Children of the plague
The game begins with what can be best described as innocence. Young Amicia de Rune, one of the game’s protagonists, participates in a hunt with her loving father in a breathtakingly majestic autumnal forest. The two banter and laugh, discuss adventures and Amicia’s lament at having so little time to spend with her parents: her father is a busy man, and her mother is taking care of Hugo, the girl’s younger brother, assailed by a mysterious illness and confined to the life inside the family’s castle. As the golden and green trees sway in the wind, the birds chirp and sing and Amicia’s dog races ahead to chase a boar, nothing seems to predict that this little adventure will be the last moment of normalcy as the dark tide that will turn the family’s life around forever is already coming.
When the hunt is cut short, and father and daughter return to the family castle, the day grows dimmer and colder. As Amicia walks around, you can hear whispers of dark things – the war with the English, the unrest of the folk in the cities, the bites that appear on the bodies during the night, the spreading sickness. The plague ravages the countryside. Noticing the young lady’s interest, the servants and guards stop and offer forced smiles. Even if the castle is still a safe haven, the tension is obvious in the air and the sun seems bleaker and colder.
Amicia’s life changes forever when the Inquisition forces violently attack her home. The girl manages to grab her brother whom she barely knows before fleeing everything that was familiar to her in the search of the family doctor.
As their adventure begins, the time of innocence ends. The game takes the siblings through the ravaged villages and cities, old catacombs and universities, and beyond to find their purpose and unveil a dark secret. Why did the Inquisition attack de Runes in the search of Hugo? What is his mysterious illness? Is the Inquisition truly researching the rats? And how is all of it connected to the Grand Inquisitor Vitalis, whose health is failing according to rumors?
On the run from the Inquisition
At the early stages of the game, all you can do is quietly sneak around, tricking the enemies into looking elsewhere so Amicia and Hugo can slip through. The armored knights of the Inquisition and the crazed villagers of the plagued countryside are too much to take on for a 15-year-old girl, let alone when a 5-year-old boy accompanies her. Amicia will need to use cunning and guile to clear the path for her younger brother. However, despite all her wits, there will be times when it will come to direct confrontation, and Amicia will be forced to make choices she could not have seen accepting before.
While you have no direct control over Hugo, you can command the boy to crawl through the places that would be too tight for his sister and help her out from the other side by opening doors, picking items, etc. You can also temporarily leave him behind to tinker around on your own – just don’t take too long or the boy will start to panic and might attract unwanted attention. There will also be instances when Amicia will set out on her own, leaving Hugo behind with their newfound friends.
Speaking of friends… As you progress through the game and meet new characters – allies and foes alike – Amicia will unlock new abilities. Nothing crazy like amber clones of Styx or time stop in Shadwen, but enough to get her and those she cares about out. Some of her special ammunition includes:
- Odoris – briefly attracts rats to the area of effect or the creature hit by it (while Luminosa does the opposite by creating a strong source of light and scaring the rats away)
- Ignifer – allows Amicia to light embers at distance and distract her enemies
- Devorantis – forces enemies to take off their helmets so that Amicia can finish them off by throwing a rock with her sling.
While still helpless against a large squad of soldiers, in the second half of the game Amicia will be able to take on 2-3 enemies at a time and come out of it unscathed, no worse than AC:Odyssey’s Kassandra. Whether you want to go for it or stick to stealth is up to you. Both approaches have their merit in certain situations.
The ammunition is crafted with the ingredients you can collect around the levels of the game. Besides, perhaps, Ignifer and Odoris, the ammo is not required to be able to complete a level. You can also upgrade Amicia’s gear to make her sling stronger, for her pockets and ammo pouch to hold more, etc. Using every tool at your disposal also ironically makes the game feel less… of everything. It becomes too shallow, with neither rats nor Inquisition Knights posing any threat to the young characters. Once you unlock everything, the sense of vulnerability that made the game feel so believable is gone.
My main problem with the game, however, is how railroaded and guided it feels. Unlike the aforementioned Styx, Plague Tale only has one true path to your objective at a time. Even if you are sneaking through a large city with streets going in every direction, all of them but the one will be closed off in one way or another. Although you can use your variety of tools in different ways, the result will always be the same.
Rats! Why does it have to be rats!
The enemy you will face even more so than the Inquisition are the swarms of rats. Asobo Studios deserves the special applause for making the swarms behave like liquid, coming and going in waves of thousands tiny bodies and letting out a horrifying squealing sound that will reverberate in your eardrums long after you left the area. Seeing the hellish creatures erupt from underground and scurry around, covering every inch of land as the siblings hurry to a source of light fills you with dread and repulsion alike.
As it was with the Inquisition, the game will offer you a variety of tools to deal with the rats: from special ammo to the mechanisms made by the Inquisition or alchemists of old to trap the moving blight. Although the best weapon against the horde remains to be a good, hot, high fire and the light emanating from it.
Sadly, as much as the rats make an amazing first impression, over half a dozen of chapters they lose their edge and become just another obstacle to go around. Thankfully, around the same time the game starts allowing you to unleash the rats on your enemies, spicing things up just enough to be short of repetitive.
A Plague Tale: Innocence is a visually gorgeous game that resembles a classic book in many ways. The narrative and gameplay blend together to paint heartrending journey of Amicia and Hugo through the darkest hours of history. However, the repetitiveness and shallowness of gameplay makes the game feel railroaded and a bit boring.
The game excels at showcasing the mood with the blend of astonishing visuals and amazing sound effects. When the silence is suddenly broken with the screech of a thousand scurring rodents, or you can hear Amicia’s heart beating like a bird in the cage as she and Hugo rush out from some catacombs and the sunlight makes the entire screen go white for a second, your chest swells with emotion.
Final Score: 8.0
- Breathtakingly gorgeous aesthetics
- Fleshed out protagonists and NPCs
- The feeling of vulnerability in a big cruel world (for the first half)
- Superb voice acting
- The game feels guided and on rails
- Gameplay gets repetitive and shallow before long
- A few graphical bugs, especially with rats
- Little replay value
This PC review was completed using a key provided by PR.