Part of the recent ‘AA’ resurgence, A Plague Tale: Innocence was a pleasingly nasty stealth-puzzler with a horror hook that cast siblings Amicia and Hugo on a battle for survival across a plague-ravaged, rat-infested France. Despite swinging for the fences in the most wonderfully absurd ways with its finale, which should have made a sequel all but redundant, its surprise success has now brought about a follow-up in A Plague Tale: Requiem.
The scope of this new 20-hour adventure, which takes you from the countryside to a sprawling city to the coastline to an idyllic island and beyond, is notable, if not always conducive to a healthy narrative flow. At almost double the length of its predecessor, Requiem’s simple action, story, and handful of characters struggle to bear the bloat, as there’s a good bit of wheel spinning going on here that leads to leaden pacing, with a slow intro giving way to a slower-still middle, culminating in an ending that can’t hope to match the first game’s superpowered rat battle with the Grand Inquisitor.
As noted in my Gamescom preview, Requiem goes deeper into Hugo’s connection to those pesky rats, both mechanically and narratively. Besides now being able to see through walls, the young lad also occasionally taps into his more destructive and deadly abilities, like manually controlling rat swarms to devour his enemies. It’s just a shame then that these new powers never grow beyond small ideas designed for specific sections or a single mission. There’s little meaningful evolution for Hugo throughout, which is surprising given how much developer Asobo has tacked onto the combat and puzzle sections on Amicia’s end.
Shot through the heart
As Amicia, you now have a lethal crossbow and extra alchemical tools to play around with during both the rat and human encounters, including a flaming whip thing for scaring off critters when things go terribly wrong and tar for making fires go boom. The puzzles are increasingly complex this time around, though the process remains the same. A new tool is introduced, you use that tool on the very slim number of variables you can influence, and then you’ve found your route through the area. There’s never much scope to feel all smart about connecting the various dots in your mind, as it’s a case of going through the motions to get from A to B time and again.
Stealth and combat, while still clunkier than I’d like, do fare better. Properly aggressive play even becomes a possibility as soon as you unlock the ability to recover used bolts from enemy corpses. Being stealthy is also more enjoyable this time thanks to the expanded mobility options, like easier mantling and handily placed carts for hiding under. The open areas typically provide several routes to progress, though sprinting through them is often just as reliable an option if you’re up for some chaos and unless you really fancy sweeping every nook and cranny for loot.
By the end, I didn’t feel much of an emotional draw to remain stealthy, and therefore largely pacifistic, so I just blasted my way through the more open-ended encounters. Sure, my companions would sometimes moan about all that unnecessary killing, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend 20 seconds hiding under a cart for a guard to pass when I could clear the whole area with my crossbow in around that same length of time. Granted I was playing on the medium difficulty setting, and I’d planned ahead to unlock the reusable bolts asap, so your murderous mileage may vary.
Giving a rat’s
I suppose my not caring about my companions’ feelings may hint at some apathy towards them in general, but that isn’t entirely the case. I appreciated the way they’re woven into the wider narrative, and I also like that the big bloke, Arnaud, can chop down folks at my command. Of the two new main companions, Arnaud the battle-scarred soldier gets the stronger arc, but Sophia the easy-going pirate is refreshingly friendly and oddly ok with travelling to the depths of hell to help you out. That said, it’s hard to point to specific, memorable times with either of them - no especially good lines or quietly affecting moments spent together off the beaten path. They’re just well-drawn enough for me to care in the moment when things don’t go their way, but I do wonder how much I’ll remember of our shared adventures in a month or so.
Amicia is certainly given ample time to develop and shine, though the recurring horrors she and Hugo are subjected to grow almost comical as the game goes on. The same was true of the original - that “it can’t possibly get worse for them. Oh, it did” hook had already worn out its welcome in Innocence, so the characters are now forced to comment on how many more times they can be tossed from the frying pan into the fire before it becomes too much. Hugo is also decidedly less interesting than his sister. He’s a sweet kid with terrible powers whose gradual lean towards the abyss lays Amicia’s path to becoming a driven protector and a lethal, rightly rage-filled survivor. I’d also suggest going with the French dub here because while the English leads put their all into it, there’s still a bit of faux-historical stiffness going on that makes some lines really clang.
You might also wish to stick around for some of the bigger set pieces, as the tension only picks up intermittently, either during the larger-scale stealth sections later on or after Hugo has been sufficiently peeved to use his rat powers for some end-of-days destruction. Yet there are only so many times you can run away from a horde of rats, gawk at the carnage around you, and race to clamber up the scenery by hitting a button to perform a life-saving canned animation before even the showiest chases start feeling like another box on the Plague Tale checklist.
Blast from the not-too-distant past
Requiem is still an oddly comfy game to play, reminding me of the not-quite blockbuster releases I’d rent from, well, Blockbuster on the way home from school, then blast through in a weekend and come to remember rather fondly. It’s old hat in that way: insta-fail stealth encounters, turret section set pieces, a mission that’s inexplicably massive for no reason other than “wouldn’t it be cool if we did an open world bit,” and a frame rate that drops below 30 on the regular. Ah yes, just like old times.
In terms of what feels fresh, I did like some of the collectables. Uncovering side detours, like searching for a missing goat or having a pleasant chat with Hugo about a weird-looking tree, is infinitely more worthwhile than skimming another hastily written note scrawled down mere seconds before the author was gobbled up by rats, or whatever the equivalent might have been here. Yes, it still also has you picking up flowers and feathers from time to time, but Tramontane the goat does some heavy lifting.
Thinking on its many parts, A Plague Tale: Requiem is an unwieldy follow-up with a few standout additions and story beats that just about crosses the finish line before the repetition and elongated runtime threaten to kill it dead. There is a better, leaner game in here (perhaps one called A Plague Tale: Innocence), but I can’t bash a sequel for simply existing and seeking to build upon the good work of its predecessor. It’s just that in going so big the first time around with Innocence, Asobo’s Reqiuem can’t help but offer diminishing returns.