A Plague Tale: Innocence - The Next-Gen Difference on Xbox

07/07/2021 - 11:00 | By: David Restrepo
Preparing for The Sequel

Coming to us from Asobo Studio, now known for their technical prowess on Microsoft Flight Simulator, A Plague Tale: Innocence was one of 2019's sleeper hits. With a sequel arriving next year, the studio has taken it upon itself to upgrade the last-gen console release for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S. Promising 60 frames per second along with visual enhancements at 4K, how does the Series X patch compare to the Xbox One X release?

For a link to a Google Drive folder with more images, full-resolution PNGs, and split-screen comparisons, click here.

A Plague Tale: Innocence at Launch

A Plague Tale: Innocence was released in May 2019 for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. As one of the late-generation titles, it simultaneously pushed the consoles while remaining surprisingly polished for a non-AAA project. Though the mid-gen refreshes used a form of temporal reconstruction to achieve a 4K output, their native resolutions were much lower than users were accustomed to: native 1080p on Pro and 1440p on One X. This wouldn't matter so much if the reconstruction was high quality, but its sub-native 4K picture didn't come close to the superb implementations from the likes of Horizon: Zero Dawn or Gears 5 by any means. 

Image quality was one of the visual package's sticking points, but at least the mid-gen consoles maintained a stable 30 fps target. Base consoles suffered more, but given the game's slow-paced nature, its frame-rate readouts weren't the end of the world. Considering the PC version at the time couldn't run at 60 fps at 4K with ultra settings using an RTX 2080 Ti paired with a Ryzen 1700x —two components leagues ahead of the consoles — the turnout was impressive. 

 
 

Aside from blurry image quality, there wasn't much to complain about with its technical makeup considering the smaller budget. That said, now that a next-generation console patch is upon us, this gives Asobo Studio the chance to increase the frame-rate target while offering a more complete visual package that more closely resembles the original PC release maxed out at a higher resolution. That's what the marketing materials promise. How does it actually pan out in practice, though?

The Differences in the Plague Tale: Innocence Next-Gen Patch

The new performance target is the most immediately noticeable upgrade in the next-gen version of A Plague Tale: Innocence. Gameplay feels much smoother with the inherent judder from the previous release eliminated. The image's stability in motion is much improved with a solid performance profile. Based on the first three hours, I only perceived framerate drops on some close-ups during cinematics. General gameplay felt consistent; however, this 60 fps refresh comes with a caveat. I'm not sure what exactly is causing this, but moving the camera quickly induces notable ghosting artifacts around the player character. This is something I did not notice on Xbox One X. If it existed there, it was less prevalent.

It's a minor blemish most players will grow accustomed to. Moving beyond the frame rate, what can players expect when booting the game up on their shiny new consoles? With such vague statements as "visual enhancements," what exactly is boosted over the Xbox One X release? Can we expect a revelatory upgrade? 

Split-screen image showing the draw distance

As it turns out, the A Plague Tale patch is more of a refinement than anything else. Don't come in expecting an upgrade on the level of Gears 5, Metro Exodus, or Doom Eternal. Discerning differences is a matter of closely examining like-for-like scenes, attempting to find the upgrade. Case in point, draw distances on miscellaneous objects is improved. Series X begins to render these hanging fish several steps ahead of Xbox One X. In side-by-side comparisons, this kind of upgrade is apparent. During normal gameplay, though, these scene elements still pop in close enough to the camera that it doesn't feel like a boost was employed without the direct comparison.

Amicia's self-casting shadow is slightly higher resolution on Series X, but it's another refinement that would go unnoticed without side-by-sides. The same principle applies to shadows cast by other objects. Ambient occlusion is also altered on the new console, with some areas showcasing more distinct pockets of shade than Xbox One X. Depth of field is a little less aggressive, leading to sharper in-surface detail on scene geometry further away whereby the effect is used. Another incredibly subtle upgrade comes in the form of volumetrics, with light shafts showing a slight boost in resolution only apparent with a basis for comparison. 

 

The reflection situation is a little more complex, though. A Plague Tale: Innocence uses a mix of screen space reflections and baked reflections across many of its surfaces. When SSR is used, namely in larger bodies of water such as rivers, Series X employs a much higher-quality preset. Reflections resolve at a higher resolution with rivers more accurately reflecting more of the environment. However, when it defaults to the baked reflections in smaller bodies of water, such as puddles, there is no discernible difference in quality, appearing equally chunky on both generations. 

split-screen image comparing screen space reflections
While not pronounced in this downsized JPEG, the linked Google Drive folder showcases the SSR difference nicely when switching between the consoles.

Texture quality was one area that could have seen the largest benefit thanks to the game's inconsistent asset quality. Unfortunately, any surface I compared exhibited the exact same texture resolution. Be mindful of the possibility that some assets I did not choose to examine up close were upgraded. However, poring over the screenshots, all textures appear the same across platforms. With 50% more RAM than Xbox One X and twice the RAM of PS4 Pro, the lack of higher-resolution artwork is disappointing, but not a deal-breaker. 

The state of the game's resolution is the largest concern, however. While I was unable to pixel count the images, multiple shots show an edge in clarity to Xbox One X. This is most noticeable when switching between the full-sized One X and Series X images during which Amicia is wearing the patterned tunic. The fabric showcases more detail on Xbox One X throughout most of these shots. Players will also notice the resolution divide in the series of shots labeled "A Plague Tale Innocence Volumetrics 3" toward the end of the Google Drive folder. Despite situating Amicia slightly further on Series X than One X, the window to the left is much blurrier on Series X, suggesting one of two outcomes: either the reconstruction itself is less accomplished than its original console incarnation, or the new console is rendering at a lower native resolution. With such minor refinements, the image quality deficit is a sacrifice that may leave many scratching their heads. 

The Next-Gen Difference of A Plague Tale: Innocence

A Plague Tale: Innocence is one of the oddest upgrades to date. Most patches are objective improvements, even if they range in terms of how much they improve over the previous releases. A Plague Tale: Innocence takes several small steps forward and one medium-sized step back. The higher frame rate is nice to have, as are the subtle refinements to the overall presentation. Unfortunately, image quality has taken too much of a hit in comparison to Xbox One X. All visual enhancements outside of screen-space reflections are so subtle that they're not worth losing out on resolution. Even with how demanding the PC release was, there's a sense that something isn't quite right. Console gamers that only experienced it on base consoles or the PS4 Pro will be much happier with the upgrade than users coming off Xbox One X. 


All screenshots were taken with chromatic aberration set to "low" on both consoles.


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Staff Writer

I enjoy discussing video games critically as much as I enjoy playing them. Catch me juggling between playing a 50+ hour rpg and watching 2-8 hour video essays dissecting a game or series.