A Plague Tale Requiem Review: Rat in a Cage

A Plague Tale Innocence came out of nowhere in 2019. With little marketing, the Double-A title gained a following from positive word of mouth of its Triple-A quality polish and deep story and characters. Innocence saw siblings Amicia and Hugo bonding on their journey of survival through a plague-infested medieval France full of hordes of fleshing-eating rats. A Plague Tale Requiem isn’t a Double A title like its predecessor, it’s full-on Triple-A but even with the transition to a bigger budget and scope it never loses what made the first game so special. With expanded gameplay and more bombastic set pieces, Requiem is bigger, bolder, and more breathtaking than Innocence in almost every way but the story is just as intimate.

One of the most impressive aspects of Innocence was just how good it looked. Despite not having the budget of a Triple-A title, Innocence looks just as good as most of them and better than many. Now armed with the budget of a Triple-A game, Asobo Studio has managed to create one of, if not the best-looking game on the market right now. The only game I can think of that’s as graphically gorgeous as Requiem is The Last of Us Part 1. It’s jaw-dropping not just in graphical fidelity but in sheer scope as well. There were thousands of rats on screen at once in Innocence, here it feels like millions. That it can render that many without any frame drops is impressive. Yes, it’s only 30fps but it’s a steady 30 in my experience.

The environments in Requiem aren’t just bigger than Innocence in terms of playable areas but in where you can’t go. The draw distances here stretch as far as the eye can see, seemingly without losing anything visual quality. While Innocence took place mostly within the claustrophobic confines of mostly small areas, Requiem takes Amicia and Hugo to huge cities and large vistas that go on and on. This isn’t an open-world game and you can’t go wherever you want but it feels less like levels that you play through and more like real locations where people exist and things happen just out of view of your adventure. That’s important because it enhances the feeling that the adventure has purpose and failure has consequences outside of Amicia.

Requiem plays much as Innocence did. It’s largely a stealth game with some puzzles. Amicia is armed with a sling that she can use to throw rocks as well as special ammo types that can set things aflame, put fire out, and attract rats. She uses her tools to distract and take out guards to sneak past as well as navigate around the hordes of flesh-eating rats. Innocence‘s encounters were very linear. They were contained and there was one, maybe two ways to get through them. Requiem‘s encounters are larger in area and freedom. There are different ways for you to sneak through, you have more tools at your disposal with the addition of a crossbow and the ability to use special ammo on pots. You’re not just limited to distracting guards with noise anymore. Amicia is no longer a helpless girl just trying to survive, she fights back now. It’s still a stealth game but you can kill any guard you want to get past. Some of them are more difficult to take out than others and each type requires a different method but it’s a welcome progression from the first game in which the options and opportunities to kill were limited. More choices are always welcome.

A new addition to Requiem is a skill tree but don’t worry, there’s no need to groan about another game having a pointless RPG system. The one presented here is a breath of fresh air in a Triple-A space flooded with big skill trees that serve little purpose other than to check a design box. In Requiem, you earn skills based on how you play. If you prefer to sneak your way through then you’ll end up with skills that make you better at that. If you like to play aggressively and kill then you’ll earn skills that improve your ability to do so. Unlike so many games these days, Triple-A games especially, this isn’t a case of an RPG system needlessly being added to a game where it doesn’t fit. Here it’s a reward that works in the background. Specialize in one playstyle and you’ll be rewarded. Simply play as you like and you’ll unlock skills that expand your ability to succeed.

So much of what made Innocence special was the story and it doesn’t matter how improved the gameplay is if the story doesn’t match what came before. Requiem‘s story is grander than Innocence. Much like the environments themselves, it’s bigger and more sprawling. It’s still a tale of family and survival but where Innocence was a plight for Amicia and Hugo, this is their grand adventure. Within that grand adventure though, are the same deep character dynamics and intimate storytelling of the first game.

Taking place six months after the end of the first game, Amicia, Hugo, their mother Beatrice, and her apprentice Lucas have left the Guyenne region of France for the warmer and more colorful region of Provence in the hopes of settling down and finding a cure for Hugo’s condition. Hugo has the Prima Macula, a cursed blood disease that connects him to the rat hordes plaguing the land, allowing him to control them while the Macula tries to control him. The search for a cure leads Amicia and Hugo on a swashbuckling adventure to find ancient secrets that could save him before it’s too late. The setting of Requiem is more vibrant and inviting than the first game but the story is just as cold and dark.

Amicia and Hugo went through a lot in the first game. She went from estranged sister to fierce and loyal protector while Hugo went from innocent child to one wrought with guilt over what he’s capable of. Those changes in them are at the center of the story here. The first game asked the question, how far would you go to protect your loved ones? Requiem asks the follow-up question, what happens when it’s too far? Amicia being tougher and having more options to kill isn’t just an expanded gameplay mechanic, it’s also part of who she is now. In the first game, she went through hell for Hugo, and now she’ll give hell to any who try to come and rip him away from her. Before she was a scared girl doing what she had to but now she’s bitter, jaded, and all too happy to kill those who wrong her and she’s coming apart at the seams because of it. Hugo is coming apart as well but in a different way. All he wants is to be a normal kid and live a nice life with his family but when the rats show up he’s acutely aware that the death and destruction are partly his fault.

Their dueling breakdowns and the way they intersect is the heart of the game. They’re both holding on to an ever-thinning rope and have to ask themselves at what point does it become selfish to not let it break. Selfish against the world but most importantly against each other. Amicia is so determined to protect Hugo that she stops listening to what he wants which is a beautifully complex way to expand upon what she did for him in the first game. The nature of the question, how high of a price is too high to protect what you love is a big question and Requiem deals with it in a way that is both as grand as you expect from a bigger sequel but also as intimately as Innocence dealt with its themes.

All of this is elevated by the vocal performances. The entire cast is excellent but Charlotte McBurney and Logan Hannan are the obvious standouts, reprising their roles of Amicia and Hugo. Charlotte in particular delivers what is the best voice-acting performance of any game I’ve played this year so far. Amicia is on the verge of a breakdown the entire game because she’s doing what she thinks she needs to while not being sure if it’s all worth it. You can hear in her voice how unsure of herself she is even when she’s staunch in the notion that she’s the only one who can do what must be done. It’s a powerhouse performance made deeper by your knowledge of the events of the first game but if you haven’t played it, the inflection of her voice alone will give you enough of an indication of what this girl went through.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t give special praise to the soundtrack and sound design. Few sounds in a game have terrified me as much as the sound of millions of rats squealing with delight at the prospect of devouring you and your companions. But it’s in the soundtrack where everything comes together in a truly remarkable way. The tracks are full of deep and epic strings that both evoke the time period as well as the nature of the adventure you’re on. Just as certain musical cues will let you know that Michael Myers or the shark from Jaws is on the way, the soundtrack of Requiem will fill you with dread before anything bad happens. The strings will slowly distort as the danger of death and rats approach. It’s not just that the songs themselves become sinister, it’s that it feels like they are being ruined, as if the arrival of the rats has corrupted and killed the music as much as it has the world around you. It’s masterful.

No game is perfect and while I could complain that some of the lip-syncing here isn’t quite right or lament the fact that this is only 30fps instead of 60 but the truth is when you’re presented with a package this good things like that don’t matter. A Plague Tale Requiem presents an epic adventure with quality stealth gameplay expanded and improved from the original in every way. This is an experience and these are characters that will stay with me long after I finish writing this. It’s a deeply character-driven story with a cut-to-credits that is the most impactful cut-to-black I’ve experienced in a video game since Ellie told Joel “okay” in the original Last of Us. They went bigger, they went bolder and they made something beautiful.

Rating: Cruise Standard

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Published by Matt Fresh

30% Water, 70% James Bond movies. Matt is a writer, gamer, film enthusiast & silly person. The winner of various fictitious awards, he's fluent in English & pop culture references.

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