[Review] Chronos: Before The Ashes

Chronos: Before The Ashes is a Souls-like action RPG developed by THQ Nordic and Gunfire Games. CBTA, is a prequel to 2019’s Remnant: From The Ashes. The game itself is an overhaul of the VR game simply titled “Chronos” which was released in 2016. CBTA released yesterday for 30 USD, but is it worth buying? The answer is…maybe.

CBTA sees the lifelong journey of a nameless hero on a perilous quest to defeat the dragon at the heart of an evil place called the Labyrinth. The hero must traverse the Labyrinth with all of it’s puzzles and relentless monsters. As I said before, this game is a prequel, does that mean you need to play Remnant before picking up CBTA? No, this game can easily be enjoyed and understood on its own merit. As for the story itself, it’s really just here to move the game along, it doesn’t try to do anything beyond that.

I was actually very impressed with the art style of the game. CBTA takes you to a lot of unique locations, each drastically different and better than the last. The game starts you off in a military research center from the 1960’s, but later takes you to a jungle world straight out of a fantasy novel. What’s even more impressive is that none of the levels feel jarring or out of places. The locations all look very distinct, but they somehow all fit together.

Playing this game on a base PS4, the game ran serviceably. I never encountered lag or anything like that but I did notice some textures took a while to fully render. Load times were also really long, One time I waited over 5 minutes before the game loaded. That was a rare occurrence but a minute or two was a pretty common wait time.

This is a Souls-like game, so naturally it feels like Dark Souls, with a little bit Zelda mixed in for gameplay variety. The developers themselves even referred to the game as “Zelda Dark Souls”. You have a health meter, a magic meter(In this Arcana) and a stamina meter. Throughout the campaign you’ll find different weapons to use that match either a strength or agility build. There are also a fair amount of mind boggling puzzles you’ll need to solve to continue your quest. The movement feels a little slow but i’m certain that’s intentional game design. There is an enemy lock on system which I felt was absolutely mandatory for combat, as trying to hit enemies without it is just an uphill struggle.

I was very disappointed with the lackluster character progression. You can choose to upgrade four different attributes, if you favor one combat style over the other then you’ll really only be upgrading 3 attributes. Because there are so few attributes to level up, I felt like I didn’t have much control over my character and how exactly I wanted to play them. The deepest point of character customization is choosing if you want to use strength weapons or agility weapons. I think more attributes to level up would’ve helped me feel more connected to my character and allow me more freedom to play them as I choose.

This issue carries over to the weapons. Usually in a game like this you have a wide variety of weapons to choose from, some feeling unique and different, even if they relate to the same attribute. This game doesn’t really have that, most of the weapons felt very samish, and you find them so infrequently. I ended up using my standard Iron Axe you get from the start for the entirety of my playthrough. There are some cool looking weapons like Scythes and spears, but none of them feel very different or gratifying to use.

Now the unique feature this game has is the aging system. Each time you die, your character ages by a year. With age comes some benefits and some downsides. Every 10 years you can attain a new trait, like a boost to your maximum health or permanent increase in earned XP. I found this feature really fleshed out and a welcome addition. it added another layer of dread to defeat, as with each year I would slowly reach the point where my strength upgrades would steadily become useless. It was also nice to see with defeat came the opportunity for upgrades which really did make a difference in my playthrough.

The music was quite forgettable, in fact I can only recall music being played twice in my entire playthrough. What music was there just faded from my memory mere seconds after hearing it. The sound design itself works here, I can’t say there was anything that jumped out at me but everything sounds how you’d expect it to.

After completing CBTA’s almost 6 hour campaign, I didn’t see much reason to replay it. Yes, I did have some fun in my initial playthrough, but there just isn’t enough here where I can see myself wanting to replay it in the foreseeable future. Sure there are some secrets to be found, but a lack of new game plus, and not enough variety in character progression or customization to invest me in a second playthrough.

Chronos: Before The Ashes, is a decent if a bit lackluster souls-like RPG. There’s a good and beautiful looking world here, packed to the brim with challenging puzzles, delightfully tough enemies, and secrets. The new aging mechanic did make me more cautious and the traits I was able to get only through my various deaths were welcome editions to the souls-like structure. The poor character progression and the lack of any distinct weapons really dragged this game down for me though. Forgettable music, a few poor textures, and long loading screens were just small things that contributed to my somewhat lukewarm reaction.

If you’re looking for an action RPG that’s very simple, difficult, short and fast paced, Chronos: Before The Ashes might be for you. But if you want an RPG experience with more depth, then you might want to look elsewhere.