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A Plague Tale: Requiem Review

I thoroughly enjoyed myself with A Plague Tale: Innocence a few years ago. January presented a golden opportunity for PlayStation Plus members to continue the adventure by downloading the sequel, A Plague Tale: Requiem, for free. And let’s be honest, it was about time for a worthwhile PS Plus month after the mess we’ve been served in recent months. And A Plague Tale: Requiem is many things, but a mess it certainly is not.

So, what is it, you might be wondering. Well, dear reader, it’s an emotional rollercoaster. It’s a stealth/action-adventure game set in Medieval France, featuring siblings Amicia and Hugo de Rune in the lead roles. And it involves rats. A lot… of…rats.

A Plague Tale: Requiem picks up six months after the events of Innocence. A quick reminder about the first part, which didn’t waste time getting to the point: we witness the Rune estate getting attacked by the Inquisition. Due to tragic events, the family is torn apart, and Amicia must fled the Inquisition with her little brother Hugo. They travel through a landscape devastated by the Black Plague, where massive swarms of man-eating rats overshadow the threat of the Inquisition. The 5-year-old Hugo possesses a unique power related to this rat swarm, which is why the Inquisition is after him.

The calm seems to return at the end of the game, but nothing could be further from the truth. The plague, and thus the rats, quickly resurface in A Plague Tale: Requiem. Poor Hugo is once again the target of interested parties, but this time, he must shake off an even greater threat: imminent death. The disease that gives him his unique powers, Prima Macula, poisons his blood and transforms the boy into a sort of ticking time bomb.

You portray the role of his 15-year-old sister, Amicia, and, just like in the first installment, you will go to great lengths to protect your brother from evil. In order to do this, you rely on your inexhaustible determination and your trusty old sling.

The Story Is a Touching Tale About Determination, Love and Hope

The endearing sibling bond between Amicia and Hugo takes center stage once again. The world of A Plague Tale is bleak, primarily consisting of death and destruction. The powers thrust upon young Hugo have forever marked him as a target. Fortunately, he has a heroic sister willing to reshape and traverse the world for him.

The profound connection between the duo serves as a glimmer of light in the darkness. At times, the story and the grim atmosphere reminded me a bit of Game of Thrones. Not only due to the medieval music, beautifully composed and without a doubt one of the game’s highlights, but also the seemingly hopeless situations, ruthless enemies, and themes of betrayal occasionally brought to mind the tales of George R.R. Martin.

The concept of a fifteen-year-old girl and her five-year-old brother trying to stand firm amid all the chaos resonates stronger than ever in this second installment. Particularly, the moments when the dark, gloomy reality gives way to brighter, more colorful, and idyllic environments contrast powerfully with the otherwise somber backdrop.

Add a mix of familiar and, especially, new memorable companions to the equation, and you’re in for another captivating 20 hours.

The (Sometimes Avoidable) Combat

Amicia’s sling is just as useful as in the first part. The young protagonist is vulnerable, and in a physical one-on-one duel she will quickly meet her end. This often demands a stealthy approach to combat. Hide in tall grass and sneak up on enemies, or sling a stone at their heads from a distance. Unfortunately, both actions are not particularly quiet. It often occurred that I would eliminate the first enemy, only to quickly have half an army on my tail. This would be fine if they were helmetless opponents, but dealing with armored knights is much more challenging.

Fortunately, Amicia learns new skills based on your playstyle. If you prefer to take out all your opponents, you’ll progress in the aggressive skill tree. This rewards you with abilities such as pushing enemies into fire or a swarm of rats.

If you’d rather heed the advice of paragon companion Lucas and prefer avoiding enemies rather than killing them, you’ll advance in the Prudence skill tree. This, for instance, reduces the noise you make while sneaking.

You can also upgrade your weapons by collecting tools and pieces in the world, and utilize elements like fire to shoot your slingshots with burning effects or throw incendiary pots. While you have quite a few possibilities in your arsenal, the difficulty factor is not always well-balanced.

A Plague Tale: Requiem’s Difficulty Is Often Out of Balance

Especially in the early stages, it’s challenging to deal with well-protected enemies. It often happened that I had no opportunity to get rid of an enemy, despite having all the ammunition and elements at my disposal (at least those that could be unlocked up to that point). I was then forced to run around or restart the checkpoint and approach it entirely stealthily. That’s fine in itself, but the game often wants to give the impression that it allows you the freedom to tackle things the way you want: aggressively or subtly. The first option didn’t always work out well, sometimes beyond my own fault (really).

As I unlocked more skills and weapons, the opposite occurred; the challenge disappeared. When the crossbow comes into play, it suddenly becomes much easier to send hostiles, with or without helmets, to their demise. It was a cool moment to unlock the weapon, and it virtually solved the problem from the previous paragraph. The crossbow temporarily brought the difficulty level back into balance.

But that balance lasted about as long as I can balance on one leg, and I can assure you, that’s not all that long. Upgrading the crossbow unlocked the ‘reinforced bolts‘ upgrade, allowing you to recover your bolts from the bodies of your victims. From that moment on, I could easily kill pretty much everyone in my path with the crossbow, recover my arrow, and repeat the same trick. I always had 4 bolts in my inventory for the rest of the game, which was more than enough for what the game threw at the siblings. The reinforced bolts are so overpowered that it’s almost like a cheat. And I know… I simply shouldn’t have unlocked the skill. But honestly, it probably shouldn’t be in the game at all. Reinforced bolts would have worked better if it had offered a 50% chance to successfully recover bolts.

I never experienced a shortage of resources either. On the ‘normal’ difficulty level, I was flooded with resources, making searching for and opening chests rarely feel like a reward.

The Sling Truly Shines During “Rat Puzzles”

The combat sections that felt most satisfying were situations involving both soldiers and rats, much like in A Plague Tale: Innocence. The rats in A Plague Tale can only be deterred by light. Unsuspecting soldiers feel safe as they walk with torches among hundreds, sometimes thousands of rats. However, they haven’t accounted for Amicia. It feels delightful to extinguish those torches with your sling and witness the soldiers succumb to the bloodthirsty creatures. This is undoubtedly one of the aspects where this franchise excels.

Those small, menacing creatures also provide dark entertainment without the involvement of soldiers. You’ll have to maneuver through areas literally swarming with rats, scouting your surroundings and plotting the right path. Using your sling, you light braziers, for example, to move from one light source to another. This time, you can make the flames temporarily burn even brighter by throwing tar on them. The creatures are also not averse to other types of food, so taking down a hanging fish can help distract them.

These sections are generally reasonably easy to navigate. They are certainly not brain teasers, but they are always enjoyable. Not least because every time it’s a feast for the eyes to see those countless rats crawling everywhere. Developer Asobo Studio can be proud of themselves for the impressive graphical performance of this game. The sheer quantity of rats, at times leaving my mouth agape, rarely led to a drop in frame rate. Fun fact of the day: Asobo Studio also created Microsoft Flight Simulator. Do what you want with that crucial piece of information.

The Graphics Are Spectacular

And it’s not just the rats that are visually impressive. Medieval France is a visual spectacle in every aspect. It’s a wonder I managed to finish the game at all because every minute I saw yet another perfect opportunity to dive into the photo mode.

The landscape is at times tragic, torn apart by the Black Plague and its accompanying rat hordes. Other times, it’s colorful and vibrant, offering the glimmer of hope that Amicia and Hugo chase throughout the adventure. Whatever the setting, it is always stunning and atmospheric.

But it doesn’t stop there. The character models are also exquisite, naturally showing a significant improvement over Innocence. Close-ups of the faces of the protagonists and companions are impressive, effectively evoking the right emotions. Less attention has been given to those of the NPCs and guards, but that’s a pretty minor detail.

Conclusion

A Plague Tale: Requiem focuses on what matters most in this game: the story. Due to the compelling tale of the siblings and the introduction of some cool new companions, it’s easier to forgive the game’s shortcomings.

The difficulty level, which is not always balanced, never bothered me to the extent that it undermined the rest of the experience. Amicia and Hugo’s bond is still captivating, and the emotional tale unfolds within a graphically stunning environment.

A Plague Tale: Requiem surpasses its predecessor A Plague Tale: Innocence in every way, at times delivering emotional blows that left a lasting impression on me. Anyone who loves strong, narrative-driven games and is not solely focused on the absolute pinnacle of gameplay entertainment cannot go wrong with this game.

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