With 2022’s gaming lineup looking a little anemic after Starfield’s big delay, A Plague Tale: Requiem is now a “main stage” game. While it doesn’t have an official release date yet, it’s supposed to launch this year during a notably slow season for games. If that holds true, the “AA” stealth action sequel will get a holiday season spotlight that’s usually reserved for bigger budget games with franchise star power behind them.
It’s a strange position for a game like this to be in. Its predecessor, A Plague Tale: Innocence, was a modest release that largely flew under the radar. It reached hidden gem status since then but remains something of a “best-kept secret” to the general gaming populace. Many players who hop into Requiem this year likely won’t have played Innocence at all.
I was thinking about that dynamic as I went hands-on with a demo of A Plague Tale: Requiem as part of Tribeca Fest. The small slice I played improves on the original in just about every way, though it also feels like a bit of a second introduction that’s anticipating a lot of new players.
My 40-minute demo took me through the game’s third chapter. I was quickly thrown into the story, where I was reintroduced to Amicia and Hugo. Like the first game, they’re on the run again here. My demo would have the brother and sister hiding from guards and dodging swarms of rats (sometimes pitting the latter against the former).
It was all very familiar, and I wonder if that’s by design. It’s almost like the developers are expecting lots of new players and want to make sure they get the same introduction they missed in Innocence. When I kill a guard for the first time by slingshotting a rock at his head, I watch Amicia gasp in horror, despite the fact that she killed well over 100 people the last time I saw her. Games always have to find a way to awkwardly reteach players the basics that their characters should already know, but Requiem seems like it’s going as far as to revisit some key emotional beats, too.
It’s a little strange to see as someone who played the first adventure, but I ultimately get it. Requiem seems poised to be more of a mainstream breakout game than Innocence, so the developers’ focus seems to be on making it the shiniest version of itself. That’s immediately clear in the visuals, which are a notable upgrade. In addition to its general fidelity boost, there’s much more color to the art design. The first game mostly dealt with brown earth tones, giving the game a muddy look. Environments are more detailed and colorful here, making everything pop a little more.
The best upgrade comes in the form of crafting and combat tweaks. The first game featured a somewhat complicated radial menu where players would craft ammo types and switch weapons. That’s been streamlined here, which makes managing tools much easier. There were only four slots on the wheel, one for each weapon. When I select one, I’m able to craft the kind of ammo I want to use with it right there. For instance, if I want to coat a slingshot rock in fire igniting fuel, I can quickly do that with minimal inputs.
Combat sections feel a little faster-paced as a result. At one point in the demo, I came upon a somewhat open space with patrolling guards. I began dispatching them quickly with a variety of tools. I knock one out with a rock and then turn to my right and throw a pot coated in exstinguis at two guards to put out both their torches at once, sending a swarm of rats to devour them.
In general, there’s just less friction here. The developers have removed lots of little pain points from the first games that make movement and combat more seamless. For instance, you no longer need to pick up rocks to arm your slingshot. Amicia appears to have an infinite supply, which gets rid of the need for random scavenging. I spent less time in the demo rummaging for resources and more time engaged in cinematic stealth set pieces.
For those coming into the series for the first time, A Plague Tale: Requiem is already feeling like it’ll leave a more impactful impression. The more buttoned-up art and design choices mean that new players will get all the narrative thrills of Innocence without the rough AA edges — an approach that the upcoming Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II seems to be taking as well.
After playing my demo, I’m convinced that A Plague Tale: Requiem won’t be lumped into the “hidden gem” bucket by the end of the year; it’ll just be a gem.
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