Coming on May 14th from developer Asobo Studio and publisher Focus Home Interactive, A Plague Tale: Innocence is an action-adventure that follows the heartrending journey of Amicia and Hugo De Rune through the plagued medieval Kingdom of France. I had a chance to try out a couple hours long demo that spanned across the first few chapters of the game. This is our Plague Tale: Innocence Preview.
The start of the game finds young Amicia in an autumnal forest with her father, during a seemingly normal day for the noble lady De Rune. Nothing seems to predict that it will be the last moment of normalcy before the grim tide turns the life of the young woman and her family around. The birds sing at the top of their voice, and the trees proudly sprout colorful leaves – green and gold mix in an image straight out of a fairy tale book.
All the more shocking when the palette suddenly changes to reflect the upcoming darkness. If you listen carefully around the castle, you can hear whispers of the dark things – 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 and greetings but the sun seems to be bleaker and colder.
When the Inquisition and the Great Inquisitor Vitalis step in, the beautiful autumnal day quickly turns to violence and sees Amicia and her baby brother Hugo fleeing the castle. From that moment forth, their bond is all that keeps them afloat in the unforgiving world where a stranger is as likely to kill them as to help.
As their adventure begins, the time of innocence ends. The fairy tale colors are left behind with it as the game takes siblings through the ravaged villages, old catacombs and beyond to find their purpose and unveil a dark secret.
Fully armored knights from the Inquisition and enraged villagers from the plagued countryside are too serious an enemy to take on, especially while taking care of a 5-year-old, so Amicia will need to use guile and stealth to keep herself and her brother alive.
While you have no direct control over Hugo, the boy could be commanded 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.
The demo featured two types of projectiles to aid you in your task: usual rocks that Amicia could throw using her sling or her bare hands and jars. If you have played any stealth-based titles before, you know exactly how the jars work: you throw it some distance away from an enemy standing in your way to break with a loud crack, they grunt and threateningly wade in that direction and briefly look around, allowing the nimble protagonist to slip by. Plague Tale: Innocence is not any different in this particular regard, although you might want to time your throws and runs better for a slower pace of a child.
On their own, rocks do not make a sound. You would need an object to strike to capture the attention of enemies: a bucket or a bell would work. Using a sling to give rock the momentum would make the throw stronger. With an upgrade to the sling, it might even kill someone if you manage to land a headshot, but there is a catch. Swinging the weapon makes noise. If you happened to be too close to the object of your planned attack, they might notice you and take matters into their own hands.
The sling can also be used for interaction with the environment – hitting levers, breaking rope and the like. One of the trailers also showed Amicia throwing a rock to break a guard’s lantern causing him to be devoured alive by rats. Not creepy in the slightest.
Even in the couple of hours of the demo, the pace of the gameplay went through noticeable cadence. Roughly, based on the pace, it could be split into three patters (not necessarily following in that order):
- Measured stealth-based gameplay that didn’t feel either fast or slow. The demo was not hardcore in terms of stealth or puzzle elements but it had also only shown the very start of the game. The trailer above showed siblings having to sneak through an area with both the guards and the rats, change that is sure to spice up gameplay.
- Action-packed chases and boss battles. Angry villagers and the squealing hordes of murderous rats will get your heart pumping faster as you try to navigate the siblings to safety. The horrifying sound of thousands of screeching rodents will follow you long after you leave infested areas.
- Quiet moments shared by Amicia and Hugo. Set in the midst of the madness of the Black Death, among the horrors of half-eaten bodies and ravaged countryside and battlefields, those few and in-between moments feel precious as they unveil the story and the growing bond between the brother and sister.
In the few hours with Hugo and Amicia, Plague Tale: Innocence proved to be a special game that might be not for everyone. While lacking more hardcore or nuanced elements of other stealth or action-adventure titles out there, Plague Tale makes you feel small and vulnerable in an unforgiving world out to get you. It is no simple task to portray a couple of children with no one but themselves on the run during one of the worst periods in human history but I believe the game tackles the challenge admirably. Partially due to the superb voice acting, you just want to swoop Amicia and Hugo into a big hug or at least see them through their journey safely.
Developed by Asobo Studios and published by Focus Home Interactive, A Plague Tale: Innocence will be available on May 14 for PS4, Xbox One and PC.
Note: the PC key was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this preview.