The idyllic scene with which A Plague Tale: Requiem starts took me by complete surprise. Having the harrowing image of the Black Plague’s devastation from the first game still fresh in my mind, I didn’t expect to find protagonists Amicia and Hugo playing – seemingly without care – in an open field, as the leaves of nearby trees swayed gently in the wind.
The genuine joy in their voices almost made me forget about the boy’s inner corruption. But, much like a game of hide-and-seek becomes a means of teaching you how stealth works, tragedy always follows the de Rune family, and, soon enough, they’re cast back into the fray.
Requiem picks up after the events of the original, following the duo as they leave behind their plague-ravaged home, seeking to understand and cure Hugo’s condition. It builds upon A Plague Tale: Innocence’s stealth-focused action-adventure formula while expanding upon it in a number of different ways. It’s a bigger, still mostly linear game, but not all of its new additions work in its favor, while a lack of optimization manages to hamper some of its best moments.
Hardened by her first encounter with the plague, Amicia has a handful of old and new tools at her disposal. Aside from her sling – useful to quickly dispatch enemies not wearing a helmet – and penchant for alchemy, she now also gets one-time use knives alongside a deadly crossbow. They both allow for a more direct approach to eliminating unarmored opponents and can make it easier to pass through areas unnoticed.
One of the game's many beautiful environments
Alchemy still revolves around finding resources in crates spread across levels and using them to craft different types of ammunition, which you can fire using the sling and crossbow or throw using your hands or pots. Ignifer lights up fires to keep rats at bay; Extinguis snuffs them out when you need to brutally execute soldiers; Odoris makes rat swarms focus on a point in the environment, granting you passage through an area that would otherwise mean certain death.
Ammo can also be used to distract guards, when push comes to shove, giving you time to hide. The fourth addition, tar, can amplify the strength of fires to push back rats or stun guards and slow down directly targeted opponents. When thrown using a pot, it creates a flammable puddle on the ground that can be lit up to incinerate unarmored foes.
A handful of other interactions – like setting on fire patches of grass you’d otherwise use to stealthily move around or blowing up fire bombs in the hands of certain opponents – produce empowering results, but you can’t turn Amicia into a cold-blooded killer at all times.
Pyrite, is a fifth, but less useful option available as a last resort if you somehow find yourself without a light source in a sea of rats. Found in chests rather than crafted, it enables Amicia to whip the ground, creating sparks that allow her to forge a path through. On normal difficulty, at least, I didn’t find many uses for it, making it feel like a bit of an afterthought.
Taking in the view
Although using alchemical ammo does allow you to fool, distract, or set foes on fire, being sneaky is not much more enjoyable than it was in the first game, and even then it wasn’t exactly fresh. Stealth sequences also fall prey to mechanical constraints that break immersion.
Every now and then, I’d notice how crouching makes enemies oblivious to your position even if your companions stay out in the open. At one point, I had to push a cart downhill to reach a platform and the patrolling guard who could clearly see it in a place where it wasn’t supposed to be did precisely nothing.
When you can’t distract them by throwing rocks behind them or at conveniently positioned crates of armor, waiting for soldiers you can’t eliminate to turn around so you can sneak into the next patch of grass isn’t very exciting. Although not particularly long, these segments drag on and it’s always more enjoyable to take out as many enemies as you can before dashing to the door that brings safety, rather than methodically using stealth.
This tactic doesn’t always work, however, making some of these bits particularly frustrating. Thankfully, you can also exploit the AI in certain areas, outwitting them by moving back and forth between a crack in the wall, or around a pillar so that they slowly circle around with weapons drawn out, giving you enough time to put some distance between you and them.
On a couple of occasions, I found myself having enough of each tool and the means to use them or Hugo’s powers to control the rats – whenever available – to dispatch an entire group of foes. This was the best part of “stealth” in A Plague Tale: Requiem. Yet, sadly, even these moments were brought down by the game’s disappointing optimization, which I’ll touch upon below.
Fire is a rat's worst enemy
Perhaps out of a dose of self-awareness, A Plague Tale: Requiem always splits its levels into different types of sections, so that no two in a row ask the same thing of you. Once you’ve evaded guards, you’ll get at least a bit of respite walking around, completing a puzzle, or traversing a rat-covered area, before you have to face human foes again.
You also end up moving platforms to pour tar on the ground, which you light up in order to create a path, or take out a small army using a crossbow as the boat you’re on navigates a river.
Hugo and Amicia also encounter a few companions along the way, who briefly allow you to directly engage guards or temporarily distract them using a lens that creates smoke in nearby grass patches. This leads to a nice trickle of new gameplay elements that get introduced and taken away throughout the game’s 18 to 20 hours.
But this variety is a double-edged sword since it makes it harder for Requiem’s gameplay to find a center when looking at the broader picture. The title also telegraphs the type of upcoming encounters rather obviously. A knife on your path means you’ll be dealing with guards you might need to stab if caught as you stealth past; a conveniently placed chest of resources means that rats likely wait ahead.
This is nothing new but did make me too aware at times that I was moving through a level handcrafted by a designer, rather than a gorgeous chunk of medieval Europe masterfully built to mold itself to serve the game’s mechanical needs.
Launching Ignifer ammo at a pot of tar has explosive results
Amicia can also upgrade her gear, becoming more efficient with the crossbow, sling, alchemy, or the upgrade process itself. The various picks make your sling quieter, let you retrieve bolts from fallen enemies, or remove the need to use workbenches to upgrade but, without scouring the levels for chests, I unlocked less than half in my playthrough.
Depending on how you approach levels, she also passively gains skills in one of three tracks: Prudence, Aggressive, and Opportunism. I ended up partially leveling all three, although I can’t quite say what fuels the latter.
The skills aren’t massive game changers and the system does fade into the background too easily, but moving faster while crouching, being able to push unaware opponents into swarms of rats or fires, and having a chance to not use up a resource while crafting are welcome little bonuses.
Visually, A Plague Tale: Requiem looks better, having improved character models and environments both bleak and flooded with color. There’s quite a bit of detail going into some of its areas, like a bustling market full of people in different garb trying to sell their wares, or the gentle sway of the foliage in the wind.
The lip-syncing does look odd in certain cutscenes and a fuzz effect applied to objects in the distance becomes noticeable as you play, but never to the point where they actually detract from the experience. During peaceful moments and while exploring the game’s semi-open levels, I often found myself stopping just to take in the view.
Violence and brutality are two things the de Runes cannot outrun
The sequel focuses its narrative inwardly, which means that the plague isn’t as present as before. You’ll still see plenty of it and when the rat tide inevitably comes around, it does so with apocalyptic strength, capable of literally tearing down everything in its path.
But with the impact of its novelty gone, and the story more closely centered on Hugo and Amicia, the series’ hallmark element doesn’t quite have the same lasting impression as it did in the original, at least until the final stretch.
Both protagonists have left innocence behind, but they’re still vulnerable and get overwhelmed in their own ways, which the story explores well enough.
The supporting cast of characters doesn’t stand out on its own, instead serving to amplify critical moments and highlight the nature of the world surrounding the two protagonists. This, in turn, feeds back into who Amicia and Hugo are, how they feel, and what they ultimately end up doing.
Although it does overly dramatize a few scenes and washes over injuries and anxieties a little too easily for gameplay’s sake, the story alone is reason enough to play the sequel at some point if you’ve already completed the original.
On an i7-8700K, 16 GB RAM, Nvidia RTX 3080@1440p, getting A Plague Tale: Requiem to run at a stable 60 FPS was impossible.
The frame rate dipped regularly between 30 and 40 FPS, at times going as low as 20 in the game’s busier areas. Bringing things down to low quality did result in a gain of about 15-18 FPS, with DLSS having no noticeable impact.
This wasn’t always the case and Requiem’s beautifully crafted world looks much better when everything moves smoothly at 60 FPS or above. Unfortunately, the shaky optimization did also make gameplay frustrating.
Using the different ammo types and priming Amicia’s sling still takes a few seconds. She still feels somewhat sluggish to control, and the frame rate dips significantly worsen this, making combat and navigation feel clunky, particularly when you’re spotted by or defending against multiple opponents.
It impacted a good chunk of my experience with the game both prior to and after the launch of Nvidia’s new drivers. If you find gaming at 30 FPS fine, this may not be as big an issue, but especially seeing scenes alternate from (above) 60 to 40 FPS and below was jarring.
In terms of accessibility options, you can toggle several HUD indicators on or off, choose the size and color of both the background and text of subtitles, as well as between pressing and holding buttons for various interactions.
Aim assist is also featured alongside an invincibility mode that makes it impossible for most human foes to defeat you, although fire, rats, and other hazards can still do so.
A PLAGUE TALE: REQUIEM VERDICT
A Plague Tale: Requiem’s trump card is the variety of gameplay sequences between which it alternates. At its best, it spices up the original’s stealth action-adventure formula with new ways of eliminating foes or holding rats at bay. At its worst, it has you slogging through tedious or frustrating stealth sections.
This is a sequel that’s bigger, longer, and worth playing if you’re invested in Amicia and Hugo’s story. But while it successfully avoids repetition, a lack of truly interesting gameplay mechanics alongside disappointing optimization that makes controlling Amicia feel unnecessarily clunky at times hamper the overall experience at launch.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Witnessing the outright apocalyptic power of the rat swarms when they make their proper entrance for the first time.
Visually stunning environments and characters
Crossbow feels great to use
Skill system lacks impact
Optimization misses the mark