A Plague Tale: Requiem, developed by Asobo Studio, sees players return to 14th century France as Amicia de Rune to hopefully find a cure for her brother Hugo. With the shiver-inducing rat swarm in full effect, a narrative that is enjoyable to watch unfold, and some light puzzles, Requiem is almost great, if it weren’t for some core problems.
Disease of the blood and mind
Set six months after the events of the first game, A Plague Tale: Requiem picks up practically where the first left off. Amicia and her younger brother Hugo are in search of a cure to his blood disease, Prima Macula. Along with their mother and her alchemist apprentice Lucas, the four travel to a nearby city in search of a man who might hold the key to curing Hugo’s ailment.
This city is teeming with life. A busy market catches Hugo’s eye and Amicia displays her accuracy at a pot-throwing fete game. But it’s not long until this idyllic scene is shattered. The rat infestation comes back with a vengeance, decimating the city and forcing the family to flee once more.
There’s a formulaic quality to the narrative in Requiem. The main goal for the siblings is always present, find a cure for Hugo, but the two are constantly knocked off course by adversaries. There’s a push and pull to Amicia as she tries desperately to be an active protagonist, not one that lets others dictate her path.
Beyond the structure, the themes of Requiem play together well. While there is the ever-present threat of the rats and guards killing her, Amicia seemingly also struggles with anxiety; the pressure of killing people while still being the emotional support for her younger brother. The player gets to see the toll this takes on her, as Amicia succumbs to panic attacks as the internal strife collides with the real and present threat to her physical safety.
Though the narrative is intriguing, it never quite manages to tick over into the territory of being moreish. Beats in the story take a while to arrive and the game seems to linger too long in certain areas, not gaining much traction until the midpoint. Compounding the problem of pacing is the gameplay, which can be both a blessing and curse.
Go quietly into the night (except don’t)
At its core, A Plague Tale: Requiem is a stealth game. Players are encouraged to avoid conflict by hiding in tall grass, crouching below chest-high walls, and using sound to distract patrolling guards. For the most part, the stealth in Requiem works well, but too often it feels at odds with its other component: action.
As with the first game, Amicia is quite adept at using a sling. Players will use rocks to ping random containers of armor strewn about a field, attracting nearby guards, or using homebrew concoctions to spread fire, douse fire, attract rats and more. These tools are designed to supplement the stealth elements. A well-timed fire-dousing attack will plunge a guard into darkness, allowing the rats – who avoid light – to swarm him, granting you a route through the area.
Unfortunately, the stealth and action can sometimes mix about as well as the rats and the light. All too often would I use the sling, only to have another guard walk directly up to where I was hiding in the grass and catch me. It should also come as no surprise that Amicia can’t exactly square off against a guard clad in armor. While a well-timed counter attack will give her an opening to flee, if there are any other foes around, there’s a good chance she’ll die, sending you back to the start of the checkpoint.
Fans of stealth games may enjoy what’s on offer here, but I found the stealth to be a bit too tedious and frustrating to be anything but a hindrance to experiencing the story. There’s only so much waiting around in tall grass, tracking a guard’s route, before I have to get my sling out and smack guards in the head with a satisfying thwack.
Despite all the frustration the stealth elements brought me, it is certainly unique to have the darkness be a threat in a stealth game. The player is constantly off balance as they want to avoid the light lest they be seen by the guards while avoiding the dark in a bid not to be swarmed by rats.
It’s not just the story in A Plague Tale: Requiem that has a familiar cadence to it, there’s also a pattern to the gameplay. Though not always in the same order, you can guarantee that you’ll experience a stealth section, fleeing from a threat, a heartfelt moment between the characters, and then a puzzle. It’s these puzzles where Requiem shines brightest.
A lot of the puzzles are object-based, requiring the player to navigate through an area by moving structures, directing a travel companion to hold and release a winch at the right moment, and corralling the rats through use of the various tools.
While never challenging, these moments of respite from the stealth showcase the game’s assets, like the rat swarms, the orchestral music, and the incredible voice acting. A well-thrown pot of flammable liquid will set a tar pit ablaze, forcing the rats to flow out of the way like receding water, all while the characters encourage one another or talk about their plan to reach their goal.
As you’re solving puzzles and sneaking past guards, you will also be leveling up Amicia. Depending on your playstyle, Amicia will naturally improve in certain areas. Be more aggressive during stealth sections and her offensive-based talents will grow. Lean into the stealth and Amicia will gain passive benefits like moving faster while crouching or making less noise. It’s a neat way of leveling that actively rewards each playstyle.
Once bitten, twice shy
While A Plague Tale: Requiem wobbles along the line of being an enjoyable game, it does sometimes slip. There were a myriad of design elements that I found to be too annoying to simply overlook. For starters, the controls are clunky, never feeling quite as fluid as one would hope. This becomes more evident in the puzzles that require the player to push carts around as they wind up handling like a shopping cart with three crooked wheels.
Then there is the contextual use of the sprint function. Amicia walks at a ponderously slow pace, which is great when you’re happy to take in the sights of the gorgeous environments, but becomes frustrating when you want to hurry up. Though Amicia does have the ability to sprint, it’s only during stealth sections or in action-packed run sequences.
The decision to not allow Amicia to sprint when out of combat does the game a disservice. I found myself wanting to explore a gorgeous field, but decided not to given the time it would take to cross the area twice. Even exploring a reasonably small area, like the hold of a ship, was arduous.
Thankfully, Requiem is quite linear, never really requiring the player to do much exploring to get the necessary materials to craft new tools. However, its linear nature is a double-edged sword. The player has to believe that the only available path is the logical one – this immersion breaks whenever an alternative is visible, but unavailable.
As an example, Amicia had to reach her family that were waiting in a boat. Instead of slipping under a rope and dropping down a small ledge (a height she’s dropped down before), the only option was to work through a quarry teeming with rats. It’s this disconnect between the set dressing, level design, and the characters’ motivations to survive that takes the player out of the moment.
Searching for a cure
Asobo Studio has done well to continue the story of Amicia and her brother Hugo in A Plague Tale: Requiem. The narrative excels at exploring Amicia’s internal strife balanced against the need to protect and help her brother. Unfortunately, while the puzzles, lighting, and rat swarming systems are neat, they are weighed down by the tedious stealth sections and clunky controls. Those who enjoyed the first game will likely want to see it through to the end, but those who are new may find the experience lacking.
This review is based on a Steam code provided by the publisher. A Plague Tale: Requiem is available on October 18, 2022 on PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X/S.
A Plague Tale: Requiem
- Breathtaking visuals: gorgeous environments and horrific brutality
- An entertaining continuation of the story from the first game
- Inventive puzzles based on the impressive rat swarm and lighting mechanics
- Great voice acting and soundtrack
- Controls are a bit clunky
- Stealth can be tedious
- Combat, though improved, is still lackluster
- Quite linear with contextual use of sprint makes for a slow experience