A Plague Tale: Innocence was a very pleasant surprise for a lot of people when it released in 2019, and for good measure. Excellent storytelling in a 14th-century French setting combined with compelling and unique gameplay hooks made it far more enjoyable than its budget and status would typically imply. That’s why it’s great that Asobo Studio now has the backing to return with a bigger, better sequel and from what I played at Gamescom it raises the bar in just about every way.
My hands-on session with A Plague Tale: Requiem took me through a roughly hour-long chunk of the game’s sixth chapter, which sees Amicia and Hugo still on the run in south-east France after the events of the first game (no spoilers), searching for a mysterious island that’s been haunting Hugo’s dreams. This section takes them to a pilgrim encampment, where they’re readily accepted but quickly discovered by soldiers and made to flee to a nearby quarry.
Between the lush fields at the beginning of the chapter, and the dense and populated camp that the pair find themselves in, the thing most immediately clear in my time with Requiem is that Asobo has upped the production values immensely. Everything about the game is stunning from the sun-drenched and wide-open fields of flowers to the gorgeous cutscenes and characters which are now motion captured for the first time. The original game’s strong art shone through some weaker technical aspects but this time around it’s looking like it’ll be elevated even further by a much stronger presentation.
The next thing to notice about the sequel is, of course, a greatly expanded gameplay experience – and I use the term expanded in multiple ways. Firstly, Amicia and Hugo’s survival capabilities have come a long way since the events of the last game, and Amicia especially is much more ready to fight their enemies head-on. Between a deadly crossbow, a knife for stealth takedowns, and all manner of lethal uses of her old equipment I was shocked at how readily I was able to commit actual murder in this game. It’s not wanton in any sense, you’re never forced into a lethal style of play and it’s made clear through narrative scenes and incidental dialogue that the idea of taking lives is something Amicia will actively wrestle with over the course of the game.
The first areas in which I encountered enemies were the more close-quarters, simple kinds of spaces I remember from A Plague Tale: Innocence, especially indoors where the best course of action was to throw rocks to misdirect enemies and slip past quietly. I did accidentally give myself away a couple of times in the beginning but found that Amicia’s knife was a handy tool to silence an enemy in a pinch – though much like the shivs in The Last of Us it’s something you’ll want to conserve both for stealth kills and exploration.
Once I got through these areas the game opened up considerably into the quarry itself, a location that perfectly exemplified the kind of scope that Asobo Studio is pushing this new game toward. The Provencial summer sun was beating down hard, and the nature of the shape of a huge dig site meant that it was much easier to expose my position to a soldier on the other side if I wasn’t careful, so this is where I started to become more desperate. It wasn’t long before I was mercing bad guys with Amicia’s crossbow and setting things on fire with little regard. I think that, when I play the game in full at home, I’m probably going to explore more of the non-lethal stealth options but in the context of a preview demo where my actions couldn’t possibly come back to haunt me I took the opportunity and ran with it.
Later in the demo I came across another more Innocence-esque situation in which I was faced with a warehouse full of enemies and deadly rats. Much like the first game, swarms of rats are an instant-kill if they get to you and your best (well, only) real weapon against them is light. Using my slingshot and materials I’d picked up I could light nearby torches to create a path through the swarms, pick up lit torches to walk safely through them and use oils to make existing fires burn ever brighter. The studio has apparently expanded its rat-rendering tech to make it possible for there to be 300,000 rats on screen at once, which is far more than I had to deal with in this instance but should paint a picture of how dire things may get later.
The rats aren’t all bad this time around though (okay, slight spoilers for the last game to follow), thanks to Hugo’s newfound ability to form a kind of mental bond with them. When there aren’t any in close proximity, Hugo can use an Assassin’s Creed-esque ability to ping the area and point out any enemies nearby, which comes in super handy in the aforementioned larger areas. Further to that though, if he can get close enough to a swarm he’s able to jack into it and take control of them, turning them into a mobile weapon of mass murder as they devour any enemy they come across. It’s super gnarly stuff, especially when you move back across an area you’ve swept over and loot the completely picked-clean skeletons of your foes. It’s not an instant win mechanic, as some enemies are smart enough to carry torches and the like, but boy is it satisfying.
There’s so much more to talk about when it comes to A Plague Tale: Requiem, more than I could feasibly fit into one play session at Gamescom, but I’m beyond keen to see more when it releases on PS5, Xbox Series X, Switch (via cloud streaming) and PC on October 18, 2022. The cheapest copy of the game is currently $79 with free delivery.