This review of Pyre is spoiler-free! Only gushing and squee.
Supergiant Games is one of those companies whose games have a special place in my heart. I remember the first time I played Transistor on my PS4 and ended up falling so utterly in love with everything that the game had—from its amazing art style, its interesting pseudo-turn based gameplay, the unique soundtrack and the tragic story of Red and her companion. I liked it so much that I just had to go and play Bastion, their company’s first game. In fact, I wanted to play it so badly that I finally caved in and got myself a Steam account so many years after everyone else just so I could buy the game and experience it for myself.
Fast forward now to July 25th, 2017 with their brand new game: Pyre. Far from the more battle-action-oriented experiences that their last two games had, Pyre brings a brand new style of gameplay to the table, one that I endearingly call ‘sports RPG’.
In a very brief nutshell, that’s essentially what the core gameplay of Pyre is. Rather than traditional combat, the player dukes it out in a ritualistic fantasy basketball-like competition known as the Rites. The so-called winning prize is a return to freedom from the Downside, described as ‘a vast purgatory’ where all manner of criminals are cast down into as punishment for their crimes. The player (addressed as ‘the Reader’) takes the role one of the newest exiles to be sentenced into the place and joins a band of other fellow exiles as they take their shot to regain their freedom.
As mentioned, there is no real ‘combat’ in this game. Every match in the Rites is a 3 versus 3 face off where the goal is to extinguish the other team’s titular pyre. In order to do that a team member needs to bring (or toss) an item known as the Celestial Orb into said pyre, which does a certain amount of damage based on the member who brings/tosses the Orb. Do it enough times and their pyre will be snuffed out entirely, bringing victory to your team for the match.
But it’s also more than just taking the ball and bringing it to the goal. Your members can also do things such as banishing their opponents, briefly taking them out of play at a time in order to clear out an easy path to the target. Each member also has unique skills and/or traits that gives different advantages. For example, member can jump higher and further; another is able to fly for short periods of time. They also gain additional skills (known as ‘Masteries’) as they participate in more matches. If that isn’t enough, they can also be equipped with talismans that provide unique benefits such as being able to restore your own pyre or moving faster while the character has the Celestial Orb in their possession.
There’s a surprising amount of depth to these matches, which is something I had not fully expected considering the nature of how the gameplay had first seemed to be. The pace at which these depths are shown is quite well-thought out. They slowly introduce new character types and some other abilities without piling too much at once, always giving you time to explore and get used to it before moving on.
However, one thing that I do notice is that eventually things do get rather repetitive. Perhaps it’s because of the lack of ‘combat’ but doing the same song and dance can get draining. While the game does try to give some ways to spruce things up a bit later on, it is a slight case of ‘too little too late’. Still, I wouldn’t say it’s a deal breaker by any means. I’m usually more than happy to resume playing after taking a short break.
But beyond the fantasy sport matches, what really makes Pyre interesting — just as with all the other games by Supergiant — is the world that this game takes place in and its narrative and world building. There is a LOT to be found in the little details. The game greatly encourages you to go out of the way and find these details where possible. In another departure from their previous titles, this game opts for a more visual novel presentation instead of the voiced over narratives they used to do.
Despite the change (or perhaps because of it) this world feels a lot more fleshed out. Alongside the optional world building, you can also hover your cursor over certain keywords during conversations to learn more about these keywords. The idea of it isn’t exactly something new, but the presentation of it is something I enjoyed immensely.