Remember that game Remnant: From the Ashes? Well, did you know that that was technically a sequel? I definitely didn’t. The first game was simply titled “Chronos” and was released exclusively for Oculus VR back in 2016. It is only now, four years later, that we are getting an overhauled, non-VR version of that game.
So let’s get right into it with the gameplay. If you are familiar with the now popular “Souls-like” genre, this is pretty much that. Cryptic story told through the environment and random NPCs, hit-and-dodge-style combat with limited healing, light RPG mechanics, infrequent checkpoints – it’s all there. That’s good and all, but the real question is: how does it feel to play?
Well, the combat has its ups and down, but for the most part its pretty good. There’s a nice amount of weight behind attacks and the overall combat has some meat to it. It’s the kind of combat where I found myself leaning into the screen during certain attacks or getting so into proper dodge timing that I would yell out whenever I got hit. As with other Souls-like games, timing is critical here – you can’t just run in and start swinging. There are some very clear dodge, parry, block, and attack windows that you kinda get a feeling for as the game goes on – if anything, all of the combat basics here are on lock.
That’s where it stops though. The combat has all the basics down, but there really isn’t anything else bringing it up and making it something truly unique. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – as I’ve played a lot of Souls-like games that don’t get these basics – but it’s still a bit disappointing. If anything, this is probably leftover from the game being a VR original – as more complex combat would have made it a lot harder to play through VR.
The game isn’t without its unique mechanics though – they just exist outside of combat. For one, there is this interesting “aging” mechanic. You start the game off really young and every time you die, you both reset your health vials to make them usable again and age an entire year. Every ten years, you unlock new perks that can have some pretty helpful effects, like increased overall XP gain. However, the more you age, the harder it is for you to stat into agility and strength and at some point you lose the ability to stat into those entirely and have to focus instead on arcane ability.
I don’t know when that cutoff point is (I finished the game before even hitting 40 years), but it definitely made me scared to ever die. I found myself limiting the health vials I was using (as they are only refilled upon death) and just in general balancing any potential risk. For example, as you regen HP on level up, I would often rely on that and even strategically set up fights so that I could heal off of an enemy I know how to fight before going into uncharted territory. That aging mechanic fundamentally changed the way I played the game and it was really cool how well-implemented it was.
As for the gameplay outside of combat, it’s some pretty straightforward action-adventure stuff. You explore this interconnected game world, solve some light puzzles, and even find a secret or two. This part of the game isn’t bad, but it really isn’t that noteworthy either. It’s definitely a more linear Souls-like game in this regard, even if it doesn’t give that impression at first. And I should mention that the game took me about five hours to clear, so it’s not too long a game, but not that short either.
Graphically, I wouldn’t say that the game looks that great, but it’s definitely not bad. The studio had a clear vision in mind with the art direction and overall style and they did a good job executing on it. If anything, it’s one of the more stylized Souls-like games I’ve seen. The music, on the other hand, is entirely forgettable and I honestly cannot remember any of it. It doesn’t have anywhere near the impact that the music from the Souls series had – of which several boss themes I can still recall.
On the technical front, the game is a bit of a mixed bag. The optimization is pretty good and I had no issues running the game at 1440p 130 fps with no drops or stuttering. I say 130 fps because, even though there is an “unlimited” fps option, I couldn’t get it to go past 130 regardless of what settings I tried, even on lower resolutions. Maybe that’s a bug, but for now the “unlimited” option is not exactly unlimited.
The controls, on the other hand, are solid, both on controller and keyboard and mouse – with the latter being fully rebindable. I would have liked to see full controller remapping, but the default controls were nice enough that I never needed to change them.
I did run into some more minor bugs and a total of one crash during my playthrough though. The game saves frequently enough that that crash didn’t set me back, but it should be noted regardless. Among the other minor issues I ran into included floating enemies, my character occasionally getting stuck on the environment, and lighting popping in and out.
The only major reoccurring issue I had was with the camera, which can range from simply unhelpful to downright awful. Not only is the tracking not the greatest when just moving around in general, but it can get really when you’re in an enclosed space – which is especially bad when there are enemies in that enclosed space with you. Several times during my playthrough I took unnecessary hits because of the camera – it could definitely use some work.
Overall, I would give Chronos: Before the Ashes a light recommendation. It’s definitely not the best you could pick from the genre, but it’s still a decent choice for fans of that genre. The combat, while basic in its design, has some nice weight to it and the aging mechanic on top of that really changes how you play the game. The game also runs well (barring a few technical issues) and has some solid controls to tie it all together. If you’re looking for another Souls-like to check out, this one might be worth a look if you can catch it on sale.
Quote: Chronos: Before the Ashes may have its flaws, but the core experience – the combat – is solid, with a cool aging mechanic added on top that fundamentally changes the way you play the game.
You can buy Chronos: Before the Ashes on Steam here. The game is also available on Xbox One, PS4, Switch, and Stadia.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.