Chronos: Before the Ashes Review – Welcome to the Labyrinth
Chronos: Before the Ashes1st December, 2020
Chronos: Before the Ashes is a strange beast. Originally released in 2016, this was an Oculus exclusive title that did VR a little differently. Following the success of Remnant: From the Ashes, Chronos, which is set in the same universe and just one month before the events of Remnant, was a perfect fit to convert from VR to a regular title. What also helped with this conversion is that Chronos handled VR differently, simply placing you as a sort of onlooker.
This isn't a review of the VR version, so what I'll say is that the changes are simple. Before, you would be an onlooker, simply moving your head from a fixed position in this collection of mechanical, or fantastical, areas. Chronos, now called Chronos: Before the Ashes to highlight the link to Remnant: From the Ashes, feels very much like a Souls-lite title with a splash of adventure-game puzzle thrown in.
This is a third-person action-adventure title set in an interconnected world. However, due to the VR origins of this title, the interconnected world here feels a little shackled. The size and scope of the game is, understandably, limited. You will find areas where you're looping back on yourself, opening up gates from one side to create a shortcut to your previous... world stone? Honestly, I can't remember what they're called. Think of them as the Chronos: Before the Ashes equivalent of a bonfire.
Naturally, when you die, you're transported to the latest of these stones that you've visited. Only, to add a twist, a year has passed. Each time you die in the game, you age a year. My character was thirty-two when I completed my playthrough, meaning I died fourteen times. I actually killed myself twice when I was twenty-eight to get myself to thirty. The reason for this is simply because each time you age a decade, you get a new perk to represent your age and experience. In theory, when you get old enough, you die of old age. I don't know if the game actually does this, with eighty being the last of the perks, but it certainly is an intriguing system.
How it's worked into the game is pretty interesting in itself. Not only do you get perks from your character's age, but you'll also notice that the experience required to improve strength and dexterity increases, but for the arcane skill it decreases. I suppose you really do get wiser as you get older. You also see your character physically age, your hair starting to grey, lines appearing upon your face. As for the lore reason why you age a year when you die, the labyrinth you've been tasked to enter only opens once per year.
The story of Chronos: Before the Ashes is interesting, particularly for those who have played and enjoyed Remnant: From the Ashes. There are a few forced monologues, shoehorning the story down your throat, but for the most part, a lot of it is exploration based. You'll find diary entries, notes, and more. There's a lot to see and experience while exploring the world, though you are more than free to charge forward and not worry about exploring - you won't be punished for it.
While you won't be punished, I can't exactly say it'd be rewarding to do that. Combat, as you would imagine for a Souls-lite title, is a slow process. However, if you're coming into Chronos: Before the Ashes expecting an intense and very tactical system that is, at the same time, punishing and rewarding, you'd probably feel a little disappointed. The combat is okay. That's the best I can say. The problem is that while it feels reasonably Souls-like, there are a few issues with it.
Attacking, for example, doesn't expend any stamina. Some enemies, even towards the very end of the game, can be locked against a wall and wailed upon like a chimp playing with its favourite banana. You'll also find, once you've picked the right age-related perk, that you're given way too much time and space to parry or dodge an attack. Once you successfully parry or dodge, you're given a short magic-based boost to your attack. This can feel a little cheap, but you use what you can.
There's no doubt it feels like a souls game, but one where the difficulty has been turned down to a sizable degree. You also won't find much in terms of exploration nor difficulty in the puzzle side of the game. On the puzzles, It feels very much like an adventure game. At a crossroads, you'll take the left path to find a sapphire gem in a statue's mouth. Then you'll head back, take the right path and use the gem to advance. On rare occasions, you'll find something that constitutes an actual puzzle, such as a sliding puzzle that tasks you with creating a path forward.
Chronos: Before the Ashes is a game that shows its origins in a few too many ways. As a VR title, it would have made for a relatively long title and different from what is usually on offer. As it stands, your playthrough will take roughly ten hours, even with the exploration offered within the game. You'll also find that, aesthetically, Chronos also shows its origins. It doesn't look bad by any means, though some of the environments are a mixed bag.
Do I like Chronos: Before the Ashes? It's interesting and does play well, though it isn't without its flaws. If I'd played this four years ago, in VR as originally intended, I likely would have found myself looking on it in a more positive light. VR games always have that "for a VR title" addendum and Chronos plays like it would have been great for a VR title. As a non-VR title, with the competition around, Chronos: Before the Ashes is fine. It's okay. It's not great; it's not bad.
PC version reviewed. Copy provided by the publisher.
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Chronos: Before the Ashes is an interesting enough title, one that does feature some interesting environments that really support a strong level of world-building. Even those not familiar with Remnant would find this interesting. However, looking beyond the environment and storytelling, you're going to find aspects of the game lacking. The combat is far too forgiving, and you'll have completed the game before encountering most of the perks to the fascinating ageing system. Do I recommend this? For an easy-going souls-lite title, it's not bad, but it isn't great either.
- Interesting and attractive environments that support strong world-building.
- The age mechanic is unique and something that I'd like to see more of.
- A little too easy due to the very forgiving combat system.
- You'll also find that you've completed the game without having seen most upgrades.