The sophomore instalment in a successful franchise is always a risky one: simply repeating what you did before but more usually earns the ire of the general public, but not changing enough (or too much) runs the same risk. So many devs go down a true and trodden path: streamline the experience, add a few more things here and there and, finally, expand the story/world so you can continue on for as long as the fans keep giving you money. How well that works is almost entirely up the original game’s concept and whether or not it can survive a streamlined core experience with a broader world. A Plague Tale: Requiem certainly seems to manage this balance well, uplifting the overall experience ever so slightly whilst keeping its core intact and setting itself up for round 3.
PLOT SPOILERS FOR A PLAGUE TALE: INNOCENCE BELOW
Six months after the events of the first game you find Amicia, Hugo, Lucas and Beatrice on the road to their new home. The Order, a group of alchemists that your family has long been a part of, has offered to provide refuge for your family and aid in treating Hugo’s condition. However whilst on the road you unfortunately stumble across a group of hostile people, mistaking you for thieves who destroyed their beehives. The ensuing chase sees Hugo use his powers to summon the rats once again and the macula begins its spread to him once again. It’s then you learn that the plague has already spread to your new destination, and the horrors that you thought were far behind you are once again at your doorstep.
Asobo Studio’s in house engine has certainly seen some improvements over the past few years with the visuals of Requiem being absolutely stunning right out of the game. The devs also decided to adopt a more bright and vibrant colour palette for this one, with a good chunk of the game spent out in wide open areas brimming with colour and light. Unfortunately I think the screenshots I took with Steam can’t fully capture the dynamic range that the engine is able to produce because it really is quite spectacular. Performance is also good when using the recommended settings from GeForce Experience, with the game’s defaults being a little too optimistic. The only gripe I have is with the lip synching being off by a few hundred milliseconds for the whole game, not catastrophic but something that I couldn’t unsee once I noticed it.
The core game loop hasn’t changed dramatically but the progression system has been streamlined in a rather interesting way. Of course they can’t have you starting the game as the killing machine you were at the end of the previous game so you start from square one again, lacking any of the tools you had and locked into a stealth only game for a while. However it doesn’t take long to unlock the kit required to start killing with reckless abandon, although the devs have now made it a lot harder to do that for extended periods of time. No instead now you’ll need to be a little bit more tactical and, when the game is feeling particularly narky about how it should be played, you’ll be locked into using a certain mechanic until that particular section of the game is over.
It’s quite obvious that the devs wanted to reign in the murder spree build that I (and I assume many others) ended up standardising on in the previous game. It doesn’t take long for nearly all enemies in the game to be helmeted and now there’s no way to knock them off, your sling only able to stun them briefly. You are given a crossbow later on which can kill whatever you point at it but ammunition is rare and unlocking the talent which allows you to pick up bolts can’t actually be gotten until a fair way through the game. This means that being tactical is absolutely required but, at the same time, many sections can be completed by simply hoofing it to the exit and reaching it before enemies are able to get to you.
Much like its predecessor there doesn’t seem to be a penalty for playing one way or the other. You could argue that going full stealth almost necessitates deeper exploration of the environment, which could grant you more materials, but I often found myself full to the brim without even really trying. The more substantial upgrades are hidden in more…obvious places, usually hidden in an off the beaten track behind a kind of environment puzzle whilst you’re not in combat. Personally I don’t mind this but it does seem to rub right up against the game’s narrative sometimes when a tearstained Amicia is trying to reconcile with killing a single person when the trail of bodies behind her at this point has to be in the hundreds.
The stealth aspects have seen some improvements with a lot more mechanics at your disposal to manipulate enemies so you can sneak past them. The indicators for who you’ll distract with rocks or hitting pots is a nice touch, taking the arduous guesswork out of what to throw where in order to move onto the next section. NPC’s detection can feel a little hit and miss at times, with guards failing to see you when you’re right up close one minute and you getting spotted by an archer 2 kilometers away the next. Beyond an achievement or two I still don’t see any advantage to doing full stealth beyond filling up a bar on the new progression system.
Along with the standard find materials/upgrade weapons progression we had in the original Requiem adds in a kind of auto-levelling talent system that progresses based on how you play. Murder everyone in the area just for the hell of it? Earn progression in the Aggressive tree. Go full sneaky sneak? Prudence gets filled up. Set guys on fire or sick rats on them? Opportunism. All of these get filled by default to some extent as some encounters force you to use certain mechanics. However you do have a good deal of control over how they level and so if you want a particular talent you’ll have to invest the time in playing that way. From what I can tell you can probably max out about 2 of the talent trees by the end which, given that there’s new game plus in this, means that you should be able to play the way you want without too much bother.
Requiem has a few minor rough edges that will likely be patched up as the game matures. The aforementioned lip synching issues is a distraction and will hopefully be one of the first things addressed. Certain mechanics are hit and miss, like the crossbow bolt talent which seemingly doesn’t work sometimes for no discernable reason. Stealth needs some polish to be consistent, but is definitely a level up from what it was before. None of these things hurt the experience greatly but the game will definitely be better for it once they’re fixed.
As with its predecessor Requiem’s focus on its narrative is most definitely its highlight. The further development of the characters, world and the core narrative are fantastic giving them all a greater depth that rewards fans of the series. The story they tell here remains true to the original, being one of tragedy that brings about growth in all its characters. Given how things are going with the series it’s going to be very interesting to see where the third instalment takes us as at this point there’s really not many limits on it.
A Plague Tale: Requiem takes the original’s formula and improves it just enough to make it feel fresh. To be sure this is a game for those who enjoyed the original, the game no deviating too far from the winning formula. But in keeping close enough to the original for the game itself this has allowed the narrative to expand greatly, setting up well for this series to grow even further from its roots. With such a strong base to work off of incremental improvements are still something to be celebrated and Asobo Studios should be very proud of what they’ve accomplished.
A Plague Tale: Requiem is available on PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S and Nintendo Switch right now for $69.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 14.2 hours playtime and 62% of the achievements unlocked.