A Plague Tale: Innocence, the upcoming adventure developed by Asobo Studios, had us intrigued when it was shown for the first time during Focus Home Interactive's What's Next. The few minutes of gameplay that were on display were enough to catch our attention as you could read in our preview from a year ago.
To learn more about this upcoming title, we visited Focus Home Interactive to play the first two hours of the game. A reminder from last year: you play as Amicia de Rune, accompanied by her younger brother Hugo, and these two children are persecuted by the Inquisition against the backdrop of the Black Death in a scenario that mixes historical fact and fiction. Spoiler alert: we should warn you that this preview details the first four chapters of the game and if you'd rather not know anything about what happens, we'd advise you to skip straight to the conclusion.
So we scraped away the first layer of the game and the first thing that we noticed, obviously, are the graphics. A Plague Tale starts in a lush forest and the least we can say is that Asobo has mastered the environmental design. The lighting effects, the leaves twirling in the air, the same leaves strewn on the ground; everything is a treat for the eyes. Furthermore, the artistic team brilliantly manages the change of atmosphere. Impressively, the scenery quickly changed from a forest with lush vegetation to a dead forest. We played on a PC and didn't notice any slowdown during our two hours of play.
So, the beginning of the adventure introduced us to Amicia and her father as they walk a dog. The goal of this first chapter is to introduce the first principles of the gameplay as you learn to hide in the tall grass, a trick that'll come in handy later. You will also learn to use one of the weapons of the game - the slingshot - which can be deadly if you aim it just right.
After hunting and slaughtering a boar using your slingshot, you enter your home. The place is filled with characters (mostly servants) discussing the weather, and the place feels very lively. It is at this point that the player meets Hugo, Amicia's younger brother. You'll soon learn that the two characters don't know each other very well, but before we're able to confirm this hunch, the problems start.
The Inquisition is in town and is looking to ransack the De Rune domain, and we're faced with the first stealth section in the game. After finding her brother, Amicia (you) makes her way out of the building, slaloming between soldiers who're killing servants and looting their home. We thus find all the usual gameplay mechanics of this kind of game, and you can hide in the grass, throw pebbles at objects to make noise and distract guards - they're classic but efficient mechanics. The subtlety lies in the fact that you must also manage your brother, Hugo. Most of the time, you hold his hand and he comes along with you without flinching. However, if you have to go somewhere and in doing so you leave Hugo alone for too long, he will panic and risk alerting the nearby guards - an interesting and original idea.
Once outside the castle, the two children head to the nearest village. Then a game of cat and mouse takes place between Amicia and Hugo on one side and the villagers on the other, villagers who hold them responsible for the arrival of the plague. Breaking from the stealthy gameplay, the chapter ends with a boss fight, where you will have to face a man in armour, take down plates of said armour with your sling before finishing him with a headshot.