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. 

Video Game Reviews

Remnant: From The Ashes – A Forward Thinking Throwback

Remnant: From the Ashes is a third-person action RPG that was created by Gunfire Games and published by Perfect World Entertainment. It was released in August of 2019, and by all accounts it was a game I really should have played when it first came out. 

I’m not sure what exactly happened, or why I missed its release, but it is a crying shame that I did. The only reason I can actually give a review of this game is because it was one of the free games this month for Playstation Plus. I would, however, consider it worth the asking price of $39.99, or even the 49.99 for the complete edition which includes two full DLC’s that add some worthwhile content.

Unlike others that will remain… nameless…

I’m going to jump right into what makes this game great, but first I offer a quick comparison that will likely grab the attention of a lot of early 2000’s gamers: Remnant is basically the third-person-shooter equivalent of Diablo II. 

A Magical Apocalypse

The story of Remnant was largely inconsequential to my base enjoyment of the game. You can pick it up, play through the entire thing, and enjoy every minute of it without really seeing the story. However, if you do ignore the story, you are doing yourself a disservice. This is because Remnant actually has some pretty deep lore that is largely hidden in the computer terminals and occasional journals you can find strewn throughout the world.

Without getting into too much detail, there was basically an apocalypse in the late 1960’s which was linked to the discovery of — and experimentation on — several large crystals. An entity, or entities, known as “The Root” infiltrated our world, and thus, the extermination of all life began.

Though, according to some, this happens all the time

The game begins roughly eighty years after this catastrophic event. You are a survivor from a remote settlement of humans, tasked with traveling to a tower above an atoll and destroying the evil that lurks there. 

That’s the gist of the info that the game spoon feeds to you. However, if you choose to read all the information provided throughout the game, you get a much more in depth understanding of exactly what happened after the discovery of the crystals, as well as how insidious the Root truly are. 

While you don’t have to seek out this knowledge, I highly recommend that you do. It elevates an already great game to another level entirely. 

Always to the East

Now, I’d like to get to my assertion that Remnant is basically a third person shooter version of Diablo II. While this is extremely true, keep in mind that Remnant is its own game and shines on its own merits.

The similarities are glaring. You traverse several worlds that are all largely procedurally generated with each new playthrough. There is, of course, the co-op element, which makes both games more enjoyable. And lastly is the immense replayability of both games. 

Then come the differences.

The first, and foremost, of which is that Remnant is a third person shooter, and a solid one at that. The play action is smooth, responsive, and can be a chaotic sort of fun. 

The second difference is that Remnant carries some elements of the Soulsborne genre within it. You can only save at checkpoints and, if you die, you will go back to the checkpoint and all of your enemies will have respawned. This can make the game almost controller-shatteringly hard on occasion, but ultimately makes your successes that much more rewarding.

You will, however, get sick of this screen

The biggest, and most evident, difference was that every weapon or piece of armor in the game can be used at any level. Basically, if you acquire a weapon, it can always be used throughout the entire game.

Each weapon, or piece of armor, has a level ranging from one to twenty. So, you can take your starting weapon to the last boss and light him up if you so choose, as long as you’ve upgraded that weapon accordingly. This also means that you receive fewer weapons throughout your playthrough than you would with something like Diablo II, but when you do receive a weapon, it is ultimately more rewarding than the thousands of weapons you pick up and sell in a game like Diablo.

Please Stand By

While I do praise the world design, which is really quite good, there are some glaring flaws with this game that can be hard to overlook, depending on what’s important to you. 

The character models of the people of Ward 13, your homebase, can be a little lacking. In fact, I felt like I was playing a PS3-era game when I first started out. I mean, the graphics aren’t stellar in general, but the puppet mouths of the vendors in the ward leave a lot to be desired.

Seen here: actual footage of the item vendor.

The cutscenes also have some issues with artifacting, and the animations could have used a lot more TLC. This lead to every single cutscene looking off in ways that I find hard to describe.

For me, the biggest issue was with hair. It was… floaty, and seemed to leave behind a fuzzy sort of after-image. While this did not impact the gameplay at all, and the cutscenes were few and far between, it was still something that broke my immersion and made me question what the heck I was looking at. 

I will say that one of the characters added for the Subject 2923 expansion had a solid design that looked commensurate with at least the PS4 era of gaming.

The most egregious issue with this game is the map. While it is servicable in many ways, there are some things about it that made me shake my head in confusion. For example, there is no way to view any other section of the map, other than the place where you are. So, you can’t ever see what areas connect to where you’re standing. 

Another issue involving the map is that the only way to tell what area you’re actually in is by resting at a checkpoint. This is also the only way to tell that you are in a dungeon. This means that if your objective is to travel to “The Wasteland,” you would only know that you’re in “The Wasteland” if you actually go there and rest at a checkpoint. This can leave you backtracking more often than you would like. 

Consequences of Death

I did mention earlier that Remnant is a bit Soulsbourne-ish. This means that there is an inherent level of difficulty that is not for all players. This can be curbed, or exacerbated, with a couple of friends, but ultimately, if you are playing alone, you might find yourself hitting a wall that cannot be surmounted.

See?! The Cliffs of Inanity!

The nice thing about Remnant, however, is that the only consequence of death is that you have to go back to the last checkpoint. You don’t lose money, experience, or items. In fact, you only gain those things in the process. Enemies will continue to drop money, and you will continue to get experience for killing them. This means you can get stronger by continuing to die.

The enemies also scale with you, so it can still be tough, but you can — sort of — dig yourself out of the hole. 

There is, however, another option you could consider if you find yourself up against something you can’t seem to defeat…

The Re-Roll

Probably the game’s standout feature, at least to me, was the ability to re-roll your campaign. What this means is that you can reset the game to a zero status. It wipes out all of your progress through the story, but allows you to keep your character as-is. Now, this might sound like taking the nuclear option, but hear me out. 

Remnant has multiple bosses, mini-bosses, and dungeons that do not manifest with every playthrough. I played through the opening world twice and got different dungeons each time, and at least two bosses in the second playthrough that I had not seen in the first playthrough. This makes a huge difference, because most of the weapons in the game come from specific bosses. So, re-rolling your game allows you to attempt to get new weapons with which to kill whatever was giving you trouble before…

Of course, it also means that you may not even encounter the thing that killed you a couple hundred times. 

Along with the re-roll, you also have the option to enter Adventure Mode. While completely re-rolling your game wipes out any progress you have made so far, Adventure Mode does not. It allows you to keep your place in the story, and go off and have an adventure.

Come on, grab your friends

Basically, it allows you to play through one of the game’s available worlds from start to finish. This means that if you were looking for a specific boss to acquire a specific weapon, you don’t have to play through the whole game if you don’t want to. Simply go into Adventure Mode and lay waste until you get what you’re looking for. 

Serenity Among Ashes

Overall, Remnant: From the Ashes is an amazing title that managed to walk a razor’s edge between a myriad of different games without being a clone of any of them. The combat is brutal and the bosses are completely unforgiving, but each piece of hard-won gear you acquire is that much more rewarding because of your struggle.

Even the story, which could be considered superfluous, is lovingly crafted, though largely relegated to journal entries and audio logs. Though there were some issues—looking at you, map—it is a game well worth playing. 

I’m giving Remnant: From the Ashes a inspiring 8.5/10 because it managed to ignite nostalgia in me while also moving the genre forward in some remarkable ways.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and reset the whole of the cosmos because there is a pistol that I want to get. So, if you start to feel some déjà vu, that’s probably why.