Pyre is Supergiant Games third project, following up on its major debut hit Bastion and then Transistor. Bastion focused heavily on storytelling, through narration, art direction, and music. Transistor focused heavily on combat variation, world building, art direction, and music. Pyre is their largest game to date regarding world size, gameplay time, and diversity in art and music while remaining true to their previous style choices and I think it out does their two previous games in almost all ways. And just a quick note I loved both Bastion and Transistor.
Pyre is a strange game. It takes place in a strange world with strange characters and weird gameplay. In the world of Pyre if you break the law you are sent to the downside, a desolate place filled with other outcasts that have formed themselves into tribes usually based on species, of which you will find a lot. The world is full of different races of fantastical creatures, from Crones (giant, witch-like creatures), Wyrms (chivalrous sea creatures), and Demons (humans who have spent too long in the Downside and have begun to grow horns).
The lore of the game is vast, and throughout the story, you get a surface level explanation of everything which is plenty sufficient, but you also have access to a tome. The history of the world runs through the tome, the god’s and their foes, and the purpose they saw in the Rites (which we will get to in a moment). The tome is impressive in that is it written from the perspective of the god’s themselves, this makes for a more entertaining read if you are interested in learning more about everything, and I was.
It does have problems though, the font choice used is tough to read across the room on a television, which is how I played it. You can hit a button to get a pop-up screen that has it written in big bright letters, but it takes you out of the world when you use that feature. You also don’t start with the whole book, which is fine, but you don’t get the pages in order, which is not.
There are eight parts of the book, each with multiple pages and keeping it all straight on who is saying what isn’t always the easiest thing. Especially when it unlocks page 6 of part 4 and you go back to read it but have to know it from the first page anyway because between the last time you read part 4, and now you’ve also read four other parts. It was something I wish I could have immersed myself more in a while playing and less after I had already beaten the game.
The game’s story telling is similar to The Banner Saga, two character portraits will appear on the screen, and they will speak in a fictional language with subtitles. This style could turn some people off as it is a lot of reading when it feels like voice acting (in English) would have been so much better. I minded it a little, but it was easy to get past. The only English speaking person in the game is a narrator who mostly mocks you through the Rites.
The Rites are games that must be played between your groups and others to rise or fall in the rankings, the winner of the “season” gets to escape the Downside. This is the gameplay of Pyre. The Rites is a fictional fantasy sports game. It’s three on three, and there is an orb that must be run into the opponents Pyre, lowering its life from 100 to 0. Depending on who scores and how the points gained vary. In this game, you can knock out opponents for brief periods of time using abilities or just smashing into them when they are holding the orb.
The stages are all different in that there will be different obstacles or placement of obstacles but the real variety comes in character selection. The games are three on three, but you have more than that in your party so you must pick your party members to play. Each race has their advantages and disadvantages. The Crones have an immense energy blast that will knock enemies out if it makes contact. The Demons have a great aura that makes for great defense but is very slow. And the Wyrms are fast and slippery.
At first, when your party is smaller it feels like Ice Hockey on the NES, you get a big guy, an average guy, and a little guy. But it quickly moves far away from that. Each character you get has their skill tree that changes or powers up their gameplay dramatically. You can also equip items that will give you bonuses against the enemy team.
The enemy teams are where a lot of the games variety and challenge comes from. Each team is made up of a different species. So this game will be against the Wyrm team while next game you will play the Demons. It’s the same characters every time on the other team, and you grow to like or hate groups in particular. You struggle against some and dominate others. And each opposing team is incredibly unique in their personality and as the game goes on their strategies begin to vary widely as well.
Another essential part of the game is the music, with every opposing team having their own theme. All the themes are all excellent, and the soundtrack is worth picking up if you’re a fan of Darren Korb, Supergiant Games go-to composer. I’ve been a huge fan since Bastion listening to it many times over. Transistor was a more experimental futurist style that I also enjoyed a lot, but I did miss Darren’s vocals, which were present on my two favorite tracks from Bastion.
A Well Rounded Game
Pyre has it all though. Because the world is so diverse and the creatures you are going up against are too you get many different theme songs that both match the race’s qualities and are immensely satisfying songs. And you get new Darren Korb vocal tracks as well, so that is a huge plus for me.
The presentation like Supergiant Game’s other two projects is fantastic. The art design is spectacular, from race to race and each section of the Downside. If I had to compare it the character models are a more realistic Disney style of designs while the setting would be a fusion of Studio Ghibli, The Dark Crystal, and Moebius’ work on the graphic novel The Incal. The animation is great, and while every race or area is playing on some known quantity in the fantasy genre, they still feel incredibly unique and other worldly.
Expecting the Unexpected
The game gives a sense of a few possible outcomes at the end, mine I suppose would be called the “good ending,” but I’m not sure as I haven’t looked up the others. But my ending did not have the punch of either of Bastion’s or Transistors, and I kept waiting for it because they had knocked it out twice before. This part was a swing and a miss for me, it almost felt rushed, but that would seem impossible as the game has been in development for some time. And while it does give story decisions throughout the game, it felt like the game was always telegraphing the right decision to the player.
Overall Pyre is a fantastic, original, and entertaining game. I would recommend it to anyone. The ending didn’t smack me like the Supergiant’s other games did, but that’s alright because this world had so much depth to explore as opposed to their previous work I still had plenty to love.