Ever used a VR headset? I suppose I’ve experimented with it a couple of times, and please feel free to take that in as shameful a tone as you’d like. VR is expensive, heavy on the hardware and requires essentially a full-on room dedicated to a proper setup if you want something even remotely playable. It’s not the easiest thing in the world getting all of that together, especially in 2020, so VR’s remained a dream for the minority of games enthusiasts.
Sometimes, though, VR-exclusive games like Chronos: Before the Ashes show up and give you a chance to see how the other side lives…but does it impress?
The world’s in bad shape! It’s been torn asunder, really, by invaders from some other time and place. They can be defeated, though, and if you can beat one of them you can beat all of them, especially when it’s all about making sure your tribe will survive. Losing carries some heavy costs, though, and in the end it’s going to come down to how much of yourself you’re willing to lose to make sure evil stays down for good…but does evil ever really stay gone?
Last year’s Remnant: From the Ashes was a fresh, interesting take on the now-familiar Dark Souls formula. Chronos, its prequel, has been ramped up and improved for more discriminating gamers, though still plays it a little closer to the chest by comparison. You’ve got a melee weapon, a stamina meter and plenty of people who want to take you out. Go beat them with said melee weapon! Maybe you’ll win. There’s customizable stats, so pick what you like and build for it. That’s great, move on. Maybe you’ll die, though, and that’s when Chronos gets interesting.
See, the portal to the other world only opens once a year. Dying means you’re kicked out and have to wait another year to try again. Your character’s getting older over time, which eventually has effects on your stats (older folks are a little less spry) and unlocks perks. It’s an interesting concept that hasn’t been done very often – in fact, the last game I can remember would be the original Fable – and it’s probably Chronos’ most unique feature.
This is Chronos’ main claim to fame, really, as much of the rest of the game would very much like to be Souls. It’s a little bit easier than From Software’s vaunted series, though, and it’s certainly shorter than any of the Souls games. That’s probably a remnant (hyuk hyuk) of its time as a VR-only game, but either way it makes for a pretty straightforward adventure.
That also means that Chronos, in general, is a less exciting experience – it’s much more difficult to lose, after all, and half the fun of Souls is pushing through challenges that you thought were a little too much for you. I’m not going to outright say that this was probably a more unique experience when you were only capable of experiencing it via VR, but I might think about it really hard.
You’ve seen a lot of Chronos’ presentation before. You’ve mostly seen it in Remnant. That means that generally this game looks pretty good, but if you were a big fan of its predecessor/successor you’re not going to be too excited. On the bright side, without having to project itself to both ends of a VR screen, Chronos actually runs pretty darn well. You don’t need killer hardware to die a bunch and get really old.
Chronos is at its best when it’s channeling Remnant, really. Remnant was a pretty impressive take on the Soulslike genre, turning the concept into a tense and exciting shooter. Chronos, meanwhile, just kind of wants to be a Souls game. That might have been more exciting when you had to experience it via headset, but on a monitor the game’s desperation pokes out a bit.
That’s not to say that Chronos: Before the Ashes is an unplayable or unenjoyable adventure – far from it. But it pales in comparison to its sibling and, indeed, in comparison to many of the other fine Soulslike games on offer these days. That said, if you missed the original release or somehow need to spend a little more time in the world of Remnant: From the Ashes, Chronos is a wholly acceptable experience you’ll likely enjoy. In 2020, though, “wholly acceptable” sounds a bit wanting compared to the variety of exciting titles on offer. It’s a good backup game, and no VR required.