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A Plague Tale: Requiem review: rat-infested sequel ups the bleak ante

By Aaron Potter. Posted

Poor Amicia and Hugo can’t catch a break. You’d think that after surviving mild torture, the French Inquisition, and a supernatural priest (with a penchant for rodent control) in the first game, things might look up for this brother and sister duo, but not so. Instead, Requiem picks up a mere six months later, where the rat-filled plague has followed them from a ravaged Guyenne to the far more diverse location of Provence, and an entirely fresh set of stealth-based challenges await. No doubt this is about as confident a sequel as one could expect, especially to an initial hit as unexpectedly fully formed and emotional as 2019’s A Plague Tale: Innocence. It’s a worthy follow-up adventure, for sure, even if some areas of narrative and mechanical innovation don’t always deliver.

At the heart of this story once again, quite rightly, is Amicia and Hugo’s familial bond. Requiem does a brilliant job at continuing to evolve how the two siblings feel about each other, given the previous game’s final events, which more than verifies that both – wrongly or rightly – have blood on their hands. This bleak revelation constantly lingers in the background of almost every thematic beat during a sizeable 15–20-hour tale, surfacing more as the De Rune children embark on a journey to learn about Hugo’s worsening condition and seek a potential antidote. Amicia, in particular, has matured a lot in the time since we last saw her, and not always in a way that is empathetic. Is it fair for a woman as adolescent as her to actually enjoy killing? That’s partially for your actions to decide.

I say this as, rather than leave gameplay mechanics and narrative completely disconnected, there’s an attempt here by Asobo Studio to marry them by infusing almost every combat and stealth scenario with a strong element of choice. As before, Amicia immediately comes equipped with her trusty sling with which to take out foes, of course, but should you choose to have her sneak up to one and strangle them or kill them with a bolt from afar using her new crossbow, companion characters will often comment and criticise her questionable methods. Surprisingly, these canned vocal barks were enough to make me rethink my strategy on more than one occasion.

There’s now plenty of opportunity to do so, too, thanks to environments this time around being far more open. Whereas sneaking encounters in Innocence mostly felt like they were guiding you down a linear path, with slight options to dart from this element of cover to that in a bid to light the next rat-dispersing bonfire, Requiem’s are a totally different beast. Because in addition to being able to, say, creatively change the flow and direction of rat hordes using Amicia’s bag of alchemy tricks (Ignifer, Exstinguis, and other projectile recipes return), entire chunks of environment can pass you by, depending on your approach. Skipping through an enemy gauntlet without exploring lessens the risk of getting caught, sure, but will also rob you of any discoverable resources that could otherwise upgrade Amicia and prepare her for tougher sections later.

A slightly more haphazard approach to this increased freedom is found in Requiem’s newly embedded skills system. Good in theory but only limited effect in execution, skills sit separately from the returning upgrades tree, functioning organically in that you have no control over when or how Amicia gains them. Split into three categories – Prudence, Aggressive, and Opportunism – she’ll learn each naturally, depending on your chosen style of play.

Problems quickly arise, however, because later skills in any given category are kept hidden, which may drastically influence the one you may wish to focus on. Then there’s end-game sections that purposefully impose stealth, leaving players who have prioritised Aggressive inherently handicapped through no fault of their own. This isn’t to say that skills detract from this sequel’s broadened scope; they just don’t necessarily add much, either.

Due to the significant advances made to Asobo’s engine, much has been said about Requiem’s ability to depict a whopping 300,000 rats on screen at any one time compared to Innocence’s 5000. And I’m pleased to report that it’s more than just a nice soundbite to stick on the back of the box. True, scenes containing this colossal amount of rabid little blighters are mostly reserved for set piece moments where you’re forced to run, or simply step back in awe and take it all in, but it’s a great intimidation tactic that excellently raises the stakes of whatever task next lays ahead of you. Hugo’s new-found ability to command rats from a first-person view is far more game-changing, by comparison, helping you make light work of enemies providing you don’t push the boy past his limit.

A Plague Tale: Requiem makes some excellent strides developing the relationship between its two central characters, and the sheer amount of creative freedom it allows players to undertake using Amicia and Hugo’s expanded skillsets.

However, with many of its newly implemented mechanics only having a peripheral impact on gameplay, and a meandering, ill-paced plot compared to that of the original, this second outing is a tad less focused. Still, don’t let that dissuade you from experiencing one of the most heartfelt and nuanced sibling portrayals seen in gaming.

Highlight

Hugo’s rat-controlling powers are so overpowered, Requiem cleverly finds ways to take this ability out of the equation at certain points, either by separating him from Amicia or making rats absent. This makes sequences where you’re allowed to overrun guards using an army of rodents even more thrilling.

Verdict

Narratively and environmentally broader in scope but slightly messier as a result, Requiem is still a worthy sequel.

76%

Genre Third-person action, stealth | Format [PS5], PC, XB X/S, Switch | Developer Asobo Studio | Publisher Focus Entertainment | Price £43.99 | Release Out now

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