The next chapter of Amicia and Hugo's story is here, and we've got plenty of thoughts about this compelling, emotional adventure.
It's been three and a half years since Asobo Studio charmed us with their tragic tale of siblings Hugo and Amicia in the critically acclaimed adventure A Plague Tale: Innocence, and now it's finally time to see what new dangers await the ominous youngsters on a new console generation. For my own part, however, I first played the original a few months ago, and so it is with the first game fresh in my mind that I see how incredibly far the French developer has come when it's time for part two. For A Plague Tale: Requiem not only manages to deliver one of the year's best-looking and most moving titles, but it also does so while refining and expanding the basic premise in almost every way imaginable.
The story picks up a couple of months after the first game ended, and while it's not completely impossible to follow the story if you haven't played the original, I'd still advise you all, if you haven't already, to familiarise yourself with part one first. It's not just that Innocence is a great game that still holds up today, but by knowing the challenges that Hugo and Amicia have faced and the sacrifices they've had to make in the past, you're rewarded way more when thinking about the new trials they face. A lot of the problem regarding Hugo's "condition" is, however, in the beginning of Requiem a thing of the past, but soon the resolve of the De Rune family is once again put to the test, and ominous shadows from the past once again appear on the horizon. I won't reveal too much about what happens throughout the 15-hour adventure, but the big focus from the first game - the interaction between the two siblings - is of course the big star here too, and even if at times it can feel a little straightforward, in this emotionally charged sibling drama, it is still offered in a satisfying way where the very end actually made me emotional when all the puzzle pieces fell into place.
Much of this is of course attributed to the well-written characters, and seeing how both Hugo and Amicia have grown as individuals since we last saw them is a lovely journey to be on from start to finish. Because there is an incredible amount of humanity in the presentation and the actions of the young family members, and even if it is mostly about an overprotective big sister and an optimistic and naïve little brother, you manage to paint a deeper picture where other strengths and flaws are allowed to come to the surface. Namely, Amicia loves her little brother more than anything else, but when he behaves defiantly or illogically (as children of course do sometimes), the frustration shines through in a wonderfully human way, and it is these moments that, in my opinion, the storytelling is at its very best.
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I remember, for example, how as a player you come across a cave by the sea a bit into the adventure and your party had to wade through about thirty centimetres of salt water to get to the other side (which of course shouldn't be a big deal for a group of young people who have faced death several times). This particular time, however, Hugo (who in his defence is around six years old) thought the water was incredibly scary and unpleasant for some reason, and he didn't move an inch before someone picked him up and carried him to safety over the harmless waves. This is then an incredibly small detail that doesn't really add much to the story itself, but it is with these small quirks that you build character and feel connected to these virtual beings in a very subtle and wonderful way.
A Plague Tale: Requiem is not only about Amicia and Hugo, however, as once again there are a number of new acquaintances to get to know, while a couple of old faces are also in the mix. The always logical and extremely dutiful apprentice Lucas is with us right from the start this time, and during the journey we also get to know a knight named Arnaud and a pirate captain called Sophia. These two characters then add an incredible amount to the experience, and it is through their adult eyes, filled with sarcasm and worldliness, that Amicia and Hugo's youthful and immature determination are satisfactorily contrasted. There certainly aren't too many surprising story and unpredictable plot twists throughout the 17 different chapters, but there are at least enough shadows and grey areas to make this story something more than just a tale of good versus evil.
The story itself, on the other hand, is a mixed bag with a clear bias towards the positive. Sometimes you can feel the characters' love, anxiety, regret, panic and fear with frightening accuracy, but other times, unfortunately, there is a bit too much overexposure and drama when you try to nail down a person's inner thoughts and motive. Many games do suffer from this as it is difficult to convey feelings and ideas while controlling a character in third person, but in Requiem it can sometimes become a bit obvious and exaggerated. For example, when I've been told for several hours, and an entire game before that, that Amicia will do anything to save Hugo, I don't need to hear the same Amicia talking out loud to herself for the 23rd time about how she has to make it to her little brother in time before something bad happens. It simply feels like the developers are unsure if we as players really understand the seriousness of various situations, and at the same time they want you to feel the same stress and despair as the main character does, but unfortunately instead this constant pressure and emotional force-feeding can blunt one's mind as one has heard the same thing far too many times before.
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In addition, there are some illusion-breaking moments during the journey, which become especially noticeable when you try to anchor the adventure in a dark and inhospitable reality. Succeeding in the feat of sneaking through an enemy camp unnoticed falls a little flat when one second later you start shouting inside a room with the soldiers on the outside unable to detect you anymore. It certainly seems like small things in the grand scheme of things, and it is to some extent, but when you really want to draw one as a player into an ambitious and immersive experience, it is among these details that the seams are seen with extra clarity.
A Plague Tale: Innocence was met in 2019 with some criticism that it was very self-playing, and although it was never a problem for me considering that the story was always at the centre, there were other players who found this relatively dull. In Requiem, they have to some extent tried to fix this with larger levels and more freedom to tackle different problems, but it is at the same time a double-edged sword as the game mechanics sometimes work perfectly, but other times not at all. In the beginning, for example, you don't have many opportunities to defend yourself, and since your slingshot is extremely loud (before you have time to upgrade it) it's usually best to try to sneak through a lot of situations if you don't want to be spotted by a small army. Since, as I said, many levels are very large and contain quite a lot of enemies, this sneaking becomes exhausting, as you constantly feel unsure whether you will be seen or not, and several times I was actually discovered when I was certain that I was outside of view.
I ended up, after several failed attempts, manically running like Forest Gump during these sections in hopes of reaching the next checkpoint and not having to replay the same sequence again, and some of these moments in the opening of the title can feel slightly annoying and unnecessarily troublesome for those who just want to see the next part of the story. However, it gets significantly better the longer the game goes on, and when unlocking a crossbow and more alchemy abilities, these sequences can instead be extremely rewarding. Not having to run away with your tail between your legs, and instead shooting arrows from the shadows and throwing fire grenades from above was very entertaining, and it's a shame that this joy only appears a bit into the adventure when it can shine in its full glory.
The thing I hated the most, however, throughout my playthrough was when the developers chose, on a handful of occasions, to lock you as a player into tight arenas and then send multiple waves of enemies your way. Because these situations mostly act like the game's boss battles, and unfortunately they haven't really been thought through in my opinion. Namely, Amicia is a ranged fighter who does her best from a distance, and depriving the player of this advantage can lead to a lot of frustration. Being locked in a limited area where the majority of knights are charging at your position while you frantically look for an opportunity to use your crossbow or slingshot is not fun, and when you can also die from just a measly arrow or from a knight coming a little too close, one's patience is truly tested. Sure, you have a greater opportunity to use firebombs and disorienting gas clouds to slow down your attackers in Requiem compared to Innocence, but since these require resources to craft, it mostly leads to franticly running around trying to find the assets scattered across the battlefield, and of course this isn't much fun either.
I understand that you want to maintain Amicia's vulnerability by making it easy for her to fall and without any real opportunities to defend herself in close combat, but I wished many times that she would ditch the crossbow and learn how to use a shield and a sword, or alternatively, simply avoid ending up in situations where her biggest asset usually becomes a big minus. Fortunately, there's still not too much of a focus on fighting, as A Plague Tale: Requiem is mostly about discovering locations, solving puzzles and exploring different environments while the story slowly unfolds, and it's truly in these moments that the game series shows itself from its best side. Because the landscapes in Requiem are stunningly beautiful, and traveling through a medieval Europe (and other places too) is an absolute delight for one's senses where fairy-tale colours, vibrant nature and clever use of light constantly make one's jaw drop. The graphics are sometimes brilliant, and although some textures can of course lose their magic under closer inspection, they do a good job of creating a dazzling world where everything from sun-drenched forest glades to rain-soaked back streets impresses on a visual and atmospheric level.
Nevertheless, the facial animations manage to evoke admiration, and even if they can sometimes be perceived as somewhat plastic and lifeless, they are usually filled with lively and subtle expressions of emotion that make you recognise yourself in many scenes. The music and soundscape also deserve a lot of praise, and there are some recurring melodies and leitmotifs from the original title, while new pieces with a strong focus on violins and flutes have been satisfactorily baked in. The voice actors also do a very good job and much of the immersion in the story can be attributed to them, as they bring the script to life.
In the end, A Plague Tale: Requiem is a wonderful sequel that does a lot right in managing its basic premise and refining it into something better. Unfortunately, it's still clear that Asobo doesn't have a deeper understanding when it comes to crafting an engaging and well-constructed action solution, but luckily they've once again chosen to focus on their gripping story and lovable characters. For that reason you should play this delightfully beautiful adventure game, and if you liked the predecessor, there's really no reason to miss this exciting fantasy tale. A Plague Tale: Requiem is without a doubt one of the best and most impressive games of the year in my opinion, and it's really only a couple of details in its ambitious scope that hold back Hugo and Amicia's long-awaited second chapter. However, by all means, don't let the negative aspects scare you away from experiencing this gripping drama, because this is a well-written saga you definitely don't want to miss. Believe me.