, as that opens up space where the rats once blocked; a win-win in my book.
Going bigger means more crazy set pieces, and there are some brilliant sequences in Requiem, usually involving the carnage that the rats bring, as they chase the siblings in waves up waves falling over each other. We are talking thousands here, as they smash through walls, take down huge towers and even come rushing down roads as Amicia fends them off with a flamethrower on a horse and cart. The set pieces are done impressively well and add more of that dreaded, if over-exaggerated, tension to the story and gameplay.
More puzzles have been introduced in the sequel and are more thought out, as they often use all the tools available to Amicia and her brother to get through them. Rats are often the easier puzzles, since it usually boils down to getting a fire source and abusing that, but the rest combine various things, such as slinging fire to set things alight, pouring tar into vats to burn to create a pathway or using Hugo or one of the additional sidekicks, which come with their own powers, such as the knight who can fight soldiers and kill them or the pirate who uses a mirror to create trails of light. A new skill tree that is based on how the game is played helps those players keep using the same approach. Playing stealthy will improve the Prudence tree to make less noise and move faster while crouched. Play aggressive? Then you’ll be able to push enemies into rats or improve reload times.
That said, on the flip side, not everything is an improvement. There are these small arena fights that come into play that are the opposite; rather dreary and repetitive. These sections remove the solid stealth gameplay and instead become a battle of survival, but the mechanics are not set up for fast reactions to fend off multiple opponents. I can see why they did it, to change the flow of the gameplay, but they are the weakest link in an otherwise superb campaign.
One thing that truly shines above anything else in A Plague Tale: Requiem is just how bloody gorgeous this game looks, both in how it manages to deliver such beautiful and detailed vistas of vivid fields and dreamy summer holiday cities, but also in the death and destruction that the rats leave behind. Presented are cities of destroyed towers, rotting bodies and bones scattered around, as the rain adds to the despair the player witnesses in such nightmarish situations. While the character models are outstanding, I would probably say it is the environment that steals the show. This game contains some of the best locations, visually, I have seen in any video game so far in 2022.
These visuals come at a cost, since running the game on its maximum Ultra settings at 4K resolution requires some demanding hardware, such as an Nvidia RTX 4090, to be able to keep it mostly above 60fps. The frame rate would be on average around the 80s, but some scenes can make it tank into the high 30s either due to inefficient use of hardware or the game truly is trying to bring some next-generation visuals. Raytracing was supposed to be released in a day one patch, but that has not happened yet, so will be coming soon. This will only add even more demand on the hardware. Thankfully, the game supposes Nvidia’s DLSS technology, so expect good use of that to hit 60fps on less powerful hardware or when raytracing is eventually implemented.
A Plague Tale: Requiem is not the biggest leap in gameplay innovation for a sequel, but that does not stop it from being a great continuation of the series. The developers have upped their craft to tweak the formulas in mostly the right ways to improve on the gameplay, while the narrative is delivered better to offer an engrossing narrative-focused experience, and the locations and events that happen during the story make it far more memorable.
You cannot mention A Plague Tale: Requiem without the graphics, especially some of the mind-blowing environments and vistas, no matter how beautiful or vile their settings are, plus the incredible rat rendering technology included, help make this some of the best visuals in a medium for 2022. Fans of the first game are in for such a treat, and newcomers, more so those who love games that focus on spectacle narrative with over-the-top action, are going to love the continuation of Amicia’s and Hugo’s gruesome journey, which showcases a strong bond between family that would impress even the likes of Dominic Toretto.