A Plague Tale: Requiem Review

Developed by: Asobo Studio
Published by: Focus Entertainment
Platforms: Xbox Series X/S (Series S Reviewed), PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, PC
Release Date: Out Now!


After playing the excellent A Plague Tale: Innocence from 2019, I was incredibly excited when the sequel Requiem was announced last year. The follow-up continues the riveting and emotionally-charged story of the teenage Amicia De Rune, her younger brother Hugo, and a version of 14th Century France overrun by a plague of rats – not to mention the many human threats that the De Runes face!

With new next-gen hardware and the experience of Innocence behind them, there was so much potential for where Bordeaux-based developers Asobo Studio and their team of 70 developers could go with Requiem. Though the sequel isn’t without flaws, I’m glad to report that it succeeds at both maintaining the core essence of the original game and then proceeding to go above and beyond. This all results in a powerful sequel that develops both the narrative and gameplay in substantial ways, both of which I’ll delve into in this review!

WARNING: Spoilers for A Plague Tale: Innocence and the set-up of A Plague Tale: Requiem ahead!


The Plague That Follows

At the start of A Plague Tale: Requiem, we catch up with Amicia and Hugo in 1300s France, six months after the end of Innocence. They’ve been reunited with their mother Béatrice and friend Lucas, and have gone south in an attempt to live a relaxed life on the road and find a cure for the Macula, the mysterious illness Hugo suffers from. In Innocence, we discovered that the Macula links Hugo to the plague of rats sweeping through this fictional version of France; this plague follows Hugo and rises in intensity when he’s under stress, and Hugo even has control over it in very specific situations. This all makes him a target for cult organisations such as the Inquisition, who were foiled in Innocence.

Things start pleasant enough, at least…

The opening sequences of Requiem allow us to briefly enjoy this tranquil period for the main characters, refamiliarizing us with their family bonds and friendships as they wander through the lush countryside and play games; I really appreciated these early moments. However, an early accidental foray into dangerous territory does bring the group close to tragedy. Firstly, this acts as a foreshadowing of what’s to inevitably come, as Hugo is forced to call on the rats once again before passing out and having a short but vivid playable dream sequence. Secondly, this opening acts as an efficient tutorial to get players back into the swing of the main game mechanics of A Plague Tale.

For the uninitiated, A Plague Tale is an over-the-shoulder third-person game with a focus on narrative, exploration, and stealth combat. Though the main character Amicia can take the offensive (and is forced to do so on multiple occasions), the player is mostly directed towards using the environment in a resourceful way to either take out enemies quietly or avoid them altogether. This might be through the use of tall grass, cleverly placed distractions, or using a plethora of usable items to your advantage. There’s rarely just one way forward, which allows the player to take a lot of agency with their decisions.

Stealth is often your best course of action

However, the plague of rats is ready to burst free at any moment and complicate your situation immensely. When this happens, Requiem becomes more of an environmental puzzle game, where you need to stay in the safety of lightened spaces and use various materials to get to your goal. As with Innocence, these sections provide welcome variety that is unique to A Plague Tale. This time, the rat swarms are even more overwhelming and threatening; the bold leap to being only on next-generation hardware allows Requiem to have up to 300,000 rats on screen at once! That’s up from 5,000 in Innocence, which really shows the capability provided by the new hardware – especially as the rats now act more naturally in the way they scutter around and avoid light. Throughout, Requiem has to balance how it presents and balances the exploration, rat survival, and stealth combat – and it does a much better job at this than Innocence. The different types of challenge don’t feel disparate or stacked too much one way or the other, and the game is superbly paced overall.

I say overall, because I did find the first act of Requiem a specifically mixed bag from a narrative point of view. Early in Requiem, Amicia and Lucas have to travel into the depths of a city in order to find a man who may know how to cure Hugo. Along the way, Amicia is continually forced into unavoidable violence, even killing soldiers of Provence in order to evade capture. The game is doing this purposefully, and the characters continually address the building body count Amicia is leaving in her wake. Despite her weariness, Amicia is forced into action time and time again as her companions get caught or trapped, and it culminates in a crescendo set piece where everything boils over. Right, this is the point where I have to tackle that infamous videogame term “ludonarrative dissonance”…

Ludonarrative dissonance is effectively a disparity between narrative and gameplay. It’s an issue I’ve been increasingly aware of over the years; there’s a jarring feeling when games such as Uncharted or Tomb Raider have heartfelt cutscenes set between gameplay where you murder tens or hundreds of people. After Innocence and the start of Requiem, the amount of people Amicia has killed has become difficult to ignore, especially as she is a teenage girl often armed with just a sling. This doesn’t diqualify her from having skill and ability, but any teenage character killing that many adult soldiers does challenge your suspension of disbelief. Requiem, to its credit, chooses to tackle this issue head-on by having Amicia and other characters address her increasing bloodlust. It reminds me of how The Last of Us Part II would play to your guilt, by making enemies have names and detailed dialogue, and even showing you how the aftermath of Ellie’s murderous spree looked from the opposite perspective.

The bond between Amicia and Hugo is the core of the game

Yet, just like in that Naughty Dog game, the addressing of the subject doesn’t quite work for me in Requiem. Just bringing the issue to my attention doesn’t fix it, it just lets me know that Requiem is aware of it. The acknowledgement isn’t enough to tip the scales back to an even position. However, I will admit that the narrative showing its conscience on the matter does soften my criticism, as it inherently weakens the separation between said narrative and the gameplay. Moreso than this though, I was impressed with how Requiem changed up aspects of the game design after this point in the story, resulting in combat design that invites – and therefore incites – less violence.

This is because after that early crescendo of violence, Amicia agrees with Lucas that the cold-blooded murder will stop. It initially rings a little hollow, as you’re still free to kill every enemy you encounter, but Requiem definitely gets smarter with the combat and puzzles from this moment on. The majority of Requiem has a sublime mix of exploration and fight settings, almost always offering you a stealth-oriented route that minimizes conflict. In fact, Requiem also contains skills that naturally unlock depending on how often you use stealth, violence, or resourcefulness, and this makes you think more carefully about your approach; after all, you know that the game is carefully watching you and your playstyle. In addition, Amicia gains a crossbow, which adds more militaristic believability to her arsenal, and additionally prevents Amicia’s skill with a sling from being overused to the point of unbelievability.


Stay in the Light

Oh, yeah, that’s right… If you somehow haven’t seen the promotional material, Amicia gains a crossbow as a weapon in Requiem, and it’s incredibly fun to use (and let’s be real, it looks badass). There’s a satisfying heft to the weapon, but the power is offset by the limit of how few bolts Amicia can carry at once. It feels like a last resort, and it’s just one way that Requiem does a fantastic job at expanding on the range of weapons and materials Amicia had in Innocence. These new options shake up the gameplay to a refreshing degree.

Crossbows are cool

Thanks to the prowess of alchemists Béatrice and Lucas, Amicia knows several alchemy-based tricks; these include the likes of the Ignifer and Exstinguis (for lighting and putting out fires) that will be familiar to Innocence players, and also a bunch of new additions. For example, you can now use tar to flare fire sources – this might be to give yourself a crucial few seconds of safety against the rats, or to set an enemy on fire in desperate situations. With materials frequent but finite, you have to be creative and proactive with your methods. Just like the sprawling but contained stealth combat, the player is given freedom to make their own decisions with their alchemical resources.

Each of the various materials can be deployed in multiple ways. They can either be thrown, contained in a pot you can smash, or launched with the sling or crossbow. Each of these options has different advantages and disadvantages – for example, hand-thrown items are quieter in stealth scenarios and ideal for a quick distraction. On the other hand, particularly in the rat sections, you often need to use the sling or crossbow to get the required effect. Requiem does a great job at easing you into each new or returning game mechanic, and it’s very satisfying to master how to use materials in the most efficient manner.

Yep, that’s a lot of rats

The game design is very effective at not holding your hand too much, but also training you in how to find solutions. I definitely had to stop and think about several puzzles (both rat-based and otherwise), but I was never left stuck and frustrated for long. There are plenty of customisable options in the settings for turning the frequency of hints on or off, and different difficulty modes too, for those seeking an extra level of challenge. On the standard difficulty setting, enemy AI was often impressively smart, and several stealth sections (particularly towards the end of the game) provided a strong challenge. Whilst Amicia has many proficiencies, accidentally alerting an entire area of soldiers to your presence can be very difficult to work your way out of safely. Enemies look into obvious hiding places and are brutal up-close, providing a significant level of stakes.

Something I’ve always liked about the A Plague Tale games is that they don’t lean too much into action, instead allowing the vulnerable stealth segments to ratchet up the sense of atmosphere and tension. This also makes the occasional bombastic action set pieces stand out more and leave you emotionally reeling. Requiem excels at managing the delicate balance of exploration, action, and narrative, with the latter two thirds of the game being particularly exceptional. Gameplay never gets repetitive, and always keeps you on your toes with new mechanics or settings; in my opinion, this makes Requiem deserving of being talked about in the same group as classics like Resident Evil 4 and The Last of Us.


A Breath of Fresh Air

Most of Requiem takes place in relatively linear areas that shepherd you in a certain direction. They’re well directed, and also have plenty of nooks and crannies with satisfying secrets to uncover, giving you plenty of reason to explore the stunningly realised environments (or even replay the game). The collectibles include Flowers (like Innocence had), plus Souvenirs and Feathers which work in a similar way to trigger extra little story beats and character insights. There are also hidden Chests full of particularly useful items, such as Tools needed to upgrade your gear at a workbench. Some workbenches are locked and need a knife to break into them (like the Shiv doors in The Last of Us). The knives are rare and can be used up to defend yourself from an enemy, which provides yet another reason to stay stealthy in combat situations. There was one chest I came across without a knife to open it, and it was painful to be locked out of those items!

It isn’t all darkness and rats – there’re nice views too

When it comes to exploration though, Requiem has an extra trump card up its sleeve. At a certain point of the game, you reach an island crucial to the story. This area is essentially an open world section, where you can really take your time; whilst there is a main objective to work towards, there are plenty of hidden areas to explore on the island, whether it be a decrepit tower, the local village, or the gorgeous flower fields. There’s even a large optional puzzle ingrained into this area, and I was so glad I took the time to fully work it out, as it had an awesome reward! In terms of exploration, this island was the peak of Requiem, coming in at just the right time to break up the linearity of the rest of the game and leave me excited to get back into the narrative afterwards.

This open world was also a premiere opportunity to use the Photo Mode that Requiem features. In fact, the whole game was, because Requiem is technically astonishing, especially on a 4K TV with HDR. The level of visual detail and depth to both the character designs and environments is remarkable, powered by the Zouna game engine Asobo built themselves by drawing upon years of technological experience. Moving the story to the Mediterranean light and colours of Provence grants Requiem many glorious locales, which were further informed by research the developers did with Medieval History doctor Roxane Chila – and this shift away from the more subdued tones of Guyenne sets Requiem apart as a sequel to Innocence. Furthermore, not only are lead characters Amicia and Hugo realised with an extremely high level of care, but even bystanders and parts of the world you could easily miss have clearly had plenty of thought go into them. Here’s one example for you: at one point, you get to a new town where a festival is starting, and there are groups of dancers by the side that I was curious about and stopped to watch for a while. They cycle through many different choreographies of group dancing where the characters intertwine with each other – and these are characters that many players will run straight past!

Environments are as gorgeous as they are varied

It isn’t just the sprawling flower fields or realistic character animations that impress. A large portion of Requiem is set in dark, ruined locations such as settlements that the plague has overrun, or even the disgusting rat nests themselves. These moments are distinctly horrific, and the level of aforementioned detail accentuates the terror of it all. Festering swarms of rats become audio-visual nightmares, their squeals and squeaks a constant reminder of the danger they present. The hyperreal world of A Plague Tale means you’ll occasionally face huge (and I mean HUGE) amounts of rats, and the wanton destruction they bring often leaves eerie wastelands to contrast against the thriving locations you once wandered through. Sadly, my Xbox Series S auto-deleted all of my Photo Mode screenshots (literally hundreds… ) with no warning or notice, and I can’t share them with you in a Gaming Photo Album post like I had planned to. I’m genuinely devastated about this, as I think it may have been my best Gaming Photo Album yet. Let my pain over these lost images emphasize how stunning Requiem is to look at!


Supporting Act

Another way that Requiem is a step up from Innocence is in the supporting cast. Usually, Amicia has at least one character with her on her travels – to start with, these are the familiar faces of Hugo or Lucas, which makes sense whilst Requiem is getting the player up to speed. Later in the game though, plot developments lead you to encounter Arnaud and Sophia. Arnaud is a trained and battle-hardened warrior who agrees to travel with Amicia and Hugo for his own protection, and he eventually introduces you to Sophia, a take-no-prisoners sailor. Their adult presence and differing viewpoints provide fascinating foils to Amicia and Hugo, and they each have unique skills to shake up the gameplay. Arnaud can take on enemies in duels to support Amicia, and his shield can be utilised for various puzzle purposes. Meanwhile, Sophia is able to use her precious prism to refract light, enabling you to create new safe spaces from rats, and also distract enemies by burning patches of grass.

Sophia (right) quickly becomes an integral friend for Amicia and Hugo

Their assistance takes a little of the burden off Amicia, and their outside perspectives on the extreme situation Amicia and Hugo are in with the Macula are fascinating. At several points, Arnaud and (especially) Sophia give the De Rune siblings some crucial life lessons about themselves. Sophia in particular becomes a close-knit member of the group; both she and Arnaud are anchored by charismatic performances by the voice and motion capture performances. I personally played the game in English, where Arnaud is played by Harry Myers and Sophia is played by Anna Demetriou. It’s hugely impressive how well they each embody the characters and make them feel well-established beside Amicia and Hugo by the end of Requiem.

Whilst I’m talking about the performances, I can’t go without mentioning Amicia. So much of her inherent determination and desperation in Requiem is portrayed through subtle facial expressions, as well as nuances to the way her English voice actor Charlotte McBurney delivers the dialogue. That isn’t to say her emotions don’t burst through at times, because they do, and McBurney is similarly excellent as conveying the fiery rage that’s been boiling up in Amicia from every loss or setback. Amicia’s outfits also greatly inform her character, being efficient and resourceful alongside her weaponry – she’s come far since the noble De Rune garb at the start of Innocence. You can clearly see the impact of Asobo’s in-house motion and facial capture studio that they invested in ready for Requiem, and it’s all complemented by a beautifully haunting soundtrack by Olivier Derivière, featuring cellist Eric-Maria Couturier and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir.

The visual design and motion capture bring out a lot of nuance

A word on Amicia’s brother Hugo, too; Hugo’s English VA is Logan Hannon, and they achieve the oh-so-difficult task of being realistically childish without being overly annoying. It’s fully believable that Amicia and Hugo love each other and deeply enjoy spending time together, and that’s so important for the key emotional beats in Requiem‘s story. Extra mentions go to the mysterious, devoted island leaders Countess Emilie and Count Victor of Arles, who become key players late into Requiem. Emilie, played by Ellie Heydon, is convincingly entrenched in her faith, whilst Arles is given a lot of Mark Strong-esque energy by their VA Alistair Petrie (and that’s a compliment; I like Mark Strong a lot!). The strong beliefs of this couple end up intertwining with the Macula, and that strength and determination to achieve their goals plays into several compelling set pieces late in Requiem.

Indeed, the idea of what or who you believe in is a constant motif in Requiem. The game thematically questions how far you’ll go in the name of faith and/or love, and also tackles the idea of when you need to stop and do what might be necessary. This central theme is connected to the arcs of every character, most evidently Amicia and Hugo. When everything comes to a head in the final act, so much of the rest of the game takes on new meaning. Requiem has one of those brilliant endings that really leaves you contemplating your thoughts and opinions long afterwards – and I love that.


Final Thoughts

A Plague Tale: Requiem is a superb sequel that builds upon the first game Innocence in every department. The gameplay has more variety, and expertly balances a range of exploration and stealth combat with plenty of secrets and surprises. My only real complaint is that the way Requiem tackles ludonarrative dissonance early on wasn’t completely convincing. I don’t think we needed to be presented the issue in such a blunt way, especially when most of Requiem actually handles the topic of forced violence with a relatively deft hand. For the majority of Requiem, I was transfixed by the story of Amicia and Hugo and the lengths to which they’d go for each other. When I accidentally spend an entire afternoon and evening playing through the final part of a game in one sitting, that’s usually a very positive sign, and that’s what happened with Requiem. Note that I’d recommend playing A Plague Tale: Innocence before Requiem, to get the base understanding of the world and characters, subsequently allowing the thematic gut punches of Requiem to have full effect. The end of Requiem leaves it ambiguous as to whether this is the end of the A Plague Tale franchise – but either way, Asobo Studio have crafted a sequel (and franchise) where the amount of care, attention to detail, and originality shines through, just like a torch in one of those deadly rat swarms.

9/10

Rating: 9 out of 10.

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