Chronos: Before the Ashes seems like an unnecessary port, which should be avoided by fans of Souls-like genre.
Genres: Action-Adventure, Souls-like
Developer: Gunfire Games, THQ Nordic
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Release date: 1 December, 2020
As I love Souls-like games, despite hating calling them like that, Chronos: Before the Ashes naturally piqued my interest, so I wanted to give it a shot. It is supposed to be a prequel to Remnant: From the Ashes, which I have not played yet. Unfortunately, Chronos: BtA did everything it could to make me uninterested in the sequel, as it is just a half-baked action-adventure game with an absolutely minimal amount of proper RPG mechanics, on which I just wasted my time. What could this game do so atrociously that it left me in such a negative state of mind?
Well, first things first, Chronos: BtA is not actually a new title because it originally released under the name of Chronos on VR in 2016. So, the game is now playable without VR, with an added subtitle Before the Ashes to its name. Yet, it is not mentioned on the Steam’s Store Page at all, and you have to find it out in discussion threads.
The plot is pretty simple. There is a mysterious labyrinth in which dragon, and their three guardians, await to be slain. And you happen to be that unfortunate individual who has to deal with it. As if it did not sound difficult enough already, you are only allowed to enter this labyrinth once a year. Will you be the successful hero, or will you perish along with others?
And that is it. I honestly did not care about the plot at all. The very little of the presented background is uninteresting and generic, and even though there are readable notes and books scattered around, it tremendously fails at trying to be mysterious. The dialogues are pretty rare, so that does not help, and there is not any proper character development either. However, I have to appreciate that it sticks to its simple premise, instead of trying to be overly complicated. Still, it is quite a shame.
Chronos: BtA plays similarly to other Souls-like titles. There are classic light and heavy attacks, as well as blocking, parrying, and dodging. Unfortunately, the combat feels clunky and cumbersome, without any satisfaction from progressing through the game, which I would expect from such a game. Also, the lock-on system is atrocious because the screen locks itself, while the fixed camera starts limiting your whole movement, and sometimes switching between opponents did not even work for me. However, it is the only way how to see enemies’ health points, as the game will not show it otherwise, except for bosses. It is very unintuitive compared to other similar games. Dreadful.
Well, despite these issues, the game is still pretty easy even on the hardest difficulty, on which I finished it in ten hours. The problems start right from the customization menu, which only offers two choices: changing your gender and having a sword or an axe. Such a choice is utterly useless, as you will find the other weapon soon anyway, and the game has only eight of them, and all of them are melee. You are also stuck with the shield forever, so that limits you even more. It is possible to upgrade the weapons five times, and that is all. You can forget right away about changing your armour and such.
The problem is that the game is unbalanced even with such a minimal amount of weapons and mechanics. You can literally stagger most of the enemies with a heavy attack, and the hammer is the best choice for that, as it obliterates every enemy type. However, you can stagger enemies with fast weapons too, but it will only take a bit longer to kill them. Only a few enemies sometimes try to counter-attack you, but it is rare. Apart from weapons, there are four abilities, which recharge after successful dodging and such. You can put your weapon on fire, drain enemies’ life, or become invincible for a few seconds. Yes, invincible. As if it could not get easier. Sure, I do not have to use such overpowered abilities, but then I am just stuck with two attack types, one of which staggers your opponents. After all, you can see it on a video below.
Why am I provided with choices that go against this genre’s philosophy? It does not make sense, and it is not enjoyable to play. Sure, you can cheese in some other games by creating weird build combinations, but most of the players will not find that out on their own. Here? You can do it without even trying. It is not like the enemies are something special, as they are pretty generic. You have agile ones with swords, heavy ones with shield and slow movement, and something in between, which gets staggered anyway. It does not matter who will you face as the combat is the same with all of them.
One of the game’s selling point is the ageing of your character. You age by one year each time you die, so you apparently become weaker but wiser, which influences the magic. I honestly do not understand how this feature is supposed to work, as I only got a few traits that made me stronger in melee combat. It is just a gimmick feature, which does not really change the gameplay, or you have to become one hundred years old to see the effect, I do not know, as I was doing perfectly fine with my hammer at the age of fifty-five. Speaking of dying, you respawn at glowing stones, which represents bonfires, and your heal items replenish there.
The whole game is rather linear, so it is not really hard to progress through it, except one or two times when it is required to backtrack a bit. There are several puzzles, which are pretty boring, as they mostly revolve around taking an item to a different place. I only remember two puzzles, which were a bit more sophisticated, but not very unique. There are shortcuts here and there, but I rarely used them as there was no reason for me to go back in the first place.
Well, I honestly do not have anything positive to say about the gameplay. It is utterly primitive, unbalanced, and boring to play. Maybe this works well on VR, and my thoughts would be completely different. However, as a standalone non-VR title, it does not work well, and I do not see a point in playing it.
Audiovisuals & Performance
I pretty much like the game’s art style and visuals, as they are quite colourful and simple, which fits the game’s narrative about a bit naïve fairytale-ish journey. Sure, some of the visuals look outdated at times, as it is a four-year-old game after all, but it still holds up well. Locations visually differ from each other a lot too, and the second half of the game manages to feel a bit atmospheric. As for the audio, sound effects seemed pretty average to me. Nothing extraordinary, but it does its jobs finely. And while the game soundtrack underlines the game’s theme effectively, it is not memorable.
Now for the performance. I tested the game with an i5 8300H, GTX 1060 6GB, and 16GB RAM, running at highest settings, at 120 frames per second, at 1920×1080 resolution. Framerate drops were quite rare, and mostly only down to 113-118 frames, so I am, overall, satisfied with the optimization.
Chronos: BtA is an unbalanced, badly designed mess. Sure, you can play it from start to finish without any game-breaking issues, but that is hardly enough for a recommendation. Uninteresting lore, generic enemies, broken combat, and wasted ten hours of my life is all I have on mind when thinking about this game. And that is a shame.