Game name: Chronos: Before the Ashes
Release date: December 1, 2020
Available on: Steam
Genre: Action RPG
Developer: Gunfire Games
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Before Gunfire Games released Remnant: From the Ashes and staked a claim for themselves on the crowded soulslike niche, they’d actually worked on another game in the same genre, one that went somewhat under the radar due to its status as a VR only title. The name? Chronos. Could it be…? Yup! Chronos: Before the Ashes is a rework of that same adventure, only this time it’s no longer a VR exclusive. I didn’t have the pleasure of playing the original, but I quite enjoyed Remnant, so join me as I share with the world my thoughts on this action RPG.
The story and setting are quite intriguing, as the game casts the player as a heroic character that must take on a labyrinth, fighting to get to the literal root of all the evils that plague their world. There’s a catch though, which is that being defeated will spit us out of the Labyrinth, aging us a year. While this mechanic could have been purely cosmetic, it is actually something that affects the gameplay loop in ways that aren’t instantly apparent, but will become more important as the adventure progresses. I’m not one for spoilers, but I think that you can do the math here, younger adventurers require less effort to improve their physical stats, while more experienced heroes will master the arcane with a lot less effort.
Aside from this cool mechanic, Chronos is pretty much a standard action RPG with Souls influences. You can perform light and heavy attacks, dodge, block and parry enemy blows, and there is a stamina bar that dictates how long you can keep up some of these moves. Interestingly, attacks are “free” and don’t consume stamina. I feel that this is a double edged sword, as I personally enjoy being able to pummel enemies to death without having to stop and wait every few seconds, but the game doesn’t exactly feel perfectly balanced around that fact and it can even let you stunlock lower tier baddies frequently. Even if this wasn’t the case, the combat would probably be far easier than in titles like The Surge or Code Vein, and there is a lot less depth here, something that would be understandable in the context of a VR game, but a bit less easy to forgive now that it’s in pancake form.
The healing system is also very similar to the one present in other games inspired by the Souls formula (we get a health item that’s refilled every time we get kicked out of the Labyrinth by our death). We can’t refill our health by going back to the Stones that act as equivalent to bonfires though (but at the same time, those Stones don’t respawn enemies, so there’s that) and the only other way to cure our ills aside from using our healing item is to level up, which will instantly refill our health gauge. Killing enemies rewards us with experience, and once we level up, we’ll get attribute points that can be spent in four stats. Depending on our character’s age, some stats will require more points in order to improve them, and every tenth year we’ll also get a perk to help us in our journey to become a more powerful hero. While I’ve just stated that using the Stones doesn’t respawn enemies, dying does, so we won’t run out of baddies to murder anytime soon.
Our character isn’t the only thing we can upgrade as we progress through the game, since there’s also a fairly straightforward weapon improvement system. Just like the experience points, we’ll get Dragon Shards (the upgrade material) from defeated enemies, and those can in turn be spent towards improving our gear’s damage output, stat affinity, etc. At the start of the game we’ll only be able to upgrade our boring sword and shield, but there are other weapons scattered around the world and hidden behind puzzles and quests. Before choosing which weapon to wield, we should pay attention to its stat affinity (Stamina or Strength) as it’s better to focus on equipment that complements our build for maximum effectiveness in combat. Eventually, we’ll also be granted the ability to wield magic powers, but that’s sort of getting into spoiler territory, so I’ll just say that it gets better with age.
Sadly, that’s not something that I can say about the overall experience of playing Chronos: Before the Ashes. It’s certainly not a bad game, but you can tell that it is a creature from a different age, and also one that was created for a very different input method, with the transition from VR launch title to normal action RPG working against this re-release in many ways. I wouldn’t recommend it over similarly priced games in the same genre, but once it’s discounted, it will certainly be worth a playthrough, especially if you enjoyed the world of Remnant: From the Ashes.
6/10 – Fair.