A Plague Tale: Innocence hands-on – a complex tale of death, love and war


I’m a huge fan of medieval French literature and history, especially when it comes to the Black Death. A Plague Tale: Innocence is set during the Hundred Years War, where rats, plague and the Inquisition were rampant, illustrating the horrors inflicted on France and how it destroyed families and lives.

The game begins in an idyllic French forest, filled with crisp orange leaves, as we meet our heroine, Amicia de Rune, on a walk with her father. After throwing apples from a tree – this will be your weapon of choice for the majority of the story – your trusty pooch, Leon, spots a boar. A chase ensues, doubling as a tutorial for the game’s stealth elements, and you’re drawn into the idea that it’s going to be a nice little game with lots of dogs.

However, as you chase after Leon, the once-beautiful forest begins to darken, a sour note plays light music instead, and you find the dead boar. A black tar-like pit has trapped Leon and he is lost in the darkness.

Quite the juxtaposition, huh?

You rush to the castle where we meet Amicia’s mother and younger brother, Hugo, who is suffering from some serious illness. It is here that we meet the Inquisition, in particular Lord Nicholas, who demands that you deliver Hugo to him. Using a mixture of stealth and distraction, you manage to flee the house with Hugo, though the fate of Amicia’s parents is less fortunate.

The short prologue sets the tone for what’s to come, as you avoid the Inquisition and crazed villagers searching for the doctor, Laurentius. Here you learn about A Plague Tale’s robust yet simple crafting system, which lets you craft a better slingshot, increase the size of your ammo bag, and other gear.

There are several puzzles in each area, which are highlighted by a glowing object. You can throw rocks at certain objects to get a guard’s attention, or at metal hooks that hold crates that you can then push and climb to reach higher ground.

I spoke with one of the co-founders of Asobo Studios, David Dedeine, who said that as the story progresses there will be multiple ways to approach a puzzle or area so to move on to the next section, giving you a different experience each time. We also talked about the difficulty levels, with the puzzles in A Plague Tale kept quite simple once you notice them so as not to detract from the story and make the game too repetitive.

In many ways, A Plague Tale reminded me of Horizon Zero Dawn, as you move silently through tall grass, using rocks to distract or attack enemies. The combat system is also somewhat similar, in that you have to use your slingshot to knock down pieces of armor from enemies in carefully timed attacks.

There were no quick attacks during the boss fight I encountered, however, I had to trick the enemy into swinging their weapon several times before it got stuck in the ground, giving me a fleeting opportunity to knock some of his armor off.

Much like the rest of the opening chapters, there isn’t much time to catch your breath. Ambient music rises and falls as you’re introduced to the next stressful event, Amicia’s choppy breathing getting louder during stealth sections. A Plague Tale is best played with headphones for maximum effect to experience the exciting medium.

While there were only a handful of rats scurrying across the landscape in the early chapters of A Plague Tale, they will play a much larger role as the game progresses. You’ll be able to lure a disgusting horde of rats towards enemies, acting together like a hive mind as they chew through anything in their path. As you progress, you’ll go from the eerie squeal of a wandering rat to a deafening screech as swarms converge on enemies and burst through the ground below. It’s as creepy as it sounds.

The brother-sister bond is about to blossom as Hugo and Amicia grow to like each other and you learn more about Hugo’s affliction. It is implied that Hugo may be the cause of the plague, although he appears healthy, as his illness was so deep but misunderstood.

The futile threat of English soldiers, combined with the plague and the formidable Inquisition means that Amicia and Hugo are constantly faced with new and ever-present threats. Dedeine told me about the deliberate choice to make Amicia the eldest sister, the responsible firstborn and a boy who distrusts his brother, a boy completely cut off from the world, from the war and from the Inquisition. Their relationship is non-existent at the start of the game, and she follows her mother’s instructions to find the doctor out of a sense of duty, not love.

Despite adequate understanding that they must hide from the bad guys and find the doctor, Amicia and Hugo’s naivety and childishness get in the way. It reminded me of Ellie from The Last of Us, where she aggressively ignores Joel’s instructions out of a warped sense of her own importance and sheer immaturity. The annoying kid trope is exactly that and was again a deliberate choice, but it certainly adds to the trepidation in the early chapters of A Plague Tale.

After killing someone for the first time, the tone of A Plague Tale changes profoundly as the first wall of innocence is broken for Amicia. It was an incredibly moving hands-on experience and it reminded me a lot of the first chapter of The Walking Dead where Lee and Clem experience the horror of the walking dead from the start.

While there’s no word yet on a Nintendo Switch port, A Plague Tale: Innocence will release on May 14 for Xbox One, PC, and PS4.

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