Following the success of Remnant: After the Ashes, Chronos: Before the Ashes has been resurrected from the proverbial, and physical, "ashes" to deliver a prequel story. Once an Oculus exclusive, now a fully-fledged multiplatform title — it seems fitting to ask "was it worth it?" Does this phoenix soar majestically or come crashing to the ground once more?
I think it's going to be hard to talk about this, or Remnant, for that matter, without mentioning Dark Souls. Apart from a few key mechanics and it being an Action RPG, that's about all they have in common so we've got the name drop out of the way early. For a fan of Dark Souls, this is probably worth checking out. For anyone else, ignore the comparison.
Taking place one month before the events of Remnant: After the Ashes, Chronos: Before the Ashes plays with the foundations of RPG narratives quite well. You're not some lucky — or should I say unlucky? — nobody who gets cast inexorably into the net of adventure to solve it in a week. This is a lifelong quest that leads one to the events of Remnant, a markedly desperate and sad world. How it leads to there is for you to figure out but it tells that story in interesting ways. Being thrown into a mysterious facility with little explanation, you trek through only to be cast into a world hiding something sinister below the surface. You are told you must save your homeworld by defeating an evil at the heart but you are told little else. Most of your time watching the story unfold will be spent painfully unraveling it yourself through logs, books, and some subtle worldbuilding.
To be quite honest, I wasn't majorly impressed in the first hour. It draws a little too close to that melee-based action RPG formula popularised by Dark Souls. I'm lucky I was wrong. As the puzzles unfold, so do my preconceptions of what Chronos: Before the Ashes wanted to be. As they wrap around and destroy your notions of the world around you, that world engulfs you. There is something very immersive about its sound design and story. It does a great job of pulling you in — something that its VR roots benefit from greatly. The puzzles in questions feel far more like that of a classic adventure title than anything the genre normally puts out and has a level of creativity and fun that balances out its rather poor combat.
The combat just feels stiff and a little unruly, which is a shame. When compared to Remnant, it falls down even further. Dodging feels slow and inaccurate at even high agility stats and weapon swings don't feel as responsive and adaptive as they should for a game with death as a central mechanic. This level of clunkiness is something one might be more willing to overlook in an action-adventure but in a title where combat has such a huge focus, it detracts. Once again, there are interesting mechanics that can overlook this but I would be remiss to not include it.
One such mechanic is Chronos' way of dealing with death. Dying doesn't set you back much and you don't have a mad dash to get your gear again like those it's inspired by. Instead, each death ages your character one year, setting a finite yet far away clock on the game itself. Rather cleverly taking its name from Kronos, the King of Titanes and god of time itself, your age is a constant threat to your own agency in Chronos. You are less scared to travel at the expense of resources but worried about losing something you can never get back, time itself. The relentless crawl of age is something that is scary to us all — much more so than the Root itself. Like life itself, there are benefits to age in Chronos. There's a rudimentary leveling system giving you one of four stats to upgrade throughout your time with it. Strength governs your strength-based weapons, agility does the same for agility weapons, vitality upgrades your health, and arcane deals with magic. Unfortunately, the level system being so barebones leaves little to mess around with. For most of the game, your build feels somewhat chosen for you. As you get older, you learn magic at an increased rate and gain certain trait upgrades but your strength and vitality stats start to halt. The physical and mental signs of age are very clear in Chronos.
Like your character, Chronos itself has aged somewhat poorly. Whilst the puzzles still feel fresh and great, combat is mediocre, the visuals feel a little outdated and it has lost a little more than it has gained from coming to a more flat viewing surface. Some puzzles lose parts of their effectiveness and the swap from a fixed viewing angle means that objects are no longer placed front and center. This will likely take you longer to figure out puzzles as the camera decisions aren't intentional — rather a misstep from clumsy thumbs
My clumsy thumbs did enjoy Chronos quite a lot but not nearly as much as I would have liked to. Chronos: Before the Ashes is an interesting game, but not a consistent one. Its world is occasionally fascinating, some mechanics are quite interesting and its general theming adds a lot to the universe — that being said, it offers plenty of ideas it fails to deliver on and could do with a little more to make it really stand out. It, like Remnant both before and after it, offers enough to appease you once you've got there but not enough to convince you.
TechRaptor played Chronos: Before the Ashes on Xbox Series X using a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Google Stadia, and PC.
- Interesting World Building
- Age Mechanic is Great
- Occasionally Quite Challenging Puzzles
- Immersive Sound
- Mediocre Combat
- RPG Systems a Little Too Barebones