Chronos: Before the Ashes from developer Gunfire Games / THQNordic is a fast paced action RPG about a young hero’s lifelong journey to vanquish evil. Boasting an incredibly unique aging system in which the hero loses a year of their life each time they die, Chronos: Before the Ashes allows players to guide the hero from a young adult adept at learning new skills to an elderly warrior forced to master the arcane arts to survive rather than relying on their previous strength and agility.
Based on the previously VR-only adventure Chronos, this reimagining has been overhauled from the ground up to work on modern consoles without the need for VR and includes a number of improvements that allow Chronos to shine and provides a fine prequel to the incredibly popular Remnants: From the Ashes.
The story begins with the hero – which can be either a male or female – being chosen to defend their world against the Dragon, who long ago destroyed the modern world. Set in an unspecified year in the future, mankind has been nearly wiped out and forced back into small tribes. Remnants of modern life linger, with dilapidated buildings and archaic computers the only glimpses into a world long ago forgotten.
Known as the Tale of the Scouring, humanity was wiped out when the beasts from the Rusted Places, directed by the Dragon, destroyed nearly all living beings in a great purge. The few remaining humans formed small tribes and learned to live in their newly destroyed world. Now, many years later, the tribes decide to send their youngest and bravest member into the Other World – accessible once a year when the Great Stone awakens – in hopes of defeating the Dragon and restoring balance to their world.
You begin play as a spry 18 year old with little skills, basic weapons, and no experience. As you progress through the intricate maze like areas you will gain experience by defeating enemies, find weapons scattered throughout the world, upgrade items using dragon shards dropped by enemies and scattered throughout the world, and age every time you fail. While it is possible to complete the game while young, some players may find themselves completing the game as an 80 year old, no longer able to rely on their strength and speed, instead being forced to rely on arcane arts to maintain an advantage during fights.
Chornos: Before the Ashes shares many similarities to games in the Soulsborne series, as levels are interconnected, with shortcuts unlocked as you progress, allowing easy access to World Stones which serve as your means of fast travel or respawn points should you die. Chronos also features incredibly tense combat, strong bosses, enemies which respawn after death, and a story told mainly through items found in its world.
In the harder settings, Chronos features brutal difficulty, forcing players to learn each enemy’s move set in order to successfully block, evade, and parry attacks. Learning enemy patterns and avoiding taking damage is essential as players can only heal based on the number of crystal hearts obtained – of which there are only four in the entire game – and have no means of regaining lost health once all dragon hearts are used aside from leveling up or dying.
This lack of health items forces players to constantly be aware of each move they make, always wondering when to use a dragon heart, when to retreat , or when to accept death as a means to restock items. This allows for a tension not even found in the Dark Souls series as you cannot rest at a bonfire to restore items.
While dying in a Soulsborne game merely resets enemies and may force you to reply an area to regain previously collected souls, dying in Chronos will age your character by one year. While at first this is fine, eventually your character will become older and their abilities will start to fade, forcing players to switch to other tactics aside from relying on brute strength and speed. This is an interesting mechanic which adds another level of tension to an already tense game.
Growing older isn’t all bad, as every twenty years – starting at age twenty – new bonuses are obtained which allow you to gain more experience, become stronger, or gain more health. Players may need to make a few trade offs during their play through determining if a death, or a few deaths, may be worth it for the extra boost in abilities all while hoping that as they progress they won’t end up aging too much before reaching the final boss.
Aside from fighting, there are a series of puzzles scattered throughout the world which may prove incredibly hard to understand until players realize what they are looking for. While the answers are essentially hidden in plain sight, most players will not know what they are looking at until it is too late and be forced to back track – especially for the travel runes in the first area of the game which you may stumble upon before even realizing what you are looking at. Still, the puzzles offer a nice diversion from the combat and allow players to access a few interesting areas which are otherwise unobtainable.
While not all areas are necessary to access to complete the game, those that want to 100% the campaign will need to solve all puzzles as a few side quest items are hidden behind locked doors / otherwise inaccessible areas.
Various books and scrolls of lore are scattered throughout, providing an interesting look into the world – both past and present. Part of the thrill of Chronos is discovering the story and what happened to other people, so I won’t ruin any of that in this review. Suffice it to say, do take the time to read all the books, scrolls, and computer screens you find.
Progression is linear, although you can travel back and forth via World Stones and access previously inaccessible areas once you obtain specific items. Your goal is to defeat the three guardians who are protecting the dragon, leveling up your characters and gaining new abilities and weapons as you progress, until finally obtaining the power necessary to tackle the Dragon itself. Each boss provides a great challenge, with a large health bar, strong attacks, and fights which force you to rely on various tactics instead of mindlessly wailing on the boss with strong attacks as that won’t do anything except lead to a quick death.
While Chornos: Before the Ashes is a rather short game, sitting around 5 or so hours if you know what you’re doing, it may take players double or triple that on a blind first play through – especially on harder difficulties. Still, Chronos is well worth the time and is a great example of a fast paced, well built game with interesting lore, great combat, challenging bosses.
Chronos: Before the Ashes will be available on December 1st, 2020 on the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Windows, and the Nintendo Switch. Special thanks to THQNordic for supplying Fandomize with a review code.