A Plague Tale: Requiem Hands-on Preview – Improving on Greatness?

2019's A Plague Tale: Innocence was a surprise hit for Asobo Studio and Focus Entertainment. So much so that it was never designed with a sequel in mind, though it had more than left itself open enough for continuation. Naturally, when something is so popular, a company would want to expand upon it. Expand they did. Recently I've been able to get hands-on with two chapters of A Plague Tale: Requiem by Asobo Studio, and I feel as engrossed in this rat-infested place as ever before.

Only my first experience with A Plague Tale: Requiem had no rats, no misery, and a beautiful bit of scenery. Chapters six and seven are what I was able to experience in my hands-on with the game, and the descent into the Plague Tale horror and misery we all know and love was rapid.

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Chapter Six began with me walking through a bright forest with a river running through it, beautifully lit, with Amicia and Hugo on their travels to the coast. The synopsis is well enough known now; Amicia is trying to take Hugo to an island where she believes there is a cure to be found for Hugo's blood disease. I don't know what the journey was like until this point, I don't know, but this looked gorgeous, eventually coming into a large clearing which highlighted just how good A Plague Tale: Requiem looks, especially when it's showing some beauty rather than despair.

It didn't last too long, though. In the clearing, we have a little race with Hugo. Soon after, we find a feather. The feather shows one of the new collectibles in the game, Hugo collecting feathers rather than flowers. Very soon, we hear chanting, coming across a group of travelling religious people. They're on the way to Rome, but before you get the chance to settle down, soldiers appear. As before, armed soldiers are hunting you, still showing that the French Army are in dire need of child-abduction lessons.

Fortunately for you, the head of the travelling flock of religious folks isn't willing to give up children, even though he can tell you're guilty of what the soldiers are accusing you of (that'd be killing soldiers). Following a linear move through the camp and some slight sneaking, you'll get out and eventually fall down a cliff. Amicia was already injured (spoilers, I suppose), and the fall did her no favours.

Then they appear. Rats. Rats everywhere. We'll get even more rats through Chapter Seven, using Hugo's ability to control them. Though this ability isn't a get-out-of-jail-free card, I was eaten by rats a few times while playing through these few chapters. Moving through these two chapters, I found myself sneaking by soldiers in an open area, then inside a villa (of sorts) before facing off against a boss, which proved a fair challenge. A few more soldiers to sneak by and then a set-piece with enough rats to put London to shame.

I'm not sure how much more I want to say if only to avoid spoilers. Chapter seven starts bright but doesn't lull you into thinking it will stay that way. Very quickly, there are rats. Very quickly, there are soldiers. You're moving through caves, making your way to a smuggler and a ship. This time you've got an ally, opening up an easier way to deal with enemy soldiers, but something else to babysit on your travels.

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How about the hands-on aspect of playing the game, not just the story? A Plague Tale: Requiem feels tighter than the original and more forgiving. It's by no means easy. At least not from my time with it. Sneaking remains the same, hiding behind walls and tall grass, using what distractions you can use - such as lobbing a rock at a conveniently well-placed box of armour, breaking a clay pot, or even making a light burn far brighter than expected for a while. Fortunately, if you're caught, you're unlikely to be one-hit killed on the regular difficulty; unless it's by a boss, they'll kill you. For an ordinary soldier, you've got a counter-attack that stuns the enemy and gives you a chance to flee.

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Combat and exploration will utilise the new alchemical mixtures. In addition to Ignifer and Extinguis, new features like a tar mixture make a light burn far brighter for a while. As previously mentioned, you can use this to help with puzzles, but it can also help with certain fights. In addition to throwing rocks and pots or using your sling, you now get a crossbow in your arsenal. As previously mentioned, Hugo's ability to link with the rats is also an effective tool in your arsenal. Not only can you use the rats to nibble away at any enemy not protected by the light, but Hugo can also use his rat magic as a sort of sonar, detecting the blood of nearby enemies.

What helps to set A Plague Tale: Requiem apart from Innocence is the inclusion of more open areas, giving you multiple paths to choose and allowing you more control over the use of force or stealth. The options are even better when you get a soldier ally in Chapter Seven, targeting an enemy and letting him loose like he's a trained attack dog. Fighting one on one? He'll win. It'll be even quicker if you stun an enemy using your counter ability or set them on fire.

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I'm going to go out on a limb here: I can tell A Plague Tale: Requiem will be good even from just playing two chapters of the game. Maybe that's presumptuous of me, but there we go - my head is on the line. But, in all honesty, from the visuals and audio to the gameplay, everything has seen an improvement. We'll know very soon, though, with it launching in just over a month on the 18th of October. Meanwhile, check out our roundup post here if you want to learn everything there is to know about the game.

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