Chronos: Before the Ashes – REVIEW

OUR RATING 7/10

GAME OVERVIEW
Chronos was an Oculus Rift exclusive VR game released in 2016. A few years later, in 2019, its sequel, Remnant: From the Ashes, was released, but this time for consoles, without the need for Virtual Reality devices. This ended up being highly praised by critics.

Now, Chronos will be relaunched without the need for VR, earning the title of Chronos: Before the Ashes, a combat action RPG inspired by the ‘souls-like’ genre. It was released on December 1 for Playstation 4 and 5, Xbox One and Series, Nintendo Switch, PC and Google Stadia – developed by Gunfire Studios, and published by THQ Nordic.

Chronos’ story begins with an old woman telling a story of how humans in the past lived in large buildings that reached the skies, huddled in thousands in huge cities, until creatures appeared and decimated almost everything. These creatures are controlled by the will of a single evil being: The Dragon. If it dies, humanity will once again have peace. You are chosen to use the stone of the world and travel to the place where the dragon is and defeat it.

But this stone is only active once a year, so if you die, you will be expelled back to the normal world and will only be able to try again the following year. Then, we will follow this hero’s lifelong journey as he explores the maze, travels between worlds, faces monsters, and inevitably dies but death is only temporary. Being older, and more skilled, you will continue your journey until the dragon dies, or his life is over. But this journey will not be that simple, as there are terrible secrets behind the existence of this dragon, and not everything is as it seems.

GAMEPLAY
Anyone who has played Dark Souls, will recognize Chronos’ form of combat, a methodical and strategic combat, with the character’s stamina management and very focused on first defending himself and avoiding taking damage than attacking without thinking, especially due to the lack of options for heal. Here, there is only one healing item available, a dragon heart, which recovers your entire life, but after spending, it only re-energize after you die. Apart from this item, you regain life by leveling up, or using the arcane magic of darkness to steal enemies’ lives, but both options take time to be available and cannot be used freely.

This difficulty in healing is balanced with combat far less punitive than pure Dark Souls. First, that enemies are not so aggressive, with well-wired blows that give you the opportunity to dodge or defend, and second that attacking does not consume your stamina, just defending and dodging, which makes combat much more dynamic without so much need to stop fighting to recover and giving you a bigger window of error before the character gets too tired. On a difficulty scale, Dark Souls would be the equivalent of the “Nightmare” level, while Chronos covers the “Easy”, “Medium” and “Difficult” difficulties, giving you just those options in the beginning.

A different and creative mechanics added to this formula is the way death is treated. As stated above, when the character dies, he ages one year. There is no item to recover after the character dies, one of the clichés of that genre. As he gets older, the hero will also change slightly, both in appearance and combat skills. There are 4 attributes controlling the hero’s power: strength, agility, arcane and vitality.

Strength and agility affect the attack of weapons using the respective attribute, vitality increases your defense and health, and arcane increases damage with magic. When you level up, you get two points to distribute. When young, strength, agility and vitality cost 1 point to evolve, but arcane needs 3 points to climb just one point. If you improve the strength, it will increase the energy to block hits and the damage with slow weapons. While if you improve agility, it will be your ability to evade and damage with fast weapons that improves.

Every 10 years, the character gains a bonus ability, representing how age brings more wisdom and knowledge. You are given 3 options and you must choose one. These skills can be an increase in attack, a better defense, a more efficient dodge. The hero begins his adventure at 18 and goes on until 80, when he stops aging. In fact, each time you lose, your character ages, thus gaining more wisdom (the Arcane attribute is cheaper to improve). After losing a few times, the opportunity arose to assign a buff to the choice, such as: increasing the attack power. These buffs are permanent and have different characteristics; it is up to the player to choose in order to favor his playing style.

Chronos is not limited to just fighting. There are several puzzles scattered around your scenarios to be solved, the challenge of which adds further excitement in the exploration of this world. The great merit of these puzzles is the fact that they usually arrive without advertising, so you have to pay attention to know that there are some out there. Most of them are mandatory to advance the story, so you will find them easily, but solving them will not be that easy, as most involve you finding an item by the stage, or repairing some detail that is easily overlooked by a less attentive look. A good example of a puzzle involves a mirror that takes you to different locations depending on the combination of runes placed on it.

There are several surprises like these scattered throughout the game. The solution to a puzzle usually opens you up a path you weren’t expecting, like a secret door or staircase, even weapons can be protected by puzzles. The design of the scenarios helps a lot in this exploration and search for puzzles, with very detailed rooms and corridors, and an artistic style that is a compromise between cartoon and realistic, since the proportions of the houses and characters are realistic, but with textures not so detailed and with a drawing appearance.

The existence of portals takes you to a fantasy and less futuristic places, each portraying a story, complementary to the main one, making the world richer. Although they are interconnected, each location is different and gaining the will to explore them, also with the aim of solving the puzzles.

PROs, CONs and OVERALL GAMING EXPERIENCE
The artistic look is undoubtedly a strong point in this game, but with regard to technical aspects, it’s quite simple, as well as the variety of enemies available. These are easily distinguishable, but do not stand out or do not have a strong presence, as usually happens in other games of the genre. Despite this, there are some interesting NPCs with which you can interact and even earn rewards, in case you accept their tasks. They have an appropriate voice acting that makes their personalities more charismatic. Additionally, the soundtrack does not have much impact, but it is present when the action intensifies or when I discover new places.

The gameplay breathes The Legend of Zelda and, mainly, Dark Souls, where the heavy movement and slow attacks, typical of the latter is strongly felt. However, not everything is the same and Chronos has more accessibility in several aspects. In combat however, it is only possible to use about three to four attacks in a row, so care is little when the challenge is demanding.

There is a wide variety of weapons that impact both the response and speed of combat, such as: the obvious difference between attacking with an agile sword and a heavy hammer. However, I found this difference too slight, which may upset some players. In my case, you may just end up opting for the heavier weapons in order to have greater attack strength. Note that this mechanics has been simplified and ends up delivering a different experience, together with other elements. 

The most striking and the greatest success of Chronos: Before the Ashes is its aging mechanics. In order to reach the dragon, the protagonist must go through a stone that takes him to another world, a portal that only opens once a year, so every time you lose a fight you don’t actually die, but rather age a year. You start the adventure with 18 and as you move forward, your hair is dyed white and your body becomes slower and slower, but your mind wiser.

The classic RPG elements like inventory and weapon management, attributes to improve and the experience you gained to level up fit perfectly into the mechanics of the gameplay, but we want to highlight the latter, as their development is facilitated.

Regarding the difficulty, there are three different levels available, easy, normal and difficult, the latter being a real challenge and perhaps to start the standard scale is recommended. The changes in Chronos VR, the fixed camera system and variations are left aside by positioning the head for a traditional third-person view that is located just behind your character. A modification without complications but effective at all times, without giving any problem for any of the situations that you have to live or solve in the adventure.

There are not too many weapons, but they do feel very different from each other. So, between axes, spears, swords and more, you can choose which style best suits your way of playing. In addition, the weapons are designed to work with different builds. For your character to grow in power, you must level up and invest the points given in improving the statistics.

Although it is not up to the level of Remnant in this regard either, Chronos: Before the Ashes is more than good as far as technical is concerned. Its graphics are good and the play of light and shadow, something that works very well in a dark world like the one it presents, is beautifully done. The level design is still as successful as in its sequel, the same fate as the characters but not the enemies, especially if we compare them with the other title in the saga, while we also notice some elements out of place, which clearly have been remnants of the VR version.

At the sound level, it also fulfills and even stands out in some senses, as in the atmosphere generated by the moans of the creatures in the midst of a tense afterlife silence. What can break through the immersion the most are some bugs, such as when the protagonist clones himself (yes, frozen replicas appear here and there) or even worse, when inventory objects or experience points that we had earned disappear.

It is clear that this new port of Gunfire Games and THQ Nordic is not as great as Remnant: From the Ashes was, even going back in some elements in which the sequel knew how to stand out. However, with some original mechanics, it is a more than worthy prequel and highly recommended for those who enjoyed hunting demons to save humanity in the title released in 2019.

Chronos: Before the Ashes does not have the best combat, nor the best enemies, nor an outstanding story, but its aging mechanics, its final stretch full of epic bosses and its setting in this post-apocalyptic world, makes it worth playing. And despite a very simple premise, it is undoubtedly mysterious and interesting. These aspects are so strong that it will make you want to explore a lot in order to find out more about his world. The more accessible gameplay within this genre also allows you to relax instead of being constantly under pressure not to die (in this case, it has some benefits). If this is your beach, then get ready to wake up to it and start a new and long journey, dark and fun.

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