Supergiant Games is quickly becoming my favorite video game dev team. While I didn’t get hooked on their first hit, Bastion, I fell immeasurably in love with their follow-up title Transistor. And now, I’m enamored with the imagination and energy of their latest game, Pyre.
In a distant fantasy land, Exiles from the prosperous Commonwealth compete with one another in the wastelands, known as the Downside, performing the “Rites” so that they might achieve Liberation and return to society, pardoned for all their crimes. One such Exile becomes the Reader for a group known as the Nightwings. Joining such characters as Hedwyn, Jodariel, and Rukey Greentail, the Reader performs the Rites against different teams, expanding their roster and developing their skills in pursuit of their freedom. And, as the Rites grow more difficult over time, in pursuit of justice as well.
Half the fun of this game is getting to know and experiment with different characters on your team. There’s not only standard trios like the optimistic Hedwyn, the brooding Jodariel, and the self-interested Rukey. There’s also Bertrude, the hissing snake-woman alchemist with some strange ideas of benevolence. There’s Ti’Zo, the absolutely adorable drive-imp who’s been around for a long time. There’s Sir Gilman, the wyrm-knight whose boasting and melodramatic speeches belie his deep-rooted fears. Everyone in the cast adds a fresh angle and splash of color to an already well-designed game.
(And did I mention how cute Ti’Zo is? Because he is. He is a little fluff-ball of delight and mayhem that makes me smile every time he’s onscreen.)
The setting for Pyre makes for an interesting type of gameplay, too. At the end of the day, the game is basically in the same vein as Rocket League or DOTA, but with far more drama and pomp than your typical basketball tournament. Every game is a Rite ordained by the holy Eight Scribes of eons past. Everyone wears “raiments” instead of team jerseys. The Downside is a multilayered, multicolored world where each match takes place near the remains of a long-dead Titan, and where Celestial Orbs are cast into flames in order to score points—er, I mean, gain enlightenment…
And on that note, can I say how refreshing it is to have a game that takes such a positive note on spirituality? As a religious person, it’s easy for me to only see faith in modern media depicted in evil fundamentalists and heroes who “stopped believing in God a long time ago.” Getting a mystical flavor in the Rites, and seeing faith in the Scribes depicted through characters like the Moon-Touched Girl, really adds to the setting for me.
Even if the gameplay boils down to “throw a ball into the enemy’s goal enough times to win” (which is pretty exciting all by itself), the devs did a good job of heightening the stakes as the game continues. Thanks to Greg Kasavin’s writing, we see a larger story unfold with the introduction of Sandalwood, the Nightwings’ mysterious backer, and the Liberation Rites at Mount Alodiel. Character goals and pasts come into focus with these Rites, and every new cycle of gameplay means the opposition gets harder as well, but in a more fulfilling way, I think.
Honestly, the best thing about Pyre is how story and gameplay are integrated. Players might have a story-based issue to explain why they’re stronger now, or why you can’t use them for a certain match (like how Jodariel and Pamitha can’t be on the same team). Even when you lose a match, the story goes on, and your teammates continue to grow in wisdom (which, in the game’s context, translates to actual skill and bonuses in future matches). Losing doesn’t trigger that automatic frustration or demand that you go back to your last save for another try. You could do that, but even a loss against the high-flying Essence team can still be a valuable lesson in the future. And the game is equally merciful when it comes to giving you practice rounds with Sandra the wraith and the Beholder Crystal.
If you want a game with beautiful scenery and an equally touching mythology, then go play Pyre. If you want a game with colorful characters and an amazing soundtrack, then go play Pyre. And if you just want to have fun playing match after match against the Beyonders or the Pyrehearts, then go where the stars align, dear Reader, and play Pyre. It may have taken a while to get here, but this is one title I’ll be coming back to for a long time.
Bibliography: Pyre. Developed and published by Supergiant Games. Designed by Amir Rao and Greg Kasavin. Programmed by Gavin Simon and Andrew Wang. Art by Jen Zee. Written by Greg Kasavin. Music by Darren Korb. Microsoft Windows; Linux; Mac OS; PlayStation 4 (platform). Original release date: July 25, 2017.