Chronos: Before the Ashes was first released back in 2016 as a VR only title, while it’s sequel, Remnant: From the Ashes was critically acclaimed with a Metacritic score of 81, but how does the origins story stand the test of time and the jump to a non-VR third-person style.
After a brief introduction, our hero finds themselves chosen to enter a strange reality by way of a glowing stone. Every year, the stone will allow passage into this alternate realm and it’s just about that time, so as a youthful 18-year-old man or woman, you begin your journey to uncover the secrets behind the Cyclops and other guardians leading the tough-guy dragon at the end.
Playing a third-person action-adventure, you’ll find similarities to other titles, such as Hellblade, Fable and the Dark Souls series, but being a 4-year-old VR title at its core, it’s not got the length, complexity, or graphical prowess of any of the aforementioned titles.
As you progress through this strange world, you’ll find yourself tasked with a range of puzzles mixed with frequent combat, the puzzles range from simply finding a key to unlock a door, to the almost impossible to work out, that the key you need, is hidden in a cabinet that you’ve probably walked past a dozen times, waiting for you to stare at the little mirror to get the code to unlock the portal into the cabinet.
It’s every bit as complicated as it sounds and while the majority of puzzles where a welcome challenge, this one imparticular had me completely stumped and I wasted well over an hour until I accidentally stumbled on the cabinet.
From this point on, everything went fairly smoothly, and I was able to level up my heroine through combat, slowly improving her efficiency with my weapon of choice. During combat you can block, parry and dodge, then return the strikes with a slow, heavy attack or a less powerful quick strike or combo.
Combat felt smooth and rewarding but does take a little getting used to, and you’ll more than likely find yourself dying pretty early on, When you die, your character is kicked out of this reality and forced to come back a year later when the stone next allows passage. Ageing your character doesn’t just have a cosmetic effect, it will slightly limit your available stat boosts, however, the experience you gain will reward you special traits when you hit a new decade, such as the persistent XP boost once you’ve hit 20. Your character can get as old as their 80’s, however, most players will find that they’re likely to complete the game with their hero still in their 20’s or 30’s.
This is partly because combat follows a similar flow and once you’ve mastered each enemies attack pattern, it’s relatively simple to defeat them, even when there’s two or three at a time.
The other reason is, that being a VR title originally, Chronis: Before the Ashes is a shorter game than many games in this genre, with anywhere from 6-10 hours on the clock dependent on how quickly you work out those puzzles.
As the story progresses, you’ll find there’s very little hand-holding, story is delivered through a handful of narrated scenes, which will often leave you wondering what’s happening, and the absence of both a map or a quest log, it’s sometimes difficult to know exactly where you’re supposed
It’s quite possible that you could get through the game in less than 6 hours, but without a guide, most people are going to be spending a little too much time wandering around.
Thankfully the game feels rewarding throughout, sure combat can get a little repetitive, and puzzles can be a little tedious, but when you get through these parts and move towards a new area or find an item you know you need, somewhere, (if only you knew where that door was), but the overall flow of the game works well.
Graphically, while you can tell it’s a 4-year-old game at heart, it runs smoothly, looks sharp, and has been polished well to suit the latest consoles, texture detail isn’t the highest, and I found a few locations where rooms hadn’t been connected flush during development, leaving a slim bright-white light on the floor at a few doorways, and it suffers a few camera issues when you get caught close to a wall, but the overall look and performance is good, just not great.
Animations are smooth, and it certainly doesn’t look out of place on modern-day consoles, but other than overall clarity, and drastically reduced loading times, you won’t see drastic differences between the Xbox One and Series X|S performance.
The audio performance is on par, with a good range of sounds for enemies, and effects, but while it’s good, it’s not going to be as memorable as the performance of something like Hellblade, which is a great comparison point when Senuas Sacrifice was such a graphical and audio masterpiece, offering similar combat with a mix of puzzles,
Chronos: Before the Ashes, isn’t going to “Wow” you, but it’s perfectly adequate in both sound and graphics.
As mentioned above, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a similar style game, sure there are differences, but released back in 2017, it’s only a year more recent than Chronos and if it’s a straight toss-up between the two titles, It would always be Hellblade at the top of the list.
However, if you’re after an equal mix of simplified combat and complex puzzles, then fans of Hellblade are likely to be among those who appreciate Chronos the most.
At £24.99, Chronos: Before the Ashes is well priced, it’s not up to the standards of a full-priced game, but it’s certainly better than many in this price point.
You may find yourself wasting time working out what to do, but there’s a great sense of achievement as the story unfolds and the ageing mechanic is a novel stance which works well, even if it’s let down by the overall difficulty (or lack of) once you’ve levelled up past the first few hours.
I can certainly recommend Chronos: Before the Ashes, while it has a fair few weaknesses, every negative was well balanced with the overall progression.