A Plague Tale: Requiem – Are we the baddies?

A Plague Tale: Requiem is a stealth-based third-person action/adventure, made by the developers Asobo Studio. It’s a sequel to A Plague Tale: Innocence and the story picks off where the first one left off. Now, I like the Last of Us and its gameplay loop as much as the next guy, and this game is almost a carbon copy of it, at least when it comes to how it is structured, in theory anyway. So, I don’t mind the occasional narrative-driven AAA game, but when the pacing constantly turns the game into a walking simulator, we are going to have a problem.

The story continues where the first one ended. You once again play as Amicia de Rune, sister and protector of the young Hugo. It has been eight months since the Inquisition was defeated, and these eight months have been bliss, comparable to what once was. Your brother’s affliction has retreated, and there has been no sign of the rats, nor the plague. However, as all things go, bad stuff happens which activates Hugo’s involuntary ratmancy skills anew. The world is once again thrown into the nibbling black abyss of death, and you and your brother with the help of a couple of friends must find a way to end the curse – to save your own souls and the world at large.

I found the story to be okay, at times even intriguing. It had me curious about what was going to happen next, but unfortunately, it suffers from some serious pacing issues. Both from a narrative sense, like how it meanders on at times with weak stakes and plot devices that leads nowhere, and from a gameplay perspective, which I will talk about later. The centerpiece of the story, the curse that runs through Hugo’s blood – the Prima Macula, is expanded on, however, it’s not explained at all. I found this weird because, if it’s not clear already, there is a truly supernatural, maybe even a Lovecraftian force behind this otherworldly malady, but it does not delve into this aspect of it. I understand that the focus is on the characters Amicia and Hugo, and their relationship, but ignoring the curse beyond surface-level stuff is a missed opportunity, especially since I think this will be the last game in the series if we go by the ending. The most interesting part of the story (besides the characters) is left as a huge mystery, in an otherwise somewhat grounded setting.

We are the rats!

Spoilers below!

I’m going to talk about some heavy spoilers next, so, if you don’t want to get spoiled about the story, skip to the next part. Anyway, like the first game, the curse in Hugo’s blood creates plagues around him, which kills and destroys whole cities through the birthing of millions of diseased rats. It’s not exactly Hugo’s fault, he was born with it, and he is still just a child after all. Yet, at one point in the story, you got to wonder if Amicia’s love for her brother is not played to the extreme. Also, her naivety about the situation is baffling. I realize this makes me seem cold, but one solution to the problem is to kill the child. And, as I said, I understand that he is innocent in the grand scheme of things, however, the amount of suffering he has caused is untold, and we have to acknowledge that other children are included in this, which we even get to see. Her compassion for her brother is her undoing, and I do think it makes the story ridiculous at times. The thought never even enters her mind, while the guilt of innocents lingers. This makes it hard to root for the siblings when everything they touch turns to death and decay, which she refuses to see. This sentiment includes the few friends they meet on the way. Most of them accept the child as he is, with little regard for the destruction around him. It’s truly ironic too if we take the last moment of the game into consideration – Amicia killing her own brother to stop the curse. It’s a tragic tale for sure, and it did get to me a little, but I still think it’s silly, and above all pointless. If her love for her brother did have a payout, it would have made more sense in a narrative sense – now, everything, you, and the characters went through in-game, were basically meaningless and just prolonged the suffering of thousands of people.

Spoilers ended

London stabbing witnessed

The gameplay consists of stealth, which I think makes up around a third of the game. I did enjoy it from time to time, but since you are playing a teenage girl there are some limitations to it. Forget about sneaking up on soldiers and choking them out, well, the helmeted ones at least, which will be the majority. You will have to rely on your sling, and the infernal rats to clear a path through your enemies. It works, but it never reaches the levels of other stealth-based games, and it feels way too gimmicky and gamified which I found unsuitable for the setting. One example is how you are always guaranteed to survive the first blow if you get spotted, regardless of it being ranged or melee. The screen will flash red for a few seconds, and during this time death is certain if caught again. However, as soon as the flashing ends, you can take another blow. It kills the immersion, and it didn’t take long for me to include this game mechanic in my approach to sneaking.

Another thing that has a big impact on the immersion, and that constantly repeats during the game, is that when you have completed a mission – usually having to sneak through hoards of enemies, the following cutscene plays out in a way that indicates that there was another way easier path to the objective. Like, one part of the game has you stealthing through a harbor to reach a ship. The area is filled with guards and environmental puzzles. However, after you have reached your objective, you get told through a cutscene that you need to head back home again because of some issue, but instead of having to take the same difficult way back, the cutscene shows you walking up to a gate with a fade to black effect activated when passing through. And suddenly you are back at your home again. Why in God’s name didn’t Amicia take this road from the start? This happens numerous times throughout the game, and it shatters the story engagement every time it happens.

Strategic placement of movable fire-pits has never been more important

Another smaller part of the gameplay consists of forced combat arenas, which take the silliness to true new heights, especially in combination with the female rage that accompanies these moments. It’s a game, and liberals will be taken, but it becomes a bit much when a teenage girl manages to take out up to ten fully armored men with ease when it’s supposed to be a somewhat realistic setting. Remember there is nothing supernatural behind her skills, she is just that good with her sling. Then we have the rest of the gameplay that can be explained as a “walking simulator”. This takes me back to the mentioned pacing issues, as these forced walking segments slow the game down to a crawl. I have nothing against walking in-game if it’s voluntary, but A Plague Tale is riddled with moments that the game almost stops thanks to these sessions. This mix with the endless talking, and whining among the characters gets really grating after a while. You are not allowed to go five meters without someone commentating on something, forcing a walking segment, or throwing you into another cutscene. Often these scenes will tell you what is already apparent. Yes, we know the characters are suffering for the tenth time, Jesus Christ, give us at least a few minutes of respite! It’s absolutely relentless how this part of the game works. It leaves nothing to the imagination, or anything else for us to ponder.

Welcome to your happy place

So, to summarize, the only true gaming part of the game is the stealth with the occasional combat arena, which is a minority of the game – the rest is walking, gawking at things, listening to endless dialogue, and of course watching cutscenes. This is standard AAA narrative driving gameplay, I guess, but in the case of this game, it’s taken to the extreme. It’s like they tried to outshine games like The Last of Us, by making the story parts of the game even more drawn out. There has to be balance, you are not making a movie here. Having me press up is not gameplay, and it does not get me involved in what is going on in front of me. The whole experience or large parts of it is just passive – like watching a film.

Visually, the game looks fantastic, both on a technical level and from an artistic standpoint. Some of the more strange locations look absolutely stunning, and in particular terrifying. It’s just a shame that these cool areas don’t last long, or that the gameplay allows for much involvement from you. In the end, it’s visually pleasing for the eyes and mind, but lacking in exploration which makes it seem like a waste beyond the story. Though, once again, I have to say, that these outlandish areas are awesome. Especially the places you explore at the later part of the game, like the massive underground nests and ancient secret chambers. However, the nice graphics comes with some troubling performance issues. I didn’t have too much trouble running it myself, but at some points, the FPS crashed. I can only imagine what it does on a lesser computer. If we go by audio, the voice acting is good but does get grating since most of it will be whining, and in general, it’s just too much of it. The constant barrage of talking is a big negative on the otherwise nice voice direction. The music is great, especially the use of haunting-sounding strings when something bad is going down. It’s very effective, and I can see myself listening to the more musical parts when I want some moody tunes in my life.

This will probably not come as a surprise, but I do not recommend A Plague Tale: Requiem. Perhaps, only if you truly, and I mean truly, liked the first game and want to see more of Amicia and Hugo. Otherwise, the sequel has no real payoff to anything, except we get to experience more of their suffering. There are a lot of missed opportunities in the game, both story, and gameplay-wise, and when you start to question design decisions on a constant basis, you know you are in for a hell of a ride… in the negative sense that is.

Thanks for reading.

/Thomas


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