I’m a little worried about A Plague Tale: Requiem’s camouflage, but its narrative and characterization still have a lot of potential.
I loved A Plague Tale: Innocence. Despite its straightforward moment-to-moment gameplay, it’s become one of my favorite games of 2019 thanks to the fantastic art direction, beautiful performance, and gripping story. While I’m very curious as to where the story is going in Requiem, the gameplay feels – flaws and everything – a little on to trusted. Most of these issues were easy to miss in 2019, when it looked like Asobo Studio was hitting way above its weight. However, now the same problems are harder to forgive.
Requiem is set shortly after the first game and is set in 14th-century France during the bubonic plague, at the beginning of the Hundred Years’ War. Although both games are set in a realistic depiction of France, the story often flirts with gothic supernatural elements. This is easily one of the coolest things about Innocence and Requiem and what sets it apart from most third-person adventure games. The world is so beautifully detailed and everything has a macabre sheen.
As in the original, you play as Amicia, a young girl tasked with escorting her younger brother Hugo through a world infested with rats and occupied by hostile soldiers. Along with Amicia’s trusty sling, Requiem introduces a crossbow. As you might expect, the crossbow is far more deadly than Amicia’s slingshot, but bolts for it are hard to come by. This means that most encounters, like Innocence, require a more stealthy approach. You can throw objects to get enemy attention, squeeze under tight spaces to hide from view, and track an enemy’s movements with a vision mode called Ratsense. Yes rat scythe.
The first preview enemy encounters I played weren’t great. After being driven out of a nice little pilgrim camp, Amicia stumbles into some ruins and soldiers quickly approach her. These first few areas are narrow and full of dead ends, making it far too easy for Amicia to fall into the trap. If Amicia gets caught by a soldier, he’ll throw her to the ground, Hugo helps her get back up, and the soldier conveniently waits a second to give you a chance to react. From here, Amicia can stun the soldier with a counter, kill the soldier with a disposable knife, or run. If Amicia doesn’t respond, the guard will kill her.
It’s nice to have more options in combat than the previous game, but the first few areas don’t really support them. There weren’t many entrances, and if I was spotted trying to run away, I’d be cornered by guards. Even if I countered or killed a guard, there wasn’t usually enough room to get past the other soldiers. This meant pure stealth was really my only option. I quickly realized that if I got caught, it was best to just restart the encounter.
I don’t mind stealth games – I actually love Metal Gear Solid and I’m a die-hard Splinter Cell fan – but being sneaky doesn’t make these games that fun. This allows you to nudge and poke the simulation, allowing you to get past enemies in creative ways. In these early encounters, I felt that throwing pots into conveniently placed armor cases would be the best way to draw an enemy’s attention. This distraction-based stealth approach wasn’t great in the first game and doesn’t seem to have evolved all that much here.
Luckily, as time went on, a few more options opened up for me. After Amicia and Hugo made it through the caves, they ended up in an open canyon. There was grass to hide in and cliffs to climb to give yourself more room to manoeuvre. With Hugo’s Ratsense and careful timing, I managed to slip past most of the enemies. I say most because I found my way onto a ridge and hid behind a bush to wait for a guard to pass. However, the guard spotted me right through the bush and pounced on me. I tried to jump off the ridge, but an invisible wall stopped me. The guard cornered Amicia and killed her. This contradiction to the AI, combined with the arbitrary restriction of the invisible wall, robbed the conflict of all tension and ended in an easy death.
New to A Plague Tale: Requiem is the ability to directly control a rat mischief and turn any enemy that dares away from an open flame into a snack. It adds a nice wrinkle to combat, allowing you to quickly finish off enemies when there’s a horde of rats nearby. Aside from a few tutorial encounters, Hugo can only control the rats for a limited time, so you’ll need to plan your route carefully. These segments felt much more dynamic. One in particular took place in an outdoor bathhouse that spilled out into a field. There was plenty of room to maneuver, and systematically taking down enemies with the rats to clear a path for Amicia and Hugo added a much-needed strategic layer to the fight.
The second half of the preview followed Amicia, Hugo and a gruff soldier named Arno as they searched for a boat. The first part of this chapter consisted mostly of puzzles as the trio navigated a rat-infested cave system. The puzzles weren’t complicated, but they provided a welcome change from combat. Using Amicia’s slingshot and special ammo, you had to carefully light a path through the cave so the group could safely get through. I’m excited to see how these puzzles unfold as Amicia’s arsenal expands.
Combat issues aside, I’m really looking forward to the narrative of Requiem. This preview consisted of two chapters that took place roughly halfway through the game, so it was difficult to follow the plot. Still, the acting seemed just as strong as it was in the first game. Especially Hugo’s voice actor stood out. Despite all the horrific things he’s seen, he still had an innocent charm that offers a reprieve from the harsh world.
I ran into some bugs during my preview, but bugs are to be expected when it comes to pre-release builds. The game is incomplete and developers usually use this final stage of development to fix any remaining glitches. However, A Plague Tale: Requiem is out in just over a month and I’ve had numerous bugs that stopped progress, forced me to reload encounters and restart entire stages.
In one instance, Arno asked me to set his shield on fire to get through a rat-infested area. Unfortunately, Arno refused to swing his shield, so I couldn’t light it. In another situation, I just couldn’t duck. I checked the button mapping and switched from a mouse and keyboard to a controller to no avail. Reloading the store didn’t fix the problem, so I ended up restarting the section.
While Asobo Studio has some time to iron out these issues, it’s worth keeping an eye on the bug situation as we near the game’s release date. I hope these issues are just me and my setup, but in my experience that’s not usually the case.
Overall, I’m cautiously optimistic for Requiem. I’m very excited to see where Asobo takes the story and its memorable cast of characters, even if the fight ends up flat for me.
A Plague Tale: Requiem is out October 13th for PC, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S and X. Keep an eye out for our review in the coming weeks.
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