Chronos: Before the Ashes (PC) Review

By Athanasios 08.01.2021

Review for Chronos: Before the Ashes on PC

As VR gaming isn't exactly a big and accessible market, it is fairly easy to miss out on a couple of hidden gems. Take Chronos, for example. Created by of Gunfire Games, the developer behind Remnant: From the Ashes, and actually a prelude to the latter, very few got the chance to experience it, as it was an Oculus Rift-only title. Four years later, and these kind folks from the US of A decide to revamp, and re-release it for pretty much all non-VR platforms. Wait a tick, though… oh, no! It seems that people don't seem to like it. Is it bad? Thankfully, nothing could be further from the truth. Chronos: Before the Ashes is actually one of those cases where a piece of entertainment has been judged unfairly, and for all the wrong reasons.

The old woman speaks of the days when millions of humans lived in enormous metal towers, centuries before the invaders came to destroy their world; the invaders that made them hide in the dark corners of the Earth; the invaders under the command of the Dragon. Once every year a gate opens. Through it you'll go, and search for its throne. Failure will throw you out of whatever realm the World Stone links to, but you'll keep going back. To your last breath. Till the Dragon dies. Or you do.

Apart from an emphasis in slow, weighty combat that revolves around reading the enemy, and carefully timed dodges and parries, another element that Chronos: Before the Ashes borrows from the so called "soulslikes," is that it doesn't pull its punches. Enemies hit hard, and restoring health isn't easy, thus death will eventually come, and send you back into your world, where you'll have to wait a year before going back. This, of course, is nothing more than a five seconds-long loading screen - yes?

Screenshot for Chronos: Before the Ashes on PC

Yes, but the experience the hero or heroine received through failure is reflected with a selection of stat-boosting traits that are offered after every 10 years. Sadly, this is the only way to "specialise" a build, as there's not much flexibility in that regard. The stats are fairly typical, with Strength being great for those who prefer blocking with the shield, and hitting slow but strong, while Agility is the choice of fast-hitters that like to dodge. What? Vitality? That's only for raising health, and is mostly useless.

Also note that there are no bows, whips, nunchakus, bombs, double-handed greatswords, knives, javelins, ninja stars, or whatever. Yeah, this isn't big on variety. A few additional weapons besides the starter axe/sword can be found, and they behave in a slightly different way, with altered combos, but this is still about hacking, slashing, stamping, and… hammering foes with your right, while holding a shield in your left. Fortunately combat remains very enjoyable despite all that.

There's one more stat here, Arcane, which improves magic. So, you can be a spellcaster? No, this doesn't work this way. The main character will find Dragon Stones; small dosages of the Beast's power. Apart from enabling the activation of a temporary ability, like enhanced speed and ferocity, or invulnerability, they can also power-up the weapon for a few seconds after a dodge that happens at the right time, or after charging the heavy attack, with the trade-off of this extra slow move being an extra-lethal blow.

Screenshot for Chronos: Before the Ashes on PC

What Arcane does is to increase the efficiency of the Dragon Stones, which is super useful when it comes to some bullet-spongy enemies, and, of course, bosses. Here's the catch, though: Arcane costs more than everything else - at least initially. It just so happens that age also affects how "cheap" an upgrade is or isn't, with young characters finding it easier to invest in physical aspects, like Strength and Agility, but having to wait until they get older in order to raise Arcane.

In what way is that unique way of leveling-up any good, though? Isn't it actually a bad thing that players are once again restricted in the way they can improve their hero? If you are looking for a game that can be played again and again, with custom-built characters who play completely different each time, this won't give you that joy. Chronos: Before the Ashes is very entertaining, but in a different way than most people are used to. Rather than complex, and varied mechanics, the focus here is immersion.

It's hard to verbally explain it, but this offers quite the feeling of discovery. No, the world(s) you'll brave aren't as treacherous as the soulsborne ones, but this still manages to keep you on the edge of your seat, slowly walking towards the unknown, paying attention to everything. Some might find the modest look of the heroes to be unimpressive. This critic believes that this helps engrossing the player into the role of a simple, yet courageous man or woman that attempts to fight something that is much larger than them.

Screenshot for Chronos: Before the Ashes on PC

…And it is larger than them. There's a more-than-decent build-up before the various bosses that will be encountered, adding to the David vs. Goliath kind of vibe this has. The first boss, for instance, is a Cyclops who is basically a building compared to the protagonist. Spoiler Alert! You won't get to fight him without some sort of aid, but until then his appearance will keep on scratching the back of your subconscious, making you actually dread the inevitability of this battle, even if it's not that tough.

The same applies to the Dragon himself (yes, his gender has been assumed), who, through the intro, some pieces of lore, flavour text found on items, and, more importantly a mysterious… well, tree character, is described as something like a God-like figure that is to be feared. Sure, this is just a standards fantasy adventure storyline, but it's handled quite well. Even better? Sometimes it isn't just a standard fantasy storyline, but something more. This is a prequel to Remnant, after all.

The quest begins in an abandoned industrial facility, made out of steel and concrete. It's the human realm; the post-apocalyptic remnant of the Dragon's invasion, and the place where everything begun. While this world is a bit underutilised, the few bits of lore that will be found within help this become far more mysterious than a 'Slay the Dragon' tale, making player eager to find more. This segment also has a pretty strong atmosphere, and manages to give out and almost horror aura.

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Generally, Chronos: Before the Ashes is a looker. Those spoiled by the latest triple-A production will find this to be underwhelming for a 2020 title, or even a 2016 one, which was its original release date. This isn't the "oh, my god, check out these special effects" kind of looker - its beauty is more subtle, if that makes any sense, with a great use of colour, and a variety of locales, which, at first may come off as kind of generic, yet have that special something that manages to bring them to life.

The dwarven-looking world of the goblin-like Krell; the gargantuan, mystical forest, and ancient ruins of the Pan, the creatures influenced by Greek myths; the otherworldly, alien dimension of the Labyrinth; all these aren't really something you haven't seen before - but they do have character, and give out the feeling that they are places of history. They are all post-apocalyptic settings, just not the ones you are used to seeing, as they are far more bright and colourful, with nature taking over the dying kingdoms.

Enough with looks, though. Time to take a good look at the elephant in the room: the negativity it has gathered so far from professional reviewers, as well as simple gamers. The main gist of the criticism stems from the fact that, although this is an ARPG with combat that takes its cue from Dark Souls, plays a bit like Legend of Zelda when it comes to the puzzle-solving that needs to be done, and is connected to Remnant: From the Ashes story-wise… is neither of these three.

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…And this is the unfairness mentioned in the beginning of this article. Chronos is not obligated to be anything like those, so there's no point in drawing comparisons, just because of its influences, or the connection it has to its "sequel." Are its battles easier than the ones in soulsbornes? Sure. Are the puzzles as imaginative as the ones in [Enter Zelda Game]? Nope. Does this offer the action that one can enjoy in Remnant? Not even close - but that's not really a problem, for the simple reason that it doesn't have to.

Although easier from From Software's torturamas, it does manage to be engrossing in its own via some simple, but effective techniques. Take healing items, for instance. The protagonist can find a handful of orbs that can be used to regain health, but their use is super, super slow, and there's no free refill available, as the only way to regenerate their power is to die! It's a bold move on the developers side, which succeeds raising tension. This game wouldn't be the same without this simple mechanic.

Oh, sure. Do call this a Dark Souls-lite if you want… but you'll be wrong. After all, you wouldn't compare every first-person shooter with DOOM Eternal, would you? - although you should (forgive this Doom fanatic). In the end, all you need to know about Chronos: Before the Ashes is this: if in search for a simple yet challenging ARPG, with slow, tactical combat, and equally simple, but still very good visuals and story, give this a go. You'll be pleasantly surprised despite its small replay value.

Screenshot for Chronos: Before the Ashes on PC

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Although this pays homage to industry legends like Dark Souls, as well as The Legend of Zelda series, don't come in Chronos: Before the Ashes looking a worthy successor to these - not even a game that plays like Remnant: From the Ashes, which is actually its sequel. Those who try it out with such expectations will be severely disappointed, especially if in need for something with 100+ hour replay value. You are advised to judge it by its own merits, and discover what is actually a great, immersive ARPG, with simple, yet very good combat, visuals, atmosphere, and story.

Developer

Gunfire Games

Publisher

THQ Nordic

Genre

Action Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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