Chronos Before The Ashes has temporarily interrupted my twelfth, give or take, playthrough of Bloodborne. Short of a few games to play on the PS5 since getting it at launch, I had been playing the souls-like title until Demon Souls drops in price. £70 for a digital title – pft!
While I’m more invested in the Dark Souls trilogy than Bloodborne, I still love it, so for Chronos Before The Ashes to steal its thunder means it’s one of two things: it’s a review that needs covering, or it’s worth playing. Spoiler: it’s both.
A third-person action-adventure with RPG elements, expect to draw some comparisons to the Dark Souls series. It happens in almost all of these types of games, but it’s an accurate observation, and you’ll notice some similarities.
Chronos Before The Ashes PS4 Review
Chronos Before The Ashes, from Gunfire Games and THQ Nordic, was released as a VR adventure before without the ‘Before The Ashes‘, and held in high regard at the time. Without playing it, I’d be lying if I said it has similar traits, but regardless, this is a unique title, standing on its own pair of adventure feet.
The plot was a bit forgettable and, sorry, I didn’t pay too much attention other than you’ve been sent to defeat a dragon and protect the people, etc. However, a key part of the story is the main game mechanic: your character ages with time – that’s right, live ball dropping.
Cutting to the chase, you will be time travelling in the game using stones that are a bit like bonfires, but each time you die, it takes a full game year for you to be able to return. As a result, your character ages by one year, starting as a green 18-year-old teenager; boy or girl, whichever you choose, through to a full-on Gandalf the Grey.
You come armed with a one-handed melee weapon and shield that you can use to protect yourself or slide down hills (if only). The weapon can be upgraded to a ‘+5’ through collectable shards, but shields remain the same throughout, and there isn’t any garb you can wear.
Though there aren’t any armour sets or similar, your character will change their appearance as they age – the male character growing stubble at first, then in their mid-30s, their face changes a bit, but you can still see it’s them.
This ageing mechanic is excellent, adding a deadline for finishing the game (one of the achievements is finishing before you turn 21 or similar). XP is awarded through killing enemies, and you can invest in strength, agility, arcane and vitality.
All four stats are self-explanatory, but interestingly, it’s cheaper to buy strength and agility the younger you are, arcane being more expensive. Then, as you age, the point distribution shifts and arcane is cheaper in your old age, whereas melee-based skills are more costly.
There aren’t any ranged attacks in the game. The arcane ability only relates to the power of the dragon stones you carry, and your protection against magic. If you equip an offensive stone (it doesn’t swear), it does more damage; if it’s a defensive one, such as the Sun stone that grants protection, there’s a little extra window for its effects.
Scattered around the rather large playing area that gradually opens up through shortcuts, a la Darks Souls and Bloodborne, you will find dragon hearts. They’re like a blood vial in that they will heal you and refill upon death. There aren’t so many, but regardless of your health stat, they will fully replenish it – if you can drink it in time.
Chronos Before The Ashes has some pretty yawn-inducing animation sequences and every switch or item you interact with will have your character sheath their sword and remount their shield. In the very few boss battles, restoring health is a pig as you need distance between you and the enemy while you meticulously put away your gear to drink your magic potion.
As for the main combat, it’s ok. It uses the same parry and evasion techniques we’re all familiar with. In Dark Souls, I often go for a Havel type build with strong defences and powerful strikes, in Chronos Before The Ashes I went for evasive techniques.
Unfortunately, getting hit also triggers an unwelcome animation as if their poise is damaged, the only way to ‘snap out of it’ is to frantically tap the evade/roll button to regain your composure. That said, you can take a lot of hits in the game, and sometimes the battle resorts to button mashing as the stamina gauge is only really affected by sprinting and blocking.
My biggest complaint with Chronos Before The Ashes, however, is the aimless wandering around. A lot of the time, I didn’t know what to do next, and the hints option in the menu only depict the controls. It wasn’t clear where to go or what do next. While Dark Souls is ambiguous, it’s usually intuitive what needs to be done.
The puzzles you come across aren’t complicated – the one that stumped me most was a tile puzzle that was revisited a few times to unlock new paths. It’s not that it was hard to do, just time consuming more than anything. Funny that; ‘time’.
Presentation-wise, it’s all very nice. There is an element that has a slight VR feel to it – often sparse locations, but intriguing ones. Unfortunately, there isn’t that much to interact with save for a few doors to unlocks, shards to upgrade weapons and a handful of arcane skills among others.
Despite the rather barren locations and events, I managed to spend quite a deal of time in the game, mostly to level up to see the benefits. This progress wasn’t entirely beneficial – there isn’t the same urgency or danger as similar games in the genre. However, there is a fair share of instant deaths which were more enjoyable than frustrating (the minotaur statues are marvellous).
Death Takes Time
It did get to the point where I killed myself on purpose, at first to grind areas and level up, but mostly as every decade, you earn a new trait such as improved blocking, evasion, faster XP or enhanced arcane abilities. Note that enemies only respawn on your death, not if you teleport to locations. Death will reset an area.
Unlike the games from From Software, there’s no real consequence from dying other than ageing a year, and there’s ample time to learn from your mistakes/get past a difficult enemy or two. Additionally, there are difficulty settings – quite rare in this sort of game, and a reason why this might be a good alternative if you didn’t get on with other Souls-like titles.
There’s a good selection of enemy types, and they’re pretty unique. Early enemies are a little generic, but they soon resemble Alice In Wonderland characters, with a big play on time. I just wished there were a few more guardian-like battles in the game.
Chronos Before The Ashes a good game, but I don’t see it one being on repeat. As the review stated, I’ve been replaying Bloodborne yet again – and that’s without the DLC. The countless combinations of builds, unpredictable gameplay where a simple dog can kill you if you get careless offers so much replayability. Chronos Before The Ashes not so much.