A Plague Tale: Requiem is pretty much everything we'd hoped for from a sequel to one of 2019's biggest surprises in A Plague Tale: Innocence. Asobo's much-anticipated follow-up doesn't reinvent the wheel by any stretch, but it successfully builds on the team's debut effort, mixing in fresh combat options, new varied locales and an incredibly likeable supporting cast, backed up by an engrossing storyline that's worth seeing through to the very end, even if huge towering rat rivers are an all-too regular sight.
If you didn't play the first game and are unaware of what A Plague Tale is all about as a series, let's go through a brief synopsis. Brother and sister pair Hugo and Amicia are trying to survive through various waves of a plague — based on The Black Death pandemic of the 1300's — while trying to find out why Hugo in particular is connected to the plague in such a big way. Both Innocence and Requiem are very story-heavy, placing a strong emphasis on the pair overcoming adversity when everything seems to be going against them. Think The Last of Us but rats and disease instead of infected zombies and you're about there.
While we're on the topic of Naughty Dog's series, we have to talk about the technical aspect of A Plague Tale: Requiem. Once again, Asobo Studio is punching well above its weight here; this is a AAA experience, make no mistake about it. The game's voice acting is superb, its environments are absolutely stunning and these much-talked-about next-gen rat waves really are something to behold, especially when you're sprinting away from them at 100 miles an hour, trying to keep Hugo and Amicia out of harm's way.
Speaking of rats, even though A Plague Tale's rat swarms are one of the series' unique selling points, Requiem does know when to break up the bleakness; in doing so creating a more balanced adventure than the first game. Hugo and Amicia's story starts out with some quaint town exploration, and that proves to be a bit of a sign of things to come. Yes, Requiem has more than its fair share of plague-filled, rat-infested towns and villages to navigate through, so don't worry if that's the series' main draw for you. But, the sequel switches between these dour locales and a range of much more colourful scenes masterfully, and the effective juxtaposition between hope and despair is one of Requiem's strongest assets.
Thankfully, when despair is the order of the day, A Plague Tale: Requiem provides you with the tools to get the job done. Combat is often scrappy and the game successfully conveys that its characters are fighting to survive, but you do have a few more tools at your disposal this time around. Amicia's crossbow is one such tool, providing a more reliable long range weapon in the heat of battle. You'll still have to manage ammo types depending on the enemy's ability and the situation you're in, but the bow's standard bolt is often a get-out-of-jail card for when combat gets tough, or when things just get out of hand. A Plague Tale: Requiem is still a stealth game at heart though, and avoiding combat is actively encouraged throughout large parts of the adventure.
One of the driving forces behind Requiem's storyline is that Hugo is infected with the "Macula"; an evil disease that's passed on from generation to generation, and in this world, it controls the plague. While this is a big reason behind some of the game's bleakest story moments, we're thankful that it exists oddly enough. Why? Because it allows for one of A Plague Tale: Requiem's best combat features; the ability to control rat swarms.
Yep, when Requiem allows the player to control Hugo, you get to wreak pure havoc, and oh boy is it fun. Hugo is fast learning the ability to control waves of rats throughout the game, and that means at times you can basically become a rat river, gobbling up enemies and causing pure chaos. It's a limited combat option that you can't use at will, but it became a real treat when Requiem allowed us to deploy it. While we'd have loved to make use of the ability more regularly, if for no reason other than it's hella fun, we understand its limited use.
Just like the location comparison we made earlier, if Requiem does one thing really well it's balancing things out. Stealth never becomes too tedious before you can start deploying a more stronghanded combat technique. Hugo's rat swarm ability never becomes the centre of attention for too long before the game throws a good hour of non-combat exploration and character building at you. Innocence was one of our favourite games of 2019 but at times it could feel a little too bleak, a little too one note. Requiem gets balance right in a big way; it always knows when to keep things fresh and the whole experience benefits from it.
To be honest, the only other aspects of A Plague Tale: Requiem we'd like to continue to talk about are those that'd divulge more of the game's storyline, and given our desire to keep spoilers to an absolute minimum, we'll refrain from going much further other than saying we really enjoyed the game's narrative. We will mention a few small issues we had with Requiem though, even if we are nit-picking a bit here.
One of those is that, to our eye, the game ran at 30FPS on Xbox Series X. There are reports going around that the game actually runs with an unlocked frame rate and that VRR may be preventing any noticeable judder, but still, the experience felt like a 30FPS one to us. Thankfully, the game's pace and style means that 30FPS doesn't dampen the experience much at all, even if 60fps would be a nice option.
Our other nit-pick is that at times, the pair of main characters can become a little overbearing. While Asobo has nailed the supporting cast this time around, Hugo and Amicia's near-constant chatter does become irritating at certain moments. Amicia often does that rage-whisper thing where she's constantly talking to herself under her breath, and Hugo always has a million questions to ask the adults around him, with his annoyingly inquisitive tone. He's a kid alright, and at times, a bloody irritating one!
Neither of these nit-picks detract much at all from what a Plague Tale: Requiem achieves though, and that's providing an incredibly evocative adventure through 14th century Europe during The Black Death. Asobo's sophomore effort is seriously impressive, delivering a balanced adventure that knows exactly when to mix things up, whether that be a introducing new story beat, a fresh location to explore, or a different combat option to make use of. Requiem is exactly the kind of new AAA narrative adventure we've been craving for a while on Xbox Game Pass, and we can't wait to see what this developer does next. Asobo Studio is really hitting its stride.