Supergiant Games, known for the excellent Bastion and Transistor, has released its third game. Pyre is unrelated to their first two titles, but once again shows their expertise in the audiovisual storytelling realm – with a fresh new gameplay angle. The game is out for PS4 and PC right now.
Pyre puts you and a group of exiled fellow travelers in the land of Downside, where your quest is to return to the life you were banished from. It’s a party-based RPG game, but not with the kind of combat you’d expect from a game within that genre. Instead of (turn-based) combat, you’re frequently engaged in sports-like activities called Rites – in which you protect your own Pyre while trying to take down the other party’s Pyre. It’s a bit like capture the flag, and a bit like dodgeball – but it’s fresh and not something I’ve ever seen before, let alone in the context of an RPG title.
These encounters are a bit part of Pyre, and we’ll touch on them some more, but they’re not the only part. Story development doesn’t take place inside the Rites, but it’s a cornerstone for the game and has been developed with continuity in mind. The story has numerous branches in it, a lot of them depending on your choices and some of them on the outcome of your actions. Get advice from two people on what to do next, ignore one of them, and the group dynamic changes – as do the interactions with your fellow travelers. As such, story development and character development literally go hand in hand, and the combination of the two makes sure that subsequent playthroughs are likely to turn out different. Having said that – many of the branches did not seem very impactful to us, though we’re only halfway through a second playthrough at this time.
Being the key figure in your group, you get to make a lot of the decisions for others. This applies to story development, but also to more traditional ways of progression that you’d expect in an RPG title. Experience can be gained, stats can be boosted and bonuses can be earned – and it all depends on your decisions. Many of these directly impact your abilities inside the Rites, and you’ll no doubt choose differently when you start your second game just based on your experiences and preferences with Rites. You’ll also frequently engage with other characters, and this is where the game switches to a visual novel type of presentation – which took some getting used to for me as it felt like it affected the natural flow of the game a little too much. Perhaps that’s just my experience with Supergiant’s own Bastion speaking though, which had a lot of its narration seamlessly integrated into the game.
Perhaps it’s Pyre’s own Rites though, since these are all fast-paced encounters in which you lead a team of three. You select your team members, equip them as best you can, and off you go. It’s a gameplay mode that can also be played “standalone” by the way, with a versus mode that plays out using local coop. During Rites, you’ll want to throw an orb into the opposing team’s Pyre – or run into it yourself for an extra dramatic effect. Possession of the orb means the difference between defense and offense, and different attributes are helpful here – though they’re not immediately recognizable. Instead of things like strength and endurance, your stats are divided between Hope, Quickness, Presence and Glory in Pyre – and of course, these as the stats you’ll hope to develop as well. Although quickness kind of speaks for itself, a stat like Hope has an effect on how long you are kept out of the game when you get struck by the opposing team – and Glory and Presence both affect your offensive capabilities.
Rites change over time, so you’re not constantly grinding through endless sequences that are all more or less the same. There are also story-driven missions outside of the Rites that, at least gameplay-wise, relate to what you learn in battle. It’s typical Supergiant stuff, where gameplay and storytelling are closely interwoven, but it’s also quite different from their previous two games. Visually it’s more like Transistor, but thematically it leans more towards the world of Bastion – yet where solitude was a key ingredient there, Pyre has a distinct social element to its gameplay.
It won’t surprise anyone that Pyre’s audiovisual presentation is excellent. It’s very well-polished, though it didn’t surprise me as much in terms of originality as Bastion and Transistor did. The Rites do bring something very fresh to the RPG table though, and make this another worthwhile purchase. I doubt that the gameplay in the Rites will be strong enough to survive in a multiplayer/versus context for long since they work better in a story context, but it’s definitely what makes the single player experience a joy to play – especially when combined with Supergiant’s trademark excellence in storytelling and audiovisual presentation.