A Plague Tale: Requiem picks up not long after Innocence left off, but from everything we’ve seen, it sees our two leads drawn ever deeper into the darkness of desperation, stripping away their innocence even further and with only the slightest glimmers of hope leading them on.
It’s safe to say that A Plague Tale: Innocence was one of the most pleasant surprises of 2019. Coming from then relatively unknown studio Asobo, who’d spent the previous 15 years largely working on licensed games, ports and as a support studio, this (alongside Microsoft Flight Simulator) was their chance to step into the spotlight. They absolutely exceeded expectations with a compelling journey that featured real peril and creepy rat swarms as Amicia and her younger brother Hugo fled from the Inquisition.
The section we played came roughly 3 or 4 hours into the game, opening during a lull from the pair’s seemingly endless flight. They now have a more direct purpose of trying to head further south through France and to try and find an island with two peaks. It’s a location that presents itself as a vision to Hugo, who proceeds to go all Close Encounters and make his island out of mashed potato… wait, I mean mud.
Meandering through picturesque fields, there’s more of the kinds of interactions that helped make Innocence special. Hugo’s an incessant worrier, whether it’s about the progress of their allies and former companions to find and meet them later, or for the brutal-looking head wound that Amicia is now sporting since earlier on in the game. Still, there’s opportunity for childlike playfulness, like spotting a pretty bird feather and starting a collection – everyone loves obscure collectables in games, right?
It doesn’t take long, before stumbling across a Christian pilgrim town situated around a ruined church, and through one stroke of good and bad luck after another, you’re suddenly desperately on the run once more, making your way through a more Mediterranean-feeling quarry that’s swarming with patrolling soldiers.
In A Plague Tale: Innocence, this would have led to a purely stealthy approach, but Requiem has handed Amicia a number of ways to strike back when cornered. She now has a melee counter attack – though if you’re caught, enemies love to headbutt her in a way that’s surely not doing her splitting headache any good. At the same time, she also has a crossbow that can be used for near-silent takedowns from range.
Combine that with the slingshot, throwables and crafting tools from the first game, and you’ve got plenty of options available to you. Some direct confrontations toward the end of the chapter had me combining the throwable smoke bombs for misdirection, sling for hitting weak spots to remove armour and then flammable tar with ignifer to burn enemies alive. There’s a real ruthless streak that continues on from the last game.
Where the natural instinct is to try and shelter Hugo from the brutality that surrounds him and Amicia, the game forces you to engage more deeply with his ratty abilities. Aiding your ability to sneak through different areas, he can now kind of commune with the rat swarms that are seemingly everywhere, using their rat vision to highlight patrolling enemies that you might evade them more easily – truth be told, I was still quite content to brute force my way through some areas with a mad dash to the door to the next room.
However, it’s another moment of desperation that pushes Hugo to use his abilities more than ever before. With the exertion and stress seeing Amicia collapse unconscious just as soldiers wander into at the other end of a large barn, Hugo’s panic sees him reaching out and actually taking control of the rat swarm, able to rush across the ground, clamber up walls and devour the hapless soldiers.
It comes into play in a later scenario as well, now presenting another option within your stealthy arsenal to find a pool of rats, take control and then race around the area turning people into piles of bones. I don’t know if there’s an in-game morality system that will hinge on this, but there’s my own in-human morality system that makes me probably not want to do this too often – apparently I’m totally fine with burning video game bad guys to death, though.
The challenge, of course, is that just as the game’s environmental puzzling often relies on creating pools of light and using torches to keep enemies at bay, you can’t use the insatiable piranha-like rats on guards tucked within bright patches either. You’ll need to combine it with Amicia’s abilities to snuff out light sources and misdirection before then turning to the rats to finish the job.
There’s a devilish darkness to A Plague Tale: Requiem that challenges our two protagonists on even deeper levels than before, but also you as a player. Will you take the “easy” route and rely on the rats to get you through? Will you try to preserve Amicia and Hugo’s conscience by trying to do only what’s strictly necessary? We’re a little over a month away from release in October before you can decide for yourself.