Gaming is undergoing a revolution of sorts; many developers are trying to come up with a winning formula between graphics and gameplay and many unfortunately come up short and have a weird mix of the two which ends up forgotten within days of release, or even reveal. Chronos: Before the Ashes clearly prioritizes gameplay and mechanics over graphics, and it surely works wonders for the game.
Before the Ashes is a prequel of sorts to Remnant: From the Ashes, 2019 hit title from Gunfire Games, the same developer of Chronos. Chronos was originally released on VR on the Oculus Rift exclusively, but it is now available on Steam and consoles. Chronos: Before the Ashes is a third-person action-adventure title, set some weeks before the start of Remnant, meaning some locations, characters and events directly reference the world of From the Ashes. Not having played the latter title I was not reminiscing these tales, but with such a rich game world, it will probably be a pleasant experience for people who have played the game before.
As basic control and movements go, the game is pretty straight forward. WASD for movement, left click to attack. You can choose whether to go for a shield or not in the beginning of your adventure, so choose wisely. A shield is incredibly useful in this game as it nullifies ALL possible damage taken, but that takes a big toll on your stamina. When stamina is depleted, you cannot block anymore, so stamina management is quite important in the game. Thankfully, dodge rolls do not consume stamina but simply halt its recovery for the duration of the roll, so one can totally dodge to their heart’s content and deliver well timed strikes to finish off enemies.
The key mechanic in the game, and an incredibly neat one at that, is that every time you die, you age one year. While this may not mean much in terms of lore as other titles have you die a lot of the time, in Chronos ageing will have a dominant effect on how you will tackle foes going forward.
At first, age will not have that much of a difference, but as you approach the early 30s, you will feel much slower, and your dodge becomes a tad less effective since you will be moving slower compared to your agile youth. You begin the game at 18 years of age, light as a feather and not very strong.
At age 20, and at every subsequent 10 years (meaning deaths), you will get a choice of three attributes which will have a more dominant impact on your playstyle than simply levelling up. One such attribute is to earn extra XP, which will result in faster levelling up and upgrading of your core abilities, being Strength, Vitality, Defense and Arcane.
The other two attributes at level 20 will affect Vitality or Strength quite well, but choosing the extra XP option, as I did, will make sure you level up faster and slot more ability points in Strength and Vitality, either way, making the other two attributes almost redundant. The attributes offered at every 10 years will not be the same, so you have to choose carefully.
As you slowly make your way through the game you will also earn magic powers, which is boosted through upgrading your Arcane stat. This magic does not consist of fireballs and the sorts but boosting your weapon with elemental damage. Parrying or perfectly dodging an enemy strike will also imbue your weapon with your equipped element for an empowered riposte – a counter-attack which will do additional damage from the element equipped. The first element is earned from the main story, but additional ones may be hidden behind unlockable doors or areas not very straightforward to reach.
Chronos: Before the Ashes also features puzzles very much in the style of another game ironically referencing Chronos as well – God of War. The God of War series has always been known for its originality in making people use their brains in order to solve its intricate yet fair puzzles, and Before the Ashes replicates the feeling brilliantly, with smart yet difficult pieces to decrypt in order to progress further in the game. It is a very neat addition as it not only changes gameplay from killing things, but it also gives players a nice change of pace to let them relax a little. Heck, it even features riddles too!
While graphically it may not be the levels of new AAA projects, they feel good enough and fit the lore and gameplay style perfectly. User Interface is clean, and are not obtrusive at all, and using items where prompted is as easy as ever – you only press to bring up the available items in your bag and scroll through them until you find the correct one. You will find yourself spamming these items when you think you’re lost, trying to find an unlikely solution to your problem, but all that is needed is a little more brainpower and progress will carry on.
The soundtrack of Before the Ashes is a thing of beauty, with boss fights taking the absolute cherry on the cake – you will feel bad on defeating a boss because the music will end there and then. I had the game on pause for a good hour listening to the music – not on purpose but still, it felt very satisfying hearing the music quietly without any enemies disrupting the peace.
Gunfire Games have definitely created a recipe which will satiate the hunger of people looking for a great game with amazing mechanics that actually delivers, and its puzzles in between make the experience even more enjoyable. Its progression system is unique and keeps you actively avoiding death since it makes you slower, although it does make you more capable of using your magical abilities. Chronos: Before the Ashes is one of the games I enjoyed most this year, and I will definitely jump back in before long!
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