Supergiant Games returns for its third venture into the gaming world, following up its games Bastion and Transistor with another genre-bending adventure in the form of Pyre.
Whereas its first two games were isometric action-adventure games taking a lone hero through a crumbling world, Supergiant has created a vastly different package this time around. Now, the game is a party-based RPG that includes a visual novel style presentation and an isometric sport.
You play as someone who has been outcast from a civilization known as the Commonwealth, thrown out for committing the crime of learning how to read. Now banished to a place known as the Downside, you get picked up by a mysterious group of exiles who have a great interest in your ability. With them, you discover the Rites, a sport-like ritual in which two teams, or triumvirates, face off in an attempt to gain favor and earn their freedom.
The Rites themselves are presented as a three on three sport, where players are tasked with bringing an orb to your opposing team’s goal, or pyre, and dousing it by jumping in while carrying it. Despite having three members on each team, only one may be active at a time and the other two stand stationary, waiting for the orb to be passed to them.
Characters have an aura surrounding them, a circle on the ground that will banish opponents who step into it for a short amount of time and can be cast out for offensive plays. Different characters have different stats and attributes, which affect things like stamina, the size of their aura, the amount of damage they deal to the opposing pyre, and the length of time that they are banished for. They also have unique abilities that can be unlocked through earning experience, and each one can hold a talisman which offers them certain other stat buffs as well.
Overall, it’s an interesting and engaging competition; it can be quite easy at first, but as the game progresses, opponents become smarter, and the game allows you to apply optional difficulty modifiers in exchange for additional XP.
However, there is more to the game than just the Rites. Between competitions the game takes on a visual novel style, allowing players to interact with their companions, and choose how to travel to certain objectives. Different paths will afford you different bonuses, such as foraging for valuable resources, mentoring specific companions to give them XP, or studying on your own to earn global bonuses.
Your band of friends will also grow along the way, adding new people to talk to and new characters to use in the Rites. It’s a diverse and interesting group, not all of them get along well, most of them have interesting relationships and interactions with an opposing faction, and all are likable in their own ways. Players should, however, be prepared to read if they wish to enjoy the game, as all of the voice-acting is in a fictional language and there is quite a bit of dialogue. As you learn to customize your party, it becomes apparent the sheer amount of writing within the game is, as it seems to account for an incredible number of different interactions and arrangements, offering unique tidbits and events no matter what path you walk down.
On its surface, Pyre very much resembles its predecessors, featuring the artistic stylings of Jen Zee, musical arrangements by Darren Korb, and writing by Greg Kasavin. But it offers a superb level of creativity and craft that sets it apart, offering an incredibly unique experience that only a studio like Supergiant can create.