Title: Chronos: Before the Ashes
Developer: Gunfire Games
Release Date: December 1, 2020
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: THQ Nordic
I’ve heard a lot about Chronos over the years since it’s 2016 release as a VR game that I had to play. Well, I never actually got around to playing it, but that’s okay because Gunfire Games has returned to the project to release Chronos: Before the Ashes, an overhauled version of the game for a non-VR experience. After the success of its sequel Remnant: From the Ashes, I believe this release was warranted to give players a look at the series’ roots.
Chronos: Before the Ashes opens with a straightforward quest to destroy a dragon. This may not seem like the most creative premise, but the lore and worldbuilding are delivered throughout the adventure. The plot develops into a massive quest that involves taking down a few of the dragon’s lackeys before facing off against him, and along the way, you’ll get to understand the harm that he has caused this fantasy world.
The game’s opening presents more questions than answers, but the developer paced out their lore drops accordingly for those who wish to ingest it. It’s never in-your-face or overwhelming either as you read books and talk to some of the locals who aren’t trying to kill you. Over time, you’ll acquire dragon stones that open up Arcane abilities and allow you to access more powerful moves, and act as significant checkpoints in the overall adventure.
Chronos: Before the Ashes can be a brutally difficult game compared to the likes of Dark Souls. However, as challenging as it is, the similarities are mostly seen in less significant systems. Interestingly, I appreciated how combat doesn’t solely rely on the stamina bar, draining defensive abilities. This allowed me to focus more on reading the opponent’s moves instead of counting my attacks to know when my stamina would run out.
Other unique elements about the adventure involve low-impact exploration puzzles that require you to be perceptive of the environments and understand your inventory items. With the new non-VR camera, the game resembled classic adventure titles such as Soul Reaver as you traverse a maze-like world and slowly gain the items needed to progress. The puzzles aren’t too difficult either and normally can be completed without the need for backtracking. However, some might leave you stumped for a moment.
Chronos: Before the Ashes shines in its combat systems, which are brutal but offer enough options to adjust to a few different playstyles. There are light and strong attacks along with block, parry, and dodge. Incorporating these actions with a variety of weapons creates plenty of ways to survive in battle. On top of that, Arcane abilities can be tied to your strong attack to break guards or use as a way to unleash a furry of attacks on your enemies.
Again, these systems are rather basic on paper, but the gameplay is just so tight here. Everything feels smooth and responsive as you don’t underestimate any opponent and cautiously make your way through the levels. The designers test you as well by putting you in a room with a new enemy where later you may find yourself facing off against two of them and a few other types in a room. It gives you time to master their attack patterns and weaknesses, but it’s safe to say that you will die plenty of times.
Death is handled in an interesting way where your character ages a year after falling in battle. This is tied into the lore of the world and also alters other aspects of the gameplay. Players will find their character growing slightly weaker at an older age, but Arcane abilities are significantly improved. After death, the experience you take with you is needed to make sure that you don’t die again.
I loved this feature as it limited my feeling of dying to get my health back and try again. I didn’t want to die because I didn’t want to get old. While there are age benefits, I didn’t like the idea of my character spending so many years of their life fighting this dragon, and I would try a lot harder to stay alive.
This non-VR experience is more or less the same gameplay experience that you may remember from the VR version. Sadly, this includes some of the puzzle details and the layout of the environments. Certain aspects of the game have been altered for this release as we shift from the fixed camera perspective that fans may be used to, but ultimately, you’re getting by and large the same game here.
Still, Chronos: Before the Ashes is a beautiful game with some decent environments and enemy designs. I do wish that there were more ways to interact with the world, though. This could be breaking some of the boxes lying around or additional NPCs to meet along the way. I also felt that the weapon upgrade system was a little too basic for a full console experience as it may have worked to streamline the VR version. Still, a deeper way to collect materials and alter your weapon’s appearance and style would have been a nice added touch.
Chronos: Before the Ashes is a solid action-adventure that doesn’t overstay its welcome or try to be something that it isn’t. If you’ve played the VR original, you’ll find quality-of-life improves, but this is still the same challenging adventure that you’ll remember. The gameplay is tight, responsive, and consistently fun; there’s nothing more I could really ask for from an action-adventure game.
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