[Review] Chronos: Before the Ashes – Nintendo Switch

  • Developer: THQ Nordic / Gunfire Games
  • Publisher: THQ Nordic
  • Release Date: 12/01/2020
  • Price: £26.64 / $29.99
  • Review code provided by THQ Nordic

Introducing Chronos: Before the Ashes Review

In the past decade, there’s been a huge growth of games that takes after the Darks Souls series. These games, dubbed “Soulslike” by some, take the action RPG genre and try to turn it on its head with the implementation of tough as nails combat, as well as some roguelike mechanics such as currency – required for levelling up – that you can lose in between deaths. Why did I just give you a history lesson on Soulslikes? Because Chronos attempts to do these things and bring new ideas to the table. However, does Chronos succeed? Read on to find out.

Time for a New (Old) Adventure

The story is a prequel to 2019’s Remnant: From the Ashes, however, I never really got that through playing the game, which can be a good or bad thing depending on your perspective. The good is that this game can attempt to stand on its own and not live in its sequel’s shadow. The story itself is pretty simple – once you create your character, you wash up on a beach and go through an abandoned research facility. From there, you read notes that allude to a dragon but you don’t really understand what is going on.

Once you activate the mysterious crystal, you’re whisked away to a medieval labyrinth where you have to defeat three guardians before tackling the aforementioned dragon. That’s pretty much the entire story. There are pieces of journals and notebooks here and there that attempt to flesh out the story but most of them will just be inconsequential until you get further along and can piece everything together.

Its All About Timing

As a Soulslike type game, it follows a lot of the trends – blocking and parrying, light and heavy attacks, a “bonfire” type system and even a unique leveling system. However, there’s a lot of issues with these systems, and it really makes it hard to enjoy. For starters, the biggest issue is everything is SLOW. Combat is slow, powering up your abilities is slow, parrying is slow, everything.

With it trying to be a soulslike, I’d imagine that the combat would at least be somewhat tweaked in a similar way, however that is not the case at all. There were plenty of times that I died due to the way parrying works (or doesn’t). Which is kind of ironic considering they introduce you to their “aging” system pretty fast. The idea is every time you die, instead of losing all of a currency – instead you age one year. This concept alone made it different enough from other soulslikes and I wanted to like this a lot.

However, all it means is you are able to get strength/agility points per each level up easier and arcane points harder. As you age, you’re able to get arcane points cheaper and strength/agility points become more expensive but it doesn’t actually change your characters abilities. The other thing is after you hit age 20 and then every 10 years after – you are able to unlock perks. There’s a ton of perks and they definitely seem worthwhile – for example increasing your weapon damage. I often found myself thinking a bit too long at what perk I should take. So I DO think the aging concept in this game works as a whole – I just think the combat really needs some finer tuning.

Time for a Break from Battle

Another weird thing about the combat is – in other games, just about every action you take reduces your stamina – blocking, attacking, etc, but in this game the only thing that reduces your stamina is using your shield. Whether you parry or block – that’s all that reduces it. You can attack over and over and over with no penalty. I’ve played quite awhile and this hasn’t changed in my time with the game. Pretty interesting thing to do while making the rest of combat slow.

The other thing about combat in this game is you do gain magic abilities, however they get charged when you block/parry, with parrying filling your magic the most. While this could be awesome – most of the time it does things like boost weapon attack and make them fire based or steal enemy health. Beyond that, a lot of things are standard Soulslike fair – you find an item that can heal you and then it recharges upon death, you can upgrade your weapons, etc, etc.

The enemies in the game run a gamut of annoying goblins to huge behemoths and I actually dug the style of enemies in the game. I thought their AI was tuned pretty well and while they weren’t push overs for the most part, they did offer a decent enough challenge without being too overwhelming (unless you get mobbed).

Can You Hear the Bell Toll?

I feel like the art direction and sound leave a bit to be desired. Sound effects accomplish their goal, but the music was pretty lack luster considering other games in the genre have pretty memorable music in their soundtrack. I’m not sure if the art was an aesthetic choice or a rushed one. The environments and character models just all felt bland to me. Something that I would find in a bargain bin game from back in the day. I can’t think of anything that really wowed me in this area to be completely honest.

No Time for Jokes, There’s Issues Abound

While I didn’t encounter any “bugs” per se, there was plenty of issues with hitbox detection and I can’t even feel like the speed of combat is intentional as there was plenty of times when it took so long to pull out my health “flask” that I got full health even though I was interrupted and then other times I’d think I was able to pull it out in time and it would use one of flasks but not do anything. There’s also issues with parrying and attacking where your parrying SHOULD connect but it goes through the enemy and you take damage. There’s also the fact that when you try to hit enemies sometimes they just get stunlocked and you can just hit them over and over and over until they die.

Time For My Closing Thoughts

While I wouldn’t necessarily say this was the worst game I’ve ever played, and there were some really awesome ideas presented, I just feel like the negatives in this game such as the lackluster art and design as well as the numerous issues with hitboxes made this hard to recommend. Pulling from Soulslike games seemed like a winner, but this game goes to show there is an art to taking those types of things and making it into a great game. Which is a bummer, as the aging system was actually legitimately awesome – but it’s held down again by the incredibly slow combat to the point where a lot of players may give up before even getting that many deaths. For the 30 dollar price they are asking, it’s incredibly tough for me to recommend. I feel the sweet spot for this game is in the $14.99 or $19.99 range so I’d definitely wait for a sale.

Pros

  • The aging system is unique and well thought out
  • Easy to upgrade weapons

Cons

  • Combat is SLLLLLLLOOOOW
  • Art + Sound leave something to be desired
  • Hitboxes are atrocious

Verdict

If you have TIME to kill and want to try and master the next Soulslike game despite its shortcomings then look no further than Chronos: Before the Ashes

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