As we go through life, we find that there are certainly benefits to being both young and old. When we’re young our bodies are much more nimble and able to do more things but we don’t have much life experience at that time. As we grow older, we lose some of that mobility but gain wisdom in its place. Why am I talking about such things right now? Because what I just spoke about is a core gameplay element of Chronos: Before the Ashes, the new game from publisher THQ Nordic and developer Gunfire Games.
Chronos: Before the Ashes is actually a prequel to Remnant: From the Ashes and was originally a VR title that released awhile back. The team has now modified it a little to run on a traditional screen and open the game up to a wider audience. It’s a third-person action RPG where you play as an 18-year old hero who enters a Labyrinth to defeat the dragon within in order to save their homeland. This isn’t a simple quest that the hero is on and will be getting home in time for dinner though but instead a potentially lifelong quest. After picking the gender of your character and either a sword or an axe as a starting weapon you’ll be off on your mission.
The gameplay in Chronos is very reminiscent of a soulslike game. You’ll venture through areas that are connected and so will find yourself opening up shortcuts that loop back to where you’ve already been. The story is mostly told through things that you find in the Labyrinth such as notes so it can be worth exploring to get as much of the lore as possible. The combat and progression are also similar to those in souls games although I wouldn’t say this is as hard as those typically are. Part of that is due to there being no stamina meter that you have to keep an eye on while attacking. Still enemies can dish out some damage if you aren’t careful so you can’t always just go and wail on them. There is a decent variety of enemies in the game and each one will attack in their own way so learning their moves can help you avoid death. Many of them will also be familiar to players who played Remnant.
Your character has both light and heavy attack options, a dodge, a block, and a parry move. Coming off playing Demon’s Souls I didn’t enjoy the combat in this as much but it is still solid and enjoyable for the duration of the game. When you take damage, you can heal yourself by using a Dragon Stone but after it’s gone you don’t get more unless you die. When that happens, you’ll run into what makes this game unique. Every death causes your character to age by 1 year as that is the period of time required to pass by in order to challenge the Labyrinth again.
You have different stats you can increase such as Strength, Arcane, Vitality, and Agility. These are increased by spending points you get from earning XP but your age determines how much each upgrade costs. For example, when you are young it is easier to level up your agility and strength but both of those start costing more to upgrade the older that you get while something like arcane becomes easier. What helps to offset this is the permanent perks you unlock every ten years that pass by or in other words every ten times you die. These perks can be things like a permanent boost to your strength or one of many other things. Depending on how well you do at the game you may never gain many of these which could leave you feeling like you are missing out on upgrades. I finished the game when I was 42 years old so I never really made it to being an old man.
The Labyrinth also has various puzzles to solve during your playthough but they were never anything that required too much thought. One would have me finding an item that then needed to be taken to another spot to unlock the way forward. Sometimes I would just have to move things around to solve something while another one had a pretty cool mechanic that shrunk me in order to find an item I needed.
The game looks good visually but it isn’t stunning. It goes for a more cartoony art style that works and was enjoyable. Some areas are a bit drab but later locations are a bit more vibrant. The game only runs at 30fps on the PS4 Pro that I played it on which I had to get use to again coming off playing Demon’s Souls at 60fps. I also want to mention that at certain moments I had some issues with the camera in the game that made it difficult to see. This is likely because the developer had to change their camera system from the VR version to work on the screen but the transition hasn’t gone perfectly. The game has some solid voice-acting but I didn’t find the music or audio effects to be anything memorable.
Chronos: Before the Ashes is a fine action RPG game that provided me around a dozen hours of fun. I thought the aging when you die mechanic was an interesting concept that worked well but also could have you feeling like you missed out on certain upgrades if you didn’t die enough. It also has a few issues with the camera and while it borrows a lot of things from the ‘souls’ games it never felt anywhere near as challenging as them. Anyone who enjoys solid combat, good dungeon and puzzle design, and who may want more lore from the Remnant universe will likely enjoy their time in the Labyrinth.
*Chronos: Before the Ashes is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Reviewed on PS4 Pro. Review copy provided by the publisher for this review.
Chronos: Before the Ashes$29.99
- Unique ageing mechanic tied to death
- Good, if somewhat simple, combat and character progression
- Pleasant cartoon-like art style
- Has some good puzzle designs
- Expands on the world of Remnant
- Camera is a bit wonky at times
- Combat isn't that challenging
- Could feel like you missed out on upgrades if you don't die enough