Originally published at: Review | A Plague Tale: Requiem - XboxEra
A Plague Tale: Innocence was released in May 2019 and soon earned its place as a fan favourite. Three years later the follow-up is here and releases day one on to Xbox Game Pass. While the first title had a roughly twelve-hour play time this one has been expanded to almost double that figure.
The original game felt just the right length and was certainly not guilty of outstaying its welcome so the decision to extend its sequel significantly could turn out to be a blessing or a curse if it ‘over-eggs the pudding’. A good musical example of this would be to ask how many fans of the Clash prefer the bloated triple album ‘Sandinista!’ to the succinct double album that is ‘London Calling’. I think we all know the answer to that one. Let’s see how things pan out in the XboxEra review of A Plague Tale: Requiem.
Once again we find the main characters Amicia and Hugo (the most annoying yet deadly little brother in the world) doing their best to survive in a medieval France that is being ravaged by both the Hundred Years’ war and the spread of the black death. Hugo is still struggling to control the ancient evil within him and inadvertently attracts hordes of rats that destroy any pleasant land that they visit. In his dreams, an island inhabited by a Phoenix seems to hold the answers to curing his condition and saving his life so the siblings set off to find it. They have to navigate a very dangerous path to get there.
Return of the Macula
The game is presented in the same third-person perspective as its predecessor and is a narrative-driven action-adventure game. Puzzles need to be solved to progress beyond certain points and the larger locations make traversal slightly less linear than in the first game as you can choose multiple paths across certain areas. There is still a focus on stealth and evasion but this has been altered to allow players who are put off by that style of play to ‘go loud’ to a certain extent and then slip back into the shadows.
Resource gathering is a must, allowing Amicia to concoct alchemical mixtures that create and extinguish fire, expand fire intensity and attract rats to a particular location. The light-adverse rats travel in large swarms and can be used to kill any enemies who find themselves in dark areas. It is very important to stay in the light yourself to avoid becoming one of their victims.
Weaponry is expanded as the game progresses from a Sling to one-use knives and a Crossbow that is powerful against armoured enemies. Using Workbenches littered around the landscape a la ‘Sniper Elite’ you can upgrade the Sling and Crossbow when you have collected enough raw materials. One upgrade enables the crafting of incendiary grenades using pottery bowls. The players’ particular play style is rewarded with skill upgrades as the game progresses making it possible to develop into a stealthy non-combative shadow or a highly skilled killing machine.
Environmental puzzles have to be solved using your weapons, alchemical skills, local machinery, the manipulation of hordes of rats, and the different skills of other characters you meet on your travels. As well as Hugo being able to get into places that Amicia cannot i.e through small holes in walls the duo spends time with a character who can be ordered to fight particular enemies while you concentrate on other matters and another character who can use a prism to create smoke and cause a distraction during stealth sections or refract light to keep rats at bay in dark areas.
The introduction of these different skills was refreshing and prevented gameplay from becoming stale. This is especially important since the game takes quite a while to get going and feels like A Plague Tale: Innocence DLC for several hours until it suddenly blooms into a more interesting proposition.
Hugo can use his supernatural connection to the plague to sense enemy positions in one chapter of the game while in others he can control small groups of rats to satisfyingly overwhelm and devour any soldiers in his way. Well, those that are lacking a protective personal light source.
Anyone familiar with the series will be aware of the need to run away from pulsing tides of rats as part of timed chase sequences. These can be rather annoying as the perspective regularly changes so that Amicia is running towards the camera rather than away from it. As the player has no idea what is coming up ahead it is only possible to learn the correct route by guessing which way to go. A wrong turn results in instant death but trial and error is the only way to learn the safe route. To my mind, this is not a clever game design.
A chase sequence generally ends with a cut scene of Amicia opening a particular type of door, closing it, and locking it shut with a sliding metal bolt. There are many of these chase events throughout the game and this repeated piece of footage soon gets very, very old. I can honestly say that I never want to see it again, surely they could have had a few different doors and locking methods to mix the imagery up a bit.
The game is driven by an interesting narrative and delivers quality stealth, horror and adventure gameplay but there are issues with the experience. The ‘Normal’ difficulty setting is far harder than it needs to be and can lead to player frustration when certain moments have to be played over and over again to get through them. The sheer number of enemies that can gang up on you can make things overly difficult. One example of this is that there is no fun to be had in dying twenty times while attempting to sneak through an enemy camp in darkness with no clear destination visible. This becomes even more enraging when you discover that you have worked your way around in a circle to where you started. ‘Narrative’ difficulty delivers a far more enjoyable experience but is still reasonably challenging without turning specific sections into a grind.
Some of the tasks required to allow story progression are badly described and can cause unnecessary confusion. At one point I was looking for a ‘Round Tower’ for a very long time only to discover that a few layers of ruined brickwork were the intended location. This may have been a round tower at some point in history but that description was sadly lacking and caused me to waste lots of time roaming all over the map. Finding the entrance to a Fort located out of view caused me similar issues in the very same area.
I was playing through the game on a pre-release build and experienced a few glitches, two-second pauses and what can only be described as terrible push-pull mechanics when trying to move trolleys across the map. A day-one patch is planned so hopefully that will iron out these issues.
In a game whose level of detail includes the guano left behind on city walls by birds, I find it very strange that the camera angles available are so weird. Basically, if you want the characters to face forward you can only see them from the thighs upwards, if you move the camera up in the air you can see their whole body in a more aesthetically pleasing manner from the top of their head but have a view of the floor in front of them. It may just be me but I found this rather jarring.
The game itself turns out to be much longer than it needs to be. It takes an age to get going and if you manage to get past the bits which feel like a re-run of the first game you are rewarded by an enjoyably different middle section only to have to suffer a far too drawn-out finale. The climax itself feels like it goes on forever but then weirdly ends abruptly. I will say stick around for the end credits as there are further sections and cut scenes that can be easily missed.
On a positive note, there are lots of accessibility options including ‘Invincibility mode’ which prevents you from being killed by other human characters although the environment and rats can still do their worst. This is a setting that could possibly make the normal difficulty more bearable for a lot of players.
Overall, the game has a lot of good things going for it. The narrative, puzzles, combat and new game mechanics make for an interesting and worthwhile experience but the extended game length is unnecessary and makes it feel like the story is being padded out to breaking point. Sometimes less is indeed more. Fans of the first game will undoubtedly enjoy this one. It may have turned out to be more of a Sandinista! than a London Calling but it is still well worth checking out, especially as it is on Game Pass from day one.
|Reviewed on||Xbox Series X|
|Available on||Xbox Series X|S, Windows PC, PS5, Nintendo Switch|
|Release Date||October 18th, 2022|
|Publisher||Focus Home Interactive|