Supergiant Games is a titan among its indie developer brethren. Debuting with the critically acclaimed Bastion and following up Transistor only three years later, Supergiant is known for putting releasing games that are the complete packages; visuals, narrative, gameplay, and soundtrack alike. To no one’s surprise, Pyre meets, and arguably exceeds what we could have expected.
You play as a character known only as the “Reader”, discovered alone and helpless in the desert wasteland of Downside by a human, a demon, and a talking dog. You’ve been tasked with reading a mysterious book containing the secrets that would guide this eclectic band of misfits through Downside, performing a series of rites, granting them all the freedom to return back home. Throughout Pyre, the Reader will recruit new characters to join your rites triumvirate, the Nightwings, whose freedom falls entirely into your hands. Who gets to return home to the Commonwealth is entirely up to you.
Pyre is largely divided into two sections: rites and overworld. Most of the game’s action takes place during the rites, while most of the story will be found in the overworld. For the purpose of this review, I’m going to discuss them separately.
Pyre‘s core gameplay focuses on the rites that will grant your characters freedom from the land of Downside. Think of them as a cross between basketball and a Harry Potter magic duel. You select a team of three characters who will work together to extinguish the opponents pyre by tossing or running the ball directly into the flame. Whoever is not in possession of the ball will be able to defend by using their surrounding aura as a projectile attack in order to banish the other team, starting a clock that will count down to the character respawn. A team wins when their opponent’s pyre has been put out.
Each rite begins after selecting your triumvirate team of three. Characters each have unique class abilities giving you different attack patterns and field advantages, including flight, area attacks, and sprint speeds. Assembling the right party will be one of the more crucial factors to obtaining victory.
Outside of character class, there are four governing stats that will impact your abilities in the rites: Hope, Presence, Quickness, and Glory. Hope determines how quickly players return from banishment, Quickness determines speed, Presence impacts the size of the aura and projectiles, and Glory is the amount of damage a given character will do to the enemy pyre. Each of those these stats will fluctuate as you travel through Downside.
As you progress through the rites, you’ll have the chance to return your characters back home to the Commonwealth, rendering them unplayable. To avoid getting stuck you’ll need to plan ahead by evenly leveling up a set of characters.
It’s here in the overworld, as you Oregon Trail your way across Downside, that characters grow and the story unfolds. While the Nightwings gain most of their experience within the rites themselves, there are plenty of valuable items and bonuses to unlock in Downside’s map.
As you travel through the Oregon Trail-esque map, you’ll have to make decisions about your route, each one providing bonuses or penalties. Often times, these additional stops on the trail will provide a talisman that you can equip, boosting player stats. Or alternatively, as is with one particular region, the longer you remain in the area, the lower your Hope stat drops. While the effects that accrue in the overworld map aren’t felt until the following rite, they have a way of stacking up against you quite quickly.
It’s also here in the map that you’ll have the opportunity to talk to your party members, discovering how and why they were banished from the Commonwealth, making their return home more rewarding, if and when you manage to get them there.
The in-rites controls can be a bit challenging to adjust to, especially when it comes to playmaking. Switching between characters can be a little sluggish at times and quickly adjusting to the controls of another class always caused me to hesitate and stumble a bit, but that’s likely to be the result of my panic as victory slips through my fingers. The competition is fast, fierce, and Darren Korb’s soundtrack is enough to keep anyone on their toes.
I’ve sunk many hours into Pyre now but with fires to put out and more skills to unlock, it’ll be a long while before I put this one down.
While I played Pyre on PC, it’s also available on PS4.