Chronos: Before the Ashes, the prequel to Remnant: From the Ashes, from developer Gunfire Games is getting a new life outside of VR. Originally an Oculus store title under the name Chronos, it was well-received by critics, and then quietly disappeared into semi-obscurity. It’s good to see Chronos getting new life as a non-VR title, that has been optimized and remade to work for traditional screens. Does this soulslike hold up now that it’s unshackled from virtual reality though? It’s not too shabby.
I think I did Chronos: Before the Ashes a huge disservice by playing so much Demon’s Souls before I played it. This single player third person action role-playing game has combat that is so souls-like, I couldn’t help but struggle a bit to get into a different rhythm. On scale of Souls combat, Chronos: Before the Ashes registers somewhere around Dark Souls II—definitely slower than Demon’s Souls. I have to say right away, that while reminiscent of a Souls game, Chronos: Before the Ashes’s combat isn’t as tight or satisfying—but only just barely.
Chronos: Before the Ashes is a soulslike through-and-through. There are bonfire-like waypoints that act as checkpoints, and spawn points when you die. You have a health item that has limited-uses between resurrections. If you die, enemies repopulate areas that were previously cleared out. It has all of the usual hallmarks, including level design that incorporates shortcuts between areas. Rolling doesn’t give you as many invincibility frames, however—and your default roll feels like a mid-roll in a Souls game. Weapons can be swung with a heavy or light attack, with the heavy attack able to be charged and imbued with arcane magic. There’s a shield bash that works as a parry, which gives you the chance to stun and riposte an enemy if timed correctly.
The combat in Chronos: Before the Ashes is fun, but not quite on par with the Souls series. One of my biggest gripes is how the lock-on system works. Locking onto enemies in Chronos: Before the Ashes feels simultaneously necessary, and incredibly annoying: when you lock onto an enemy, the entire camera fixes itself into an offset position. I absolutely hated the cockeyed view it would force, and this even slightly skewed my ability to judge distances.
While Chronos is a prequel to Remnant: From the Ashes, it doesn’t have guns like its follow-up experience. Instead, there is a variety of melee weapons and arcane enhancements you can find while playing. Unfortunately, the weapons in Chronos: Before the Ashes aren’t very exciting, and I found myself settling on an option instead of really falling in love with it. When you start a character, you’re given two options: agility or strength-based weapons. You can choose to continue to put experience you earn into either Agility or Strength—or choose to put points into Arcane damage or health—the latter of which is never a bad investment, especially early on.
Chronos: Before the Ashes has interesting level designs with challenging enemy types to fight on any of its three difficulties. Like any Souls game, if you come out on the wrong side of even a single combat, you might find yourself low on health and out of healing supplies. You can’t just sit at a bonfire in Chronos, though—even touching the crystals that act as checkpoints and warp points don’t replenish health and healing. Only dying does that—or if you’re lucky, you can hit a new experience level and fill that health bar back up. But in Chronos, death has a heavy toll on your character.
When your character dies in Chronos: Before the Ashes, they lose a year of their life. Your character not only has a character level, they have an age. The older they are, the greyer they become. The older you get the more potential wisdom that is gained—with a new permanent boon applying to your character every ten years. These boons can help you gain more experience with each kill, evade better, do more weapon damage, and more.
Combat in Chronos: Before the Ashes is just one part of the experience, though. The other part is puzzles. I’ve seen Chronos compared to The Legend of Zelda as well as Dark Souls, but I think that Resident Evil might be a better comparison. You’re not really solving puzzles so much as finding items that can unlock new passages. Exploration is key, and while the level design incorporates shortcuts, it never feels too interesting or novel, making exploration a little mundane. But searching every nook and cranny can reveal secrets, including new types of Arcane abilities and weapons. Puzzle solving might involve you combining items, too. There are very few hints, so if you get stuck, it’s possible to run around for a while until you find the right item or direction forward.
Chronos: Before the Ashes is a solid souls-like—but it doesn’t stand among my favorite examples of the subgenre. It has smooth combat, but it never feels quite as satisfying as a proper Souls experience. The level design is done well enough, but it’s rarely very interesting. If you’re a fan of Remnant: From the Ashes, and never had a chance to play Chronos during its VR run, now’s your chance. It’s too bad it doesn’t have multiplayer, though—it’s a real missed opportunity.
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