When previewing A Plague Tale: Requiem a little over one month ago, I went out on a limb and made a statement saying that even from just two chapters, I could tell that Asobo Studio had done it again, that the game was going to be good - even better than the first game, A Plague Tale: Innocence. With my limb now very much exposed, the issue now is if I was right and if this is superior to the original surprise hit.
The answer to that question is yes. Since I said it, naturally, it would turn out true - like all of the predictions I make on the site or our podcast. The critical question is why A Plague Tale: Requiem is better than A Plague Tale: Innocence. Settle in, grab a few traps and ride the wave of rats to some conclusion.
When I finally got to the part I covered in my preview, my thoughts and feelings towards Amicia had grown substantially since we first met her in Guyenne (Guienne). I already liked Amicia from the first outing, and the growth of Amicia from those first steps has only increased here, as well as further development from other characters like Hugo, Lucas, and others you meet on the way. More than personal growth, A Plague Tale: Requiem highlights skills growth within the cast.
It's still highly recommended you keep sneaking as best as possible. Amicia is now a killer; nobody can't deny that. She's stronger, faster, and generally more capable of handling herself - this is even more true when she picks up a crossbow part-way through the game, adding to her sling - a weapon of mass destruction. Lucas also introduces you to new alchemical recipes, giving you more at your disposal during your travels. Hugo further increases his abilities, making him the commander of the Skaven horde.
Hugo, in the first outing, wasn't a character I enjoyed much. A whiny, naggy, little bastard constantly seeking attention, I could understand his whining to an extent - he is five, after all - but it got a little tiring after a while. Fortunately for me, Hugo isn't your companion for the first chunk of the game, and even when he does around a third of the way in, his rampant pessimism is almost endearing. Yes, Hugo, I also live in a rat-infested wasteland where the best you can hope for is death; it's called the United Kingdom under the Conservative party.
If I have to take issue with something in A Plague Tale: Requiem, it's that while the suffering is needed - it's part of the struggle - it revels almost too much in it. Even in the first chapter, when you're not worried about your pending furry little friends (though expecting their arrival if you know of the first game), you come across a murderous band of thugs. A disproportionate number of chapters seem to follow the same structure:
1) Oh, this is quite pleasant.
2) Oh no, shit is getting a bit effed up.
3) OH GOD, OH GOD, OH GOD.
It's not the worst thing ever, and the chapters lead into themselves well. There's a clear distinction between what feels like three acts, even if the acts have their occurrences of the structural points. Onto the suffering, it's been a while - the Tomb Raider reboot, or maybe the Hostel films - since I've seen a woman take this much beating. It starts with Amicia getting what would now be a severe concussion from being smacked in the head by a sword pommel and goes downhill from there.
While on the subject of issues, the ending can outstay its welcome, with far too many forced combat sections. Much like the first, A Plague Tale: Requiem is a narrative-driven stealth game. Amicia may be a killer and have more weaponry and alchemical recipes, but she's still prone to a quick death when enemies get too close. This can make it all the more annoying when the game tears away stealth and thinking from you, forcing you to kill enough soldiers to reform the sixth army.
Almost too many times, Asobo Studio must have thought, "Oh, we're making a game, aren't we?" resulting in these sections. A Plague Tale is one of the few series I can thoroughly enjoy for its very directed nature, and it keeps this up most of the time, so I'm not going to hold this against it too much. You've heard all you need to on that; there are forced combat sections, contrived and almost too "gamey", having to make ammo respawns (for lack of a better term) in a game that has been very stingy with ammo so far.
It's not that I have an aversion to killing. What I like about the stealth sections is that you feel like medieval teen Hitman, feeling your way through the environments, picking off your targets (which is everybody with a pulse) in various inventive ways. From putting out their torches and letting the rats eat them to exploding a jar of tar, setting them on fire, to simply slinging a rock at their head with the force of Haleys Comet, it's all quite enjoyable. Stealthing past or doing a runner for the door that marks the end of the section is also fun and very tense.
That is to say, A Plague Tale: Requiem feels like it gives you options, despite the only real option being "stay away from the stabby soldiers". It's constantly tense in both the abovementioned story and the beat-by-beat gameplay. One of the star members from the first game also helps to propel this forward; the rats. If you thought the rats were somewhat horrifying in the first game, you haven't seen anything yet, with them coming in such force that nothing can stand in their way.
As before, you can use the rats to your advantage. More than that, you can now directly control the skittering horde when Hugo is accompanying you. Other times you'll get other NPC allies. For example, Lucas can use his stupifacio powder to stun nearby enemies. A later soldier ally can kill anybody in a one-on-one fight, only needing your support if there's more than one enemy soldier.
When you're not stealthing or fighting, the puzzles return, adding a few new elements. If I were honest, the puzzles have never been the most challenging in the series, nor do they continue to be here. Asobo Studio does enough to make the puzzles look more complex than they are, the outcome making you feel like you've accomplished something, even if the game outright gave the majority to you. The only puzzle I couldn't solve - even if it is solvable - is how to rescue an NPC early in the game. I tried over and over again, but he always died.
Another thing I need to mention is that the story of A Plague Tale: Requiem - as excellent as it is - wouldn't likely be as compelling without the incredible design backing it up. This world feels and looks fantastic, with several little tricks - such as showing you a settlement from afar before you quickly get there - helping to make the game feel larger than it is. In addition to this, and linking to a recent issue, the voice acting here is stellar. A Plague Tale: Requiem would not be the game it is without the artists voicing Amicia, Hugo, Lucas, and more.
Overall, A Plague Tale: Requiem is a true sequel to A Plague Tale: Innocence. It doesn't try to reinvent the wheel; it takes every single element from the first outing and expands on them, giving the player more to do and more to see, wrapping it up in one of the better stories you'll find in video games.
PC version reviewed. Copy provided by the publisher.