A Plague Tale: Requiem is a grim, melancholy fable pulsating to the rhythm of thrashing, flesh-devouring vermin. Scores of incandescent eyes and hairless tails, felt through the marvel of haptics, swoop and collapse. A movement almost tidal in its dogged, indiscriminate mangling of scourged hamlets and kettle-helmeted foot soldiers. Amid all this, pockets of Provencial blooms and chirping cicadas still sway with the hot, flitting midsummer gusts. Amicia and Hugo, nobles turned saviors, are children again. Rocks flung from a slingshot sink pine cones bopping down gentle streams and dusty ruins become the stage for bouts of giggling hide and seek. The sun shines, and they’ve finally found the peace they deserve.
Tranquil beginnings soon give way to piled bodies and hasty retreats, the squirming hordes and know-better counts and magistrates back. And so Requiem puts us in the shoes of Amicia, a handful of months after the events of the A Plague Tale: Innocence, once again tasked with shepherding brother Hugo, carrier of the Macula, a blood disease and marshal to the rats, to a cure.
A recurring dream of Hugo’s points us to an island, La Cuna. On the way, A Plague Tale: Requiem drops us in an assortment of lavishly-rendered settings – stunning fortress towns, idyllic beaches, and towering quarries – peppered with hazards and puzzles to overcome. At your disposal is Amicia’s sling, just as suited to causing lethal brain damage as distracting guards or hauling a variety of alchemical concoctions to stealth and kill in several creative ways. You can also capitalize on the rats’ aversion to light, extinguishing torches to have the rodents swarm guards, or release swinging carcasses to distract them long enough to push forward.
Many puzzles involve charting a path through the rats using fast-burning torches, scattered braziers, and cranks that alter the environment to your benefit. None of this is groundbreaking, but there’s more variety than in the original, and these tense environmental riddles play into the unsettling, tense atmosphere to sharp effect. There’s also a much stronger emphasis on exploration, with concealed paths and minor puzzles tempting you to abandon the mission path. One chapter, in particular, lets you loose on a semi-open island plateau, where you’re free to explore and pace progression as you see fit, with supplies, secrets, and puzzles as rewards for investigating every nook.
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While Innocence felt rushed, a necessity borne of cramming so much into an anemic ten hours, Requiem is given ample space to breathe. By swelling beyond 20 hours, its slowed pace confers depth to its rich story and characters. The game’s closing act takes a turn into the supernatural, reprising the original’s deft juggling of the historical and occult but scaling to heights that tap into the full potential of the technology powering the squirming hordes. The narrative, rats, and characters all converge to an agonizing but unavoidable climax – but the less said, the better.
Hugo is changed. Gone is the bumbling, coddled child, oblivious to the ever-present threats and the lengths his sister goes to keep him out of harm’s way. Amicia reprises the role of doting sister, but duty weighs heavier, and the fragile flame of hope harder to keep alight. She’s forlorn, ever-motivated, exhausted, proud – a bundle of youthful complexity expertly conveyed. Violence begets violence, and we see Amicia turn bitter, a festering, vengeful bloodlust broiling away, spawning harrowing moments where she’s no longer resorting to sparring flashes of violence just to survive.
This is reflected in a trio of skill gauges that fill based on your play style. One path rewards prudence, another aggressiveness, and the other opportunism, be it manipulating rats, alchemy, or the environment. By adding agency to each encounter, the over-familiar stealth conventions of the original are replaced with something that feels more malleable. Amicia and Hugo are frail, but sharper fighters, and no longer are they bound to skulk in the shadows. Should it suit your playstyle, killing every guard barring your path forward is an option. The loop of finding supplies, crafting concoctions, and visiting the occasional tool bench to upgrade your kit remains, but in a less austere and stifling form. You could conceivably plow through the game without a single kit upgrade, relying instead on smart use of the environment and your alchemical tools. It’s a theme that runs through the game. Asobo has expanded and refined where appropriate while keeping A Plague Tale’s chilling appeal and the frailty of its leading duo intact.
It may be this reviewer’s naff heart softened by fatherhood at play, but Requiem’s affecting tenderness cuts deep. Emotional investment in these siblings, both assigned hefty roles by a world that relentlessly gnaws away at their innocence, comes easy. Their formative years torn away and soiled by abject horror and the machinations of supposedly wiser, jaded adults and coarse ideologies. True to the immeasurable resilience of children, they find time for tender moments of gentle quips, unwavering affection, and the type of unfiltered, passing observations that seem to escape us all as the years wear on. ‘You can tell the count is rich; he has too many ponds,’ as Hugo remarks. Just like us, a double-crossing brute and gracious seafarer fall for their charm, reminding our siblings that not all is writhing vermin and misery.
A Plague Tale: Requiem is a visually stunning and emotive fable that lands in the most contested of release periods as a captivating triumph. Requiem positively beams, giving us a momentous, assured, and well-penned epic that pits the hopeful against the hapless, the frail against the insurmountable, and, in a finale so heart-wrenching, devotion against survival.