Remnant: From the Ashes was one of the sleeper hits of 2019, and recently received two very good add-ons in the form of Swamps of Corsus and Subject 2923. Now, with Chronos: Before the Ashes, we get to jump back into that post-apocalyptic world on Xbox, in a game that was previously only available for the Oculus Rift. As you can expect from a title like that, this is a prequel to the shooter-cum-hardcore action RPG, but how does this more traditional adventure fit into the world exactly?
Chronos opens with you selecting the gender of your character and starting weapon, before a woman tells you the Tale of the Scouring; a retelling of a world long gone. This introduces the concept that the denizens of the world that have driven humanity underground are controlled by one higher being: The Dragon. You are being sent into these ‘Rusted Places’ to hunt down this Dragon and kill it.
Chronos: Before the Ashes has all the hallmarks of being a Remnant prequel. There are returning enemy species and areas, plus plenty of features. The World Stones are present, as are the Dragon Hearts to heal you.
Action this time around is much more melee-focused; there is no ranged weaponry. It is also much more limited in regards to weapons too: there are only around a dozen weapons and shields to find, along with only two types of upgrade items needed to improve them. It strips a lot back, but keeps enough to ensure that Chronos is still a decent challenge.
Chronos is also an exclusively single player affair. It may be unfair to keep referring to Chronos as a stripped-back version of Remnant, considering Chronos technically came about first, albeit on a different console. It is however still a densely packed game with lots of secrets, but coming from Remnant to this you gain a deeper appreciation for how well-rounded Remnant is in comparison.
Chronos does have a unique feature though, in that every time you die in the Labyrinth, your character ages by a year. This is because the portal to the Labyrinth can only be opened once a year (in-game, don’t worry about real-time!) so fail in your endeavour and your character must wait a year to be able to try again. This does bring unique, yet subtle, gameplay nuances to Chronos: for example, your character’s strength and agility is more prominent during a younger age. Start hitting your 40s and 50s however, and your Attribute Points are better spent in other categories such as Arcane and Vitality abilities, to improve your special abilities and overall health.
As you age though, you can unlock Traits that are separate to your level and Attribute Points. These can make your life a little bit easier in Chronos as every ten years you unlock a new Trait, but obviously the older your character gets, the closer they are to permanent death.
You can also see your character ageing over time in a way that reminded me of Fable’s character differentiation depending on whether you chose to be good or evil. Facial hair and wrinkles appear the longer your quest takes you.
At first glance, during the opening cutscene there was an object on the table in front of me that had not received the graphical update to remove it from a perspective suitable for VR, to a more traditional TV set-up. It just looked like it was viewed from a different perspective to the rest of the table and looked very out of place. My main worry with this would mean that the rest of the game wasn’t well-optimised, but this was the only issue I encountered until I hit the last area. The lighting in particular looked excellent with your character’s chosen Stone – that is, equipped Arcane ability – illuminating the world stunningly when activated. However, the further I progressed, the worse the issues became.
It started off with trivial issues such as collapsing platforms not falling, or my avatar being duplicated at the World Stones. But as I approached the final boss, things got worse. Inventory items disappeared and upgrades to my weapons reset themselves. The final straw was when I fast travelled to the final boss area and my weapon and shield appeared over my shoulders, almost like pauldrons. Despite them being equipped in the menu, and appearing on screen, the game considered me to be unarmed, putting me at a disadvantage I wasn’t willing to continue with. I was able to retrieve my weapons after restarting the game, but my inventory items and upgrades never reappeared.
The bugs are a real shame, because up until that point I was very much enjoying jumping back into this world. Set just a month before the events of Remnant, there are various books and scriptures detailing events that are more fleshed-out, such as the disappearance of Andrew Ford, The Dreamers and the various Wards and experiments that went on there. The world is also very well-designed: twisty, turny and non-cohesive, it is designed to confuse and disorient you, and it does a great job of this.
Chronos also features three difficulties: Casual, Adventure and Heroic. There are peaks and troughs in its difficulty spike, but regardless of difficulty there is a sense of achievement for besting the bosses throughout the Labyrinth.
Difficulty is subjective though, as I found to my detriment when I discovered the slider puzzle; my ultimate nemesis.
Most commands such as attacking and blocking are done using the shoulder buttons. Blocking is on the LB button, and parrying is LT; these feel the wrong way around. The same goes for the light/heavy attacks on the right shoulder button, and annoyingly there is no way to change the setup to a more preferred method.
Chronos: Before the Ashes on Xbox may be chronologically set before the events of Remnant, but playing it after the brilliant Remnant: From the Ashes feels like a step backwards. By transitioning to a melee-focused action RPG, it loses a lot of identity that made Remnant memorable and unique. Then there are the various bugs; some that can be quickly solved by restarting, but unsolvable issues like my inventory disappearing and upgrades missing irked me, considering all the hard work I’d done to get them in the first place.
Chronos is simply a good, not great, hardcore action-RPG – one that is a little too light on features.