Video Game Reviews

Chronos: Before the Ashes – Age is Just a Number

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Chronos: Before the Ashes is a third-person action-adventure game originally developed by Gunfire Games, but published by THQ Nordic

The original game, Chronos, was released in 2016 and required a VR headset to play. The updated version of the game eschewed the VR element in favor of the tried and true soulsborne formula, albeit with some slight differences. 

I bought this game for one reason, and one reason only: I really liked Remnant: From the Ashes. It was a great game that was fun to play and only seemed to get better the longer that I played it.

I was a little reluctant to move on to a new game, but just as I was finishing Remnant; low and behold, I saw Chronos: Before the Ashes in the Playstation Store.

At first, I didn’t really know what I was looking at, but when I watched the trailer and saw the familiar World Stone…

This doohickey right here

…I knew that the two games were connected.

A short internet search later, and I discovered that Chronos is actually a prequel to Remnant. 

Needless to say, I was sold. 

Now that I’ve played through Chronos, I’m a little sad that I didn’t play it first. Not playing it first didn’t diminish my enjoyment of either game, but I think I might have had more of an appreciation for Remnant when I first started playing it if I had played Chronos first. 

Anyway, let’s get into the things that make this game unique, and whether those things make Chronos worth your time. 

Tis An Adventure

In Chronos, you play as a young hero who has been chosen to enter a mysterious labyrinth and slay an evil dragon. That’s really the only story to the game. There are some journal entries and computer logs to read, but they don’t quite paint a whole picture. 

Basically, you enter the labyrinth and just sort of wander around and solve puzzles until you find a boss. Then you go to the next area, rinse, and repeat.

So, basically what Link has been doing since 1986

While that sounds a little underwhelming, the interesting thing about this game was the way it mixed genres. It was mostly an action-adventure game that followed the soulsborne rules. However, there were times where it felt like a straight-up adventure game from back in the day. 

You see, in Chronos, you have the ability to combine items in your inventory, and to use those items at different places in the world. So, in essence, the game feels like a point-and-click adventure broken up by purposefully hard combat.

At first, I thought the juxtaposition of the two elements would be jarring, but it actually worked really well. I think this is because once you kill your enemies, they stay dead until the next time you die. This means that once you clear an area, you can work at the puzzles to your heart’s content.

The Ticking of the Clock

The standout feature of Chronos was the way it handled health, progression, and death in terms of gameplay.

When you get hurt in Chronos, there are two ways to heal yourself for the majority of the game.

The first is to use a dragon heart — a reusable healing item. Each heart will heal you to your maximum health, but becomes inert until after you die.

The only other way to heal is to level up, which will also restore you to full health.

So, if you run out of dragon hearts and you’re nowhere near leveling up, you’re out of luck. This means that you’re almost guaranteed to die more often than not. 

Basically, the game wants you to see this a LOT!

At first, this might seem strange, since most games give you the opportunity to keep up your health in some fashion. However, once you understand that death plays a role in your character progression, it makes sense.

You see, when you die in Chronos, not only are your dragon hearts replenished, but your character also ages one year. This is tied directly into your stats, of which there are four. 

When you are young, it is easy to upgrade:

  • Your strength ( which governs your damage with heavy weapons and your ability to block)
  • Your agility (which governs your damage with light weapons and your dodge)
  • Your vitality (which governs your damage resistance and overall health).

You only need one point to upgrade each. However, your arcane stat (which governs magic attack and defense) requires three whole points in order to upgrade. 

However, as you age, it becomes harder to put points into strength, agility, and vitality, and arcane becomes much easier.

This means that you have to balance how you are putting the points in so that you don’t become a feeble old person incapable of defending yourself.

Another aspect of aging is your traits. Every decade, starting when you turn 20 and ending when you turn 80, you can choose one of three traits.

These give you much-needed bonuses, especially after facing a string of defeats.

Amateur Hour

The absolute strangest thing about Chronos is the overall feel of the game. From start to finish, it felt almost like the project of some very talented amateurs — and I don’t mean that in a bad way. It was a very tightly-constructed experience. There were just some things that stood out to me in a weird way. These  included, but were not limited to:

  • The camera work being a little shoddy, especially when ascending or descending ladders
  • The menus being stark and weirdly static
  • The button prompts on screen feeling oddly basic
  • The animations, outside of combat, being a little robotic at times.
  • Some items not loading, leaving me swinging around a sword that didn’t exist

I think most of this was due to the fact that it was originally a game developed for the Oculus Rift. I mean, THQ Nordic did some real work to un-VR-ify it, but I think it might have needed a bigger overhaul in order to scrub that directly-ported feel.

It’s like seeing a 3D movie without the glasses

Return to Ashes 

Overall, Chronos: From the Ashes was a solid game. The combat was tough but fair, and the puzzles were inventive and entertaining. It could have been longer, as the three available areas were on the small side, but it was reasonably long without overstaying its welcome.

I absolutely loved the way that they used death as a gameplay mechanic, and how it affected the way that you play the game. But I didn’t like that you couldn’t die (permanently) of old age. 

I’m giving Chronos: Before the Ashes a rooted 7/10. It didn’t wow me, but it was perfectly serviceable in almost every way.

Oh, in case anyone was wondering, my biggest gripe with this game was that I didn’t die enough to see what all the traits were… and I wasn’t willing to kill my character over and over just to see what they were. 

I’m not a monster.