We all remember the times when single-player adventure games were dominating the gaming industry. Especially the ones with great narrative and immersive story. Whether those were RPGs (Baldur’s Gate is the first one that comes to mind), some more action-oriented titles (Deus Ex for example), or the ones focusing on stealth and sneaking (yes Thief, I’m looking at you), there is no doubt that these games were some of the most popular titles on the market. All of the gaming magazines were writing about them and they were some of the biggest conversation subjects among the gamers at the time. Today, however, that isn’t really the case. Nowadays, the market is saturated with competitive multiplayer titles, which is understandable, given the popularity of these games, and the fact that not that many game studios are willing to risk developing single player games. Still, every now and then, a rare gem emerges, offering the authentic single-player experience, not corrupted by microtransactions, loot boxes, season passes, or anything else that the gaming companies are monetizing these days. Those games aim to deliver everything that made us fall in love with the abovementioned titles during the golden age of gaming. One such game is A Plague Tale: Innocence.
About the game
Developed by Asobo Studio, an independent gaming company based in France, this game is a single-player adventure game heavily focusing on narrative and storytelling. The game is set in 14th century France, during the time of the Great Plague. Players will take the role of Amicia De Rune, fifteen years old daughter of Lord Robert De Rune. The story will follow her and her five years old brother Hugo as they journey through the country ravaged by the plague.
Simply said, this game looks astounding. From the moment you start playing the first Chapter, you’ll notice the breathtaking visuals. Every character’s model has a great number of details, which makes them look very natural and realistic. The environment looks and feels very alive, and it greatly ups the immersion level. Also, the lightning in the game is masterfully done, which makes it even more beautiful. I can freely say that the graphics quality is on par with some of the newest AAA titles like Resident Evil 2 or Devil May Cry 5. Overall, the game is an eye candy in every sense of those words.
During most of the game, you will control Amicia. Starting with Chapter One, you will quickly learn the basic controls and some of the things your character can do. The “tutorial” stage is remarkably well done. It teaches players some basic elements of the gameplay, but it does so very naturally, without breaking the immersion. Over the course of the game, the game will gradually present its mechanics and game elements to you in a story-driven way, while keeping you immersed in its world.
Shortly after completing the tutorial, Amicia will be joined by her younger brother Hugo, and she’ll be responsible for his wellbeing. While at first glance it may seem that this is just another “escort game”, Hugo is far from a burden. Despite being only five years old, he will try his best to help his sister every step of the way. He can crawl through small spaces and grab some important objects for you, or open a door that would otherwise be unreachable for Amicia. Still, he’s only a child and the game does a great job of presenting us his childish innocence.
During the game, you will be pursued by the Inquisition, but the reason for this is unknown. Being a Lord’s daughter, Amicia possesses no combat training and she won’t be able to withstand attacks from her pursuers. What this means is that a single strike from an enemy’s weapon is enough to end her life. However, she is quite proficient with a sling, which will save her life on numerous occasions. All these factors make the game heavily focused on stealth and puzzles. Most of the time, you will have to find your way around your pursuers, without exposing yourself or Hugo. This will require some quick thinking and fast reflexes, but eventually, you will learn how to deal with every situation. You will be able to collect various materials that will allow Amicia to upgrade her equipment, which will make it easier to deal with certain situations.
Other than the Inquisition, you’ll also encounter hordes of deadly rats. These rats are nothing like ordinary ones. They move in swarms and their eyes have a distinct red glow. They can overwhelm you in a matter of seconds, so you need to be very careful when dealing with them. Thankfully, they are afraid of the light, and you’ll be able to use that to your advantage. During certain sections of the game, Amicia will find torches she can carry around and scare the rats away from her and her brother. Still, those torches are heavy, and she cannot carry them across some obstacles. Because of this, she will have to rely on various other sources of light to deal with the rat swarm. However, you will still need to be aware of the Inquisition. If you are standing near a light source in an open area, you’ll be easily noticeable by your pursuers, so you always have to be aware of your surroundings.
Puzzles in the game are very well designed, and they mostly revolve around manipulating various light sources in order to deal with the rat swarms. All of them are well placed and you will never feel that any of those puzzles sticks out or that it’s breaking the immersion.
Also, there are a lot of collectible items in the game. Each of those items has a certain story element tied to it, but most of them are completely optional. There are no direct benefits from collecting them so the players won’t feel forced to explore every single corner of the game, but some additional story elements they offer will feel rewarding enough. From the Main Menu, there is the option to replay chapters you’ve already finished, and you’ll be able to see the number of collectible items tied to each of the chapters. This is a nice touch to please all the completionists, and it is done in a very good way, so players won’t feel pressured to acquire every single collectible in the game.
And now, the most important part of A Plague Tale: Innocence – the story. The narrative is simply said – amazing. From the very first few moments, you’ll be immersed in the world and its story will tightly grip your attention. You will experience an emotional roller coaster while playing this game. Some moments in this game will make you smile, some will make you sad, some will leave you with a bitter taste of anger, and during certain moments, you will cry. Many times, you will be horrified by the ravages of the plague and the effects it has on people.
The interaction between the characters, especially Amicia and Hugo is very well written and you’ll enjoy every moment of it. During the course of the game, you will meet many different characters, and unlike some other games, where there are a lot of “generic” NPCs, here you’ll get to learn more about the people you encounter. You will get to know them better as the time goes on, and eventually, you’ll find out what the plague has done to them and those around them. Also, these are not just some static NPCs that stand at a certain spot and only talk when you press the interact button near them, each of those characters feels very much alive. They will follow you through some sections of the game, and you will genuinely help each, which will make you care about those characters.
Over the course of the game, you will see how death and plague affect Amicia and those around her. She will start out as a completely cheerful and innocent girl, but suddenly, she will be pushed into a harsh world in which she has to resort to any means necessary to ensure the survival of herself and her brother. You will gradually get to experience that transition as both Amicia and Hugo are forced to leave their innocence behind in order to survive the brutal, plague-ravaged world. Overall, I consider the story to be the strongest aspect of this game and the only downside is that I wished there was more of it, but all in all, the story is masterfully written, it’s very well narrated and it is definitely one of the best game stories in a long while.
This game is surely not for everyone. It focuses heavily on its story and it’s not trying to be something it isn’t. You won’t get some flashy action sequences here, nor will you get to slash through your enemies like a hot knife through butter. But you will get to experience a journey filled with love and hate, friendship and sorrow, sadness and joy, and you will definitely enjoy every step of the way.