Need to know
what is that The sequel to 2019’s A Plague Tale: Innocence, an action-adventure starring two young siblings and a swarm of assassins.
Expect to pay: £44/$50
Release date: October 18, 2022
Developer: Asobo Studio
Publisher: Focus Entertainment
Reviewed on: RTX 2070, i7-10750H, 16GB RAM
Link: Official website (opens in a new tab)
Never work with children or animals, according to the old show business adage. And while the sentiment doesn’t usually extend to games, it’s a brave developer who would put an impulsive five-year-old at the center of a maddening action-adventure, or try to build logical systems on a horde of adorable rats. However, Asobo Studio managed just that with A Plague Tale: Innocence , and its bold sequel ups the ante with an even more deft touch.
Despite the unorthodox casting of its animals and youngsters, Innocence largely operated within constraints set by bigger names, most notably The Last of Us. Requiem, by contrast, feels like spreading its wings, buoyed by its predecessor’s success to forge an unmistakable identity. In terms of production values among comparable titles, it still bows out to Sony heavyweights like The Last of Us Part 2 and God of War, but little else. And most importantly it grows out of the elements that shone in the original – the palpable texture of its medieval setting, the pathos in its character relationships, and the persistent threat of the rats. Building everything around that core, Requiem is often more compelling and relatable than its celebrated peers.
This story begins with the survivors of the first game traveling south through France to escape the scar of the rat plague that has engulfed their home. Adolescent Amicia De Rune – the protagonist – and her little brother Hugo begin to enjoy life again, frolicking in lush fields and pretending to storm an abandoned castle. Meanwhile, the children’s mother and her apprentice Lucas are more concerned about having Hugo controlled by a famous alchemist, because the rats are ultimately tied to a curse in his blood, and no one wants them to show their furry little faces again.
Of course, the group’s fortunes soon take a turn for the worse, and it won’t be long before you’re knee-deep in slurry, corpses and periocular rodents. “Nothing ever stays beautiful,” Hugo says, succinctly. Requiem stands out in these contrasts, however, flooding the screen with vibrant joys one minute, despair the next. Innocence also had moments of color and hope, but the Provençal and Mediterranean environments in this odyssey are blessed with sunshine, burning green countryside and contented farmers. An early market scene embodies this spirit as much as anything, with rich yellow dyes and hot red spices adding extra heat to the faces of gleeful traders, which makes it all the more terrifying when things go wrong.
Not only the views but also the characters move the mood. Young Hugo is the star here, and his changes from a mood of playful innocence, simply fascinated by the world, to trembling fear or destructive rage set the pace of the game. That the script handles these transitions so coherently is a minor miracle, while the back and forth chat between him and Amicia or other companions expertly strengthens the bonds between them. Your role as Hugo’s protector, clinging to his hand with sweaty intensity, torn between love and the weight of responsibility, is beautifully realized.
Of rats and men
As always, when trouble arrives, it comes in two flavors – humans and rats. The former are always up to no good, of course, especially the powerful, and an unpleasant confrontation leads to fresh trauma for Hugo, which sets off the plague again. So you’ll be blasting heads off with rocks from Amicia’s sling before you know it, hunted by soldiers and mercenaries, as the dark swarm begins to chew through a picturesque town, and can only be held back by light and fire. Indeed, after only a few chapters of Requiem, many of the systems drip-fed in the first game have already returned, leaving much of the adventure to explore new territory.
With all this extra room to develop, many human encounters (with or without rats) become hidden sandboxes, lined with hideouts, vantage points and shortcuts. These are more extensive than their counterparts in Innocence, and give you more material to work with. Again, you collect ingredients to create throwable chemical compounds, such as fire starters, extinguishers, and rat bait, but it’s easier to find and combine what you need. You can also quickly switch between throwing these compounds, shooting them from the sling, placing them in a ceramic pot to create an impact missile area, and eventually attaching them to the end of a crossbow bolt. Different methods are required to distract, stun, blind or kill enemies, depending on the type of armor and weapons they are equipped with. Although these options never quite match the emergent potentials of immersive simulation, there is always a lingering feeling at the end of a section that you could have done things differently.
At the same time, items like pots, bolts, and quick-kill knives are limited, so you can’t rely too much on your most powerful tools (knives in particular are best kept as they can also pry away the rusted locks. hidden treasures). You also have to decide when to call on the specific abilities of companions, whether that’s Lucas, Hugo or one of the new faces that join your party. In Hugo’s case that may even mean taking control of small packs of rats, then moving them away from a rodent’s eye as they tear up a scene eating anyone unfortunate enough to be in the way.
As for the rats, when it’s just you and them, they’re still actually part of the game’s environmental puzzles, and function quite mechanically, like a living sea of lava, albeit one that can be changed and shaped to some extent by carving out paths of light. . The challenge for Requiem will always be to keep the chic black crowd scary, given how much Innocence we’ve exploited their predictable behavior. To some extent it succeeds by increasing the numbers, having them erupt in tsunamis that crash through stone walls with a momentum that might even swamp and suffocate valuable light sources. Playing with them can also feel more dangerous, as you might push them away temporarily, only to have them come flooding back as you enter what you thought was safe land.
The real strength of Requiem, however, does not come from any one component, more from its constant motion. As situations evolve, it adds fresh ways you can interact with scenes, whether that’s through new tools, different allies that tilt the tenor of encounters more toward stealth or combat, or occasional setups that serve a different problem altogether. A scene where you are faced with a falconer and his deadly bird, for example, has you creating short diversions then zipping to the next cover point, while another has you working a crossbow turret picking off charging soldiers.
Stealth and security
However, there are downsides to all this ambition. Because the systems are broader and more organic, they have more opportunities to clash with bizarre and irrational outcomes. Shoving explosive pots around or moving rats like Hugo can cause complications, as delayed predators end up in unexpected places you should be able to access. Partner characters, meanwhile, can get stuck on scenery (especially Lucas for some reason), and the larger ones have a habit of getting in your way with their extra dimension. A case of never working with adults.
In general, secret sections can be a little bad, with too many lines of sight to keep track of. It’s a problem because once you’ve been seen, you can also reload the last checkpoint and go again, which can tend toward trial and error. Also, if you get frustrated with a series of such mistakes in the same area, it’s often easier to calmly kill everyone rather than making an effort with stealth, which always seems a bit corrupted. “I don’t like it, but I always end up having to do it”, Amicia explains to one of her companions after lighting up an unconscious victim. You may well feel the same.
Still, it’s hard to begrudge Requiem this unevenness when so much of what it does lands exactly as intended, and even in hidden sections when you go through in a clean take, it can be wonderfully exhilarating to sneak through the big metal door. that announces a moment of security. Frustrations fade away in the breadth of a full-spectrum action-adventure that switches gears into exciting hunts, then brain teasers and teamwork, confidently holding your attention for nearly 20 hours.
But perhaps the most effective example of this confidence comes in the second half of the game, when it lets off the throttle for a while to let you leisurely explore a Mediterranean island, a paradise of bougainvillea petals, chirping cicadas and creeping afternoon heat. The goal here is just to spend quality time with your characters. At one point Hugo spots a tower and decides he wants to climb it. Why? Just because towers are fun to climb. It’s a reminder that beneath all the death and misery survives the wide-eyed reverence of adventure that remains at the heart of Requiem even after it turns dark again and rolls to a poignant finale. And so Requiem takes us through the heights and depths of human experience, not only working with children and animals, but letting them run the show.