Chronos: Before the Ashes has a couple of cool ideas that are applied to the popular Soulsborne style of gameplay, but it lands in a weird middle ground that is not quite true to the Souls games, its VR originator Chronos nor Remnant: From the Ashes. The end result is a slightly above-average effort that doesn’t quite rise up to matching any of those titles, while still being a perfectly enjoyable title.
To start – a bit of background, as I mentioned three different sources of inspiration. First and foremost, this is a sort of rebuilding of the Chronos game that released on PC / VR a couple of years ago (I reviewed it here and scored it an 8 out of 10 – so I certainly enjoyed it). This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a solid VR game stripped down to something a bit more accessible, so it can be given to a wider audience. I will say that pulling the camera out of the fixed angles that made the VR so successful fundamentally changes how I approached Chronos: Before the Ashes. For one, control over the camera makes it a bit easier. I completely get the decision to roll out Chronos to a larger audience, especially given the success of Remnant: From the Ashes (which you can read Richard’s review of here).
So, to summarize: this is basically a remake of the game that came out before Remnant. As such, it’s stylistically similar, yet a bit more dated really at the same time.
At the heart of all of this is the sort of action/RPG/adventure games that the Souls titles have popularized. This automatically draws a crowd, but it also draws comparisons, and here is where Chronos doesn’t hold up quite a swell. It’s not that it any of this poorly, just not with the same kind of precision that the Souls games are built around. The combat in Chronos is not terribly deep, most of it coming from different types of weapons. Combat has a slightly slower, more methodical pacing that is seldom about taking on a large number of enemies at once, and instead trying to exploit the weaknesses of the enemy in front of you.
There are a few options such as parrying and blocking, but here’s one of the areas where Chronos: Before the Ashes fails to reach the levels of the Souls games: you can mostly just spam away attacks. Now, that might be selling the combat a little short, but it’s not terribly far off either. Timing the attacks, knowing your range and space are all still important, and there is still a palpable tension to many fights because enemies can and will kill you very quickly if you get too sloppy. Healing is probably the biggest issue, because it is very limited here. That being said, because there’s no cost to your movements (lacking the stamina costs found in Souls games), it is easier to pin and spam enemies into submission.
However, there are some other cool ideas implemented here that are worth calling out. There’s some almost Darksiders / Zelda-like puzzle-solving elements baked in that help to change up the gameplay pacing a bit. It’s a nice bit of game design, even if my mileage varied on the different puzzles. Some were just more engaging to me than others (I felt like I was backtracking a lot, which begins to feel like padding after a while), but they are a welcome wrinkle. The world itself is also not as visually interesting as some of the more memorable locations found in similar games. Maybe it is because this is based on a game that’s a couple of years old. Maybe exploration doesn’t feel terribly rewarding because this title is based on a more visually linear VR game. I’m not entirely certain, but the world itself just did not grab me and hold on for some reason that I’m struggling to put my finger on.
That being said, one of the coolest concepts is the death system. Less punitive than the Souls games, instead this primary gameplay mechanic is just interesting. Your story takes place over the span of years… decades even. You start off as a young adult, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed eighteen years of age. And then when you die… you age. At first the impact is somewhat negligible, but as those death accumulate and you get older, your character’s core traits shift a bit. Instead of being strong and spry, traits that rely heavily on wisdom improve more easily.
Instead of the focus being on mashing your opponents to a pulp with weapons, magic becomes easier to learn and you’ll pick up useful new perks along the way as well. Die enough times, and your style of play may have to change to accommodate the way your character has developed over time. That being said, I never died enough to really push the theory of: if I die a zillion times, do I become an old man who can’t play anymore? I would assume so, but I’m not sure. As a result, this felt like a more melee-based game than Remnant was, for better and for worse.
Those who were fans of Remnant should be forewarned that this title does not play the same way. It’s based on an older game – and older VR game – and that age does show some. However, for fans of Remnan’s world building and lore, there’s some nice ties to Chronos: Before the Ashes that I appreciated, and you likely will as well.