We all know that A Plague Tale: Innocence is an exceptional game that has rightly been praised since it first released back in 2019. It’s the kind of game all your friends bang on to you about playing, and the more they do, the less likely you end up actually playing it.
But seriously, with the new Xbox Series X|S enhancements, you really do need to play it.
Set in 1348 as the black plague continues to rage through Western Europe, the de Rune family protects their son Hugo from the outside world whilst trying to find a cure for his unusual illness. Hugo’s older sister, Amicia, is out hunting with her father when her dog goes missing, only to be dragged underground by some unknown entity. Upon returning to the family home though, French Inquisition troops arrive to take Hugo away. The family and those working in the residence try to fight back, but only Amicia and Hugo manage to escape.
Being young children, much of the action involving Amicia and Hugo is stealth-based. Amicia is armed only with a slingshot, and it is originally intended more to be used as a distraction tool, rather than attacking French and English soldiers. A Plague Tale wants you to feel remorse the first time you are forced to use it as a weapon, and every subsequent time after that.
Of course, human enemies are just a small part of A Plague Tale, and in this next-gen version of the game, the rats are all that more terrifying and the real stars of the show.
Not only do they add more than a healthy dose of horror, but these critters have an intense aversion to light, and this acts as the major puzzle element in A Plague Tale. Soon after they are introduced, Amicia and Hugo must avoid them at all costs; by using fire they must forge a path through them.
Sconces, fire pits and more, if it can hold a flame, it must be used. The rats with their disturbing bright red eyes are relentless; one wrong move and you will be punished. At first, A Plague Tale keeps the rats and human enemies apart, but it isn’t long before they appear together. Just like you though, human enemies are avoiding the rats, but this can be used to your advantage as well.
A Plague Tale is a pretty linear game, with any diversions off the main path solely for hidden collectibles. On their journey, players will unlock additional abilities through alchemical concoctions such as the power to extinguish fires, kill the rats and even attract them to certain locations. Hugo even has his own particular set of skills to unlock, but these come much later in the tale.
Amicia can also upgrade these abilities using the various components she finds throughout the adventure. Her sling can become more powerful and that in turn allows her to become much more of an attacking protagonist than she starts off as. That remorse she felt when first using the sling on an enemy disappears as you progress; that isn’t to say Amicia enjoys the killings, yet each one is necessary in order to protect her brother.
And with the power of the Xbox Series X|S those kills are all the more visceral now. A Plague Tale: Innocence was Xbox One X Enhanced when it first released, but now it has been given a next-gen update as well. That means 4K visuals, graphical improvement, 3D audio and 60 frames per second. As bleak as A Plague Tale looked beforehand, it has been made even bleaker – in the best way possible.
Of course, there are the improved load times as well. Improved so much that returning to a chapter from the main menu doesn’t even give you enough time to read the story recap on the loading screen.
Lighting plays such an important factor in A Plague Tale too, and with this next-gen update it really pops. Straight from the off, as Amicia is walking through an unplagued forest, the natural light pokes through the foliage. It is already an incredible introduction, made even more beautiful with these enhancements.
Things quickly take a turn for the worse and the first appearance of the rats is all the more distressing. Only now that distress doesn’t evaporate on Xbox Series X|S; it remains whether Amicia is avoiding rats or soldiers, wading through dead bodies on a battlefield, a deserted village ravaged by the plague or even during the latter stages where she is joined by other companions.
A Plague Tale does unfortunately lose its way a bit in the third act. The first few chapters are breathless and near-perfect examples of marrying storytelling with gameplay, and even when things take a breather during relative “safe” spaces you want to press on to find out what happens next. But the final few chapters don’t seem to pack the same punch. There is a huge revelation regarding Hugo but it doesn’t quite hit the same story beats, and then as so much of the gameplay is centred around this afterwards, it sadly doesn’t quite compare with everything beforehand.
But everything else about A Plague Tale: Innocence is superb. If you’ve ever played the PlayStation exclusive The Last of Us, you will feel very at home with A Plague Tale. Already regarded as one of the best games of the last generation, the next-gen improvements solidify it into a must play-title. Considering it is already available on Xbox Game Pass and with a sequel due next year in the form of A Plague Tale: Requiem, what is your excuse for not playing?
Avoid the deadly rats in A Plague Tale: Innocence for £34.99 on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One