Chronos Before the Ashes Review – A Competent Prequel
Back in 2016 Gunfire Games released an Oculus exclusive title called Chronos. This title introduced players to a young hero in a strange alternate world who was tasked with saving their homeland from a great evil. This VR adventure turned out to be a prequel to Gunfire Games 2019 release Remnant: From the Ashes. Now in 2020 Gunfire Games has re-released that VR prequel under the name Chronos: Before the Ashes. This re-release removes the VR perspective and tweaks a number of aspects of the game. Does reworking the 2016 title work? See our thoughts in our Chronos Before the Ashes review below.
Same Game, Newish Perspective
You start Chronos: Before the Ashes by selecting your character’s gender, starting weapon, and one of three difficulties. Once you begin the game you enter the first of three worlds where you fight enemies and puzzle solve your way forward. The hero’s ultimate goal is to reach and defeat a dragon who resides at the end of a labyrinth.
To make your way to the labyrinth you explore the three worlds via the now controllable third-person camera. This camera change departs from the previously fixed camera found in the VR title from 2016. The change to the camera is also accompanied by a number of smaller tweaks to UI, combat, and the interface. These “changes” put the title squarely in the redux release category and not the remake/remaster camp.
Opting to re-release the title in a non-VR form means the core gameplay is still largely the same. The gameplay is split between Souls-like combat and Zelda-like puzzle solving. On top of these elements there is light storytelling through a few NPCs and a couple of cutscenes in the game.
Combat in Chronos: Before the Ashes deviates from the gun-heavy mechanics of Remnant: From the Ashes quite drastically. There are no guns to be found in the game with focus being solely on melee combat. This combat feels like a sort of watered down Souls experience. Battles are typically one-on-one affairs with heavy emphasis being placed on shield and parry usage.
I found combat to be the worst part of the game, especially coming off what was offered in Remnant: From the Ashes. Coming from a ton of options to the limited melee weapon and shield combination just feels like a step backwards. There aren’t a ton of weapons or shields to find in the game so you are fairly limited in how you can approach combat encounters. I basically found myself using a weapon I found in the first world for my entire playthrough since it was already rather powerful. This meant most of the weapons I did collect just sat in my inventory; never to be used again.
Besides the lack of weapons and shields there is also a noticeable lack of combat flow. Each enemy encounter feels rigid and samey. Your character moves very heavy and there’s no animation cancelling to speak of which leaves you fairly vulnerable if you are mid-attack. This combat design is furthered hamstringed by the fact that almost every enemy attack staggers you for a brief second, rendering your character unresponsive. While this design is fine when you are facing one enemy at a time, it really can become frustrating when you face multiple enemies at once.
Levelling-Up and Aging
To make combat and the story more interesting players have the opportunity to level up their hero across different categories and through age related traits. The categories are unlocked in standard RPG style. You defeat an enemy and receive XP for your efforts. When you level up you unlock attribute boosts you can apply in four areas: Strength, Agility, Arcane, and Vitality. Each boost in a category makes your character stronger and more battle-ready.
Alongside the attribute categories there is the concept of aging. You begin your adventure as a fresh 18 year old who has been tasked with defeating the dragon to save your village. Remaining 18 is largely up to how skilled you are in combat. Every time you die your character ages one year. Every 10 years you age you unlock a selectable a trait from a pool of three. These traits give special bonuses to different aspects of your character including things like XP gain rate, the ability to over-upgrade your weapon, and more. This system is an interesting addition to the game and makes combat related deaths far less punishing than other games of the genre.
When not killing or being killed in the game’s combat you will spend your time solving puzzles in the different worlds. These puzzles vary greatly and have a nice design to them. There is a good variety in the puzzles you need to solve with each world having its own unique puzzles you need to complete to advance the story.
Most of the puzzles land fairly well and require some thought to complete. With that said the I did find the challenge of the different puzzles definitely starts strong and fades as the story progresses. The last world and the puzzle before the game’s ending really revert to rather simplistic mechanics that seemed somewhat out of place given what came on the worlds before.
The events of Chronos: Before the Ashes take place one month before the events of Remnant: From the Ashes. This means much of the story is setting the stage for Remnant: From the Ashes. The prequel story both worked and didn’t work for me. On the one-hand it was fun to jump back into the world Gunfire Games have created to find new lore pieces. On the other-hand it doesn’t really add all that much new or ground-shaking. Yes there are some revelations, but the story beats feel like we’ve already done them once before in the bigger, more interesting sequel-title.
Graphics and Performance
Before I wrap things up I just want to touch on the game’s look and performance. The game looks fairly good given it is essentially four-years old. The graphics don’t blow you away but the sort of cartoony style still works well and looks good. Performance wise the game ran for me flawlessly on PC. There were zero issues with performance or bugs of any kind. This was good to see as these types of titles can often be riddled with bugs even years later.
Chronos: Before the Ashes is a completely competent, but slightly-underwhelming experience. Playing this title from the perspective of a player that got into the series through Remnant: From the Ashes feels like it hurt the experience for me. As a huge fan of that game I had high hopes for the prequel rerelease. These hopes were unfortunately not reached for me. At times I did find the game to be fun because of the puzzles and aging system, but at other times things like the combat and story felt fairly basic and shallow compared to what Gunfire Games has previously created in this IP universe.