Like most sequels, A Plague Tale: Requiem attempts to provide a bigger, better, more ambitious experience than its predecessor. And it mostly does.
Picking up some time after the events of A Plague Tale: Innocence, Requiem finds Amicia doing all she can to give her younger brother, Hugo, the life he deserves. Afflicted with the Macula, his tendency to attract and control rats whenever he gets stressed, however, throws some spanners in the works. But with a new cast of characters offering support, Amicia isn’t in this alone. And together, maybe, just maybe, they’ll find the cure they’re looking for.
After a tense opening which quickly gets you up to speed with its core stealth mechanics, we soon found ourselves becoming rather bored and frustrated with A Plague Tale: Requiem. Like its predecessor, you spend a lot of time here sneaking around, trying to keep out of the way of guards. And while the stealth mechanics are solid, they’re not exceptional. Looking for, or creating, opportunities to sneak by is the order of the day: using your sling, you can easily take down guards if their heads are exposed, but otherwise it’s not worth trying to combat them.
There are some advances when it comes to mechanics, though. If you pick up a dagger, for example, you can instantly kill all but heavily armoured soldiers instantly when at close range. You can now momentarily stun most enemies, too, if you have to time to wind up your attack. But in the early hours of the game, with your options limited, the amount of stealth involved soon becomes tedious. And then you encounter the rats. So many rats. And they don’t make matters any more fun.
Once again, rats here are deadly. If you so much as put one foot out of a patch of light when they’re around, chances are you’re going to get nibbled to death. And so for too long, you either find yourself sneaking around, manipulating light so you can make your way through rat-infested areas, or a combination of both. It wouldn’t be too bad if the controls weren’t so fiddly. Amicia can make use of alchemy to fire shots of various types, but switching between them can be a bit of a pain. And pots are also quickly brought into the mix. It all feels like a lot of busywork just to make your way from A to B.
You eventually hit a certain point in A Plague Tale: Requiem though, where you’re finally given room to breathe. There are still moments of stealth to deal with, and indeed plenty of rats, but they’re spaced out with other gameplay elements brought into the mix. It feels better balanced, and the story truly begins to hit its stride. From that point on, your opinion of the game is likely to markedly improve. The odd frustration will rear its head, but you won’t care quite so much.
No singular gameplay element here is particularly special, but when they’re combined in an effective manner, A Plague Tale: Requiem becomes wonderfully engaging. You’ll head off on leads, exploring picturesque environments before encountering guards that you need to sneak by, and perhaps come face-to-face with a horde of rats along the way. And as well as Amicia having more tricks up her sleeve, the companions you sometimes find yourself with have their own unique abilities which you can ask them to use as well. You can’t fight, but why not ask a trained soldier, fully kitted out, to take out an adversary for you?
It’s when you’re expected to fight for yourself that A Plague Tale: Requiem is perhaps at its worst. Those daggers we mentioned earlier that allow you to kill most enemies? They’re one use only and pretty scarce. Amicia also picks up a crossbow on her travels, but refuses to carry much ammo for it. And so your sling remains your primary tool for dispatching foes, and it’s just not all that fun to use. Ultimately, when you are forced into combat, you’ll often just find yourself running around, trying to shoot objects in the environment to gain the upper hand while soldiers mindlessly pursue you.
The spectacle of A Plague Tale: Requiem makes it worth persisting through its frustrations, though. This is a game that truly looks next-gen for the most part, with just the occasional bout of poor lip-syncing ruining a phenomenal level of immersion. Environments are varied and truly photo realistic, making your jaw drop at times. But what really impresses are the rats. While they still move around in a awkward manner that isn’t convincing, the fact that there are so many of them might just send shivers up your spine.
It’s during the many encounters where they burst through walls and other structures like an unstoppable force that they get your heart truly racing. In these moments, all you can do is run, and hope that you can escape their wrath. Seeing hundreds, if not thousands, of rats burst from the ground and tear apart buildings such as temples as you flee for your life is a rare moment that only feels possible on the latest consoles and PC. They’re perhaps some of the most memorable moments of the game, outside of some story beats that will stick with you.
Those stellar visuals and sheer number of onscreen rats come at a price though. Playing the PS5 version of A Plague Tale: Requiem for review, we found that the frame rate regularly went south. The nature of the gameplay means that it’s not all that troublesome, but it is distracting. The same can be said for the stutter that’s occasionally present. If such things bother you, you might want to wait to see if they’re ironed out post-launch. The same goes for bugs. We’ve encountered a lot while playing, including one which forced us to restart from the beginning of a chapter.
A Plague Tale: Requiem outdoes its predecessor in many ways. Its story, for example, manages to be even more engaging and touching, while numerous gameplay enhancements make it a deeper, more varied affair. It’s just a shame that its first quarter isn’t better paced, relying too much on you manipulating rats with light, and that its combat sections just aren’t fun at all. Add in a myriad of performance issues and bugs, and you have a game that somewhat squanders its phenomenal potential, but is still very much worth playing.