Supergiant Games’s winning streak remains unbroken, because Pyre is a superb game, well worth your time, just like its predecessors Bastion and Transistor. The indie developer’s penchant for striking visuals and music that touches your soul are both present here, as are the attachments you make to the main characters. It’s not perfect, but it’s not far off.
In Pyre you are the nameless, faceless, and if you want, genderless Reader – as the name suggests, one who can decipher what is written in tomes – who joins a band of exiles called The Nightwings, travelling the wasteland called Downside. Together with your newfound comrades you must follow the path laid out to you by the stars and face off against other teams of exiles so that you may have a chance at earning freedom for your comrades in the Commonwealth above in 3-on-3 sports-like Rites.
The first couple hours are a fairly slow burn while you get to know your characters and the world you find yourself in, and also the ins and outs of completing Rites. Facing off against a new team of adversaries, stumbling upon a new party member, and travelling to the next location is fun the first couple times while everything feels fresh, but soon the linear slog starts to feel like a chore. The cast of characters keeps growing, and it becomes difficult to keep track of everyone.
However, as soon as you have completed your first Liberation Rite (which I will gloss over so as to avoid spoilers) the world opens up quite a bit, and you have a bit of freedom in choosing who to face off against next, where you want to go, and the path that takes you there. The character introductions are all done, you know what you’re doing, and you’ve got a clear goal in mind. And while you may feel like the last few hours took too long, suddenly you feel like you know your party much more intimately than before.
Every stop of your journey offers you a choice – do you rest for the night and study to raise your party’s stats, or do you explore the area in search of valuable items? Do you approach your teammate deep in thought and ask what’s on their mind, or simply leave them be? Do you ask the shopkeeper to zip his lip so you don’t have to listen to his mouth-breathing as you peruse his wares, or leave him to babble and mutter as he pleases? Time to pack up and carry on – do you go east or west? While not all decisions have the most meaningful consequences, the minutiae of your daily proceedings and how you choose to go about it ensure that you’ll be able to replay Pyre several times over and feel like you’re getting something different out of it.
As you progress you’ll learn more about your rag-tag group, and whether you succeed or fail during Rites, the story proceeds, giving your party to celebrate or commiserate in kind. Win or lose, they’re still a team, growing closer to each other and to you, their dear Reader, all the time.
If the story is the bones of Pyre, the Rites are definitely the meat. Rites pit two teams of three against each other, a burning pyre on either side with 100 points apiece, and a ball in the middle. Taking the ball to the opponent’s pyre will damage it, and the team whose pyre is extinguished first loses the Rite. As stated before, there is no Game Over, as your team will accept the outcome either way. A loss isn’t the end of the world, but a chance to learn from your mistakes and take on your next opponents more prepared.
During those opening hours the Rites are laughably easy, and it’s nigh impossible to lose. The first Liberation Rite is where it actually feels like a challenge, and from there the opposing teams will be growing stronger, finding upgrades, and learning new abilities to help them along, just like you. Once you’re past the primaries, so to say, the Rites become much more exhilarating competitions. Picking your line-up takes careful thought and consideration of your current opponents, and selecting the wrong person for the job could cost you. Let me tell you, when both pyres are flickering low, only able to sustain one more blow before going out, the anxiety levels go through the roof and you find yourself concentrating like crazy to be the team standing tall at the end.
Even when you fail, the rush of a match like that doesn’t just go away. You feel emboldened and full of energy, ready to go another round and even the score. If you want to take a break from the campaign and just play a few more matches, Pyre has a Versus Mode that’s just for you. You can compete against a CPU of varying difficulty or against a friend on the couch next to you, selecting from ANY of the characters you encounter in the main game, playable there or not. Leaders from the opposing teams and even a couple surprise minor characters can be used in Versus Mode, giving you around two dozen characters to build teams from. The combinations are countless.
The big letdown here is that there is no online functionality, which feels like a huge missed opportunity. Supergiant Games has never been known for its online prowess, as the storytelling is always front and center. If the US-based developer has to focus its efforts on one thing, I’m glad it’s the story. Just like Bastion and Transistor before it, Pyre’s campaign is full of heart, charm, humor, and woe, and it is all the better for it. Still, the Rites feel like they’re made for competitive online play, so here’s hoping they can work on that for a future content patch.
There is so much more to be said about Pyre, be it about the actual attachment you gain for your party and the grief you feel when you must let some go, the wonderful little secrets waiting to be discovered throughout the world, or the phenomenal score, once again presented by Darren Korb (I could fill another entire review with words about his music in Pyre – seriously, if nothing else, just play the game to listen to his sweet melodies), but it’s probably just best that you play it for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.