He’s heating up!
While I’ve known about Pyre for roughly a year now (having seen it twice at PAX East), I never got the chance to sit down and play the game. Since I’m a fan of Supergiant’s previous works, I just kind of figured it would be the same high-quality adventure-style game we’ve previously gotten from the studio. Transistor played like a more strategy-driven take on Bastion, but it shared a lot of the same gameplay quirks, for instance.
Nothing could have honestly prepared me for Pyre. While it definitely mixes genres to create a unique core, its main gameplay loop is like a mystical, RPG-infused NBA Jam. Yes, its an action game with arcade sports undertones. It is fucking glorious!
The demo began with a slow camera pan to a covered wagon sitting in the middle of a couple of hillsides. Soon, text popped up on the screen informing me that a mysterious group of people was looking over my barely-conscious body. Through some means, the main character has gotten lost in an unknown world where people end up banished for wrongdoing.
These mysterious people reveal themselves to be friendly (somewhat) and explain that they have been searching for a way out of the “Downside,” the land they are trapped in. Seeing as how the main character can read, something that has become forbidden in this dangerous place, you’re able to assist these people in escaping their purgatory by calling forth an ancient “Rite.”
Exploration in Pyre works almost as if you’re playing an old-school text adventure. I was quite shocked to see this approach to storytelling, considering past efforts from Supergiant have been more about subtle narration and organic exploration.
You can click on different objects to learn more about them, talk with your comrades during down time, and even dig into the lore of the game with conveniently highlighted keywords during speech that include all the exposition that most people won’t care about. It’s a great way to keep the pace going without sacrificing clarity for those who want it. I didn’t have a hard time picking up on what the “Downside” was, for instance.
When you do finally get into a more action-packed bit, the game shifts its style into a pseudo-eSports vibe with returning narrator Logan Cunningham providing a play-by-play of events on the field. The game, mechanically, works like a MOBA with cooldown timers, but the whole goal is to bring an orb into your opponents’ Pyre like it’s some crazed version of basketball.
Getting to that goal isn’t as simple as running a ball and dunking it, though that is an option. Whenever you don’t have possession of an orb, you’ll emit an aura that can destroy opponents that get too close to you. You also have access to a straight-shooting aura beam that can destroy enemies in its path, along with a sprint and jump ability to dodge said beams.
You can also pass the orb between your party members, of which three occupy each side of the battle arena during each encounter. Once you make a score in the enemy’s Pyre, the character who scored that goal will be removed from the field for a set amount of time (I believe it was 25 seconds, I forgot to check).
What this does is prevent you from relying on a single character for the entire battle, requiring you to swap to your different character types. You have the typical light, medium and heavy characters with moves specific to them and finishing each match earns you XP that you can level up with.
Pyre is such a bizarre mixing of genres that is seems overwhelming typing it all out. In motion, the game just clicks and everything makes sense. The controls aren’t complex and all of the options available to you make for an intriguingly deep game. While the multiplayer portion wasn’t available at RTX, I could see this game becoming a blast with a couple of friends.
As perfect as the gameplay might be for multiplayer, Pyre does have a campaign mode with an interesting premise. According to Supergiant, this is the largest campaign they’ve ever created. The game also doesn’t have traditional game-overs, instead opting to continue the story even if you lose, of which there are branching paths in the game world for you to explore.
Its unclear what those paths might lead to (the demo hinted at different loot if you enter a certain area), but it should make for an immensely replayable game. Even if the campaign ends up disappointing, though, I’m really taken with the action and sports elements. I love NBA Jam and Pyre evokes a lot of that, just without the exaggerated heads and comical announcer.
The art style is also just plain gorgeous. It looks fluid in motion and has a wide range of color that is breathtaking. I’m not sure I dig the static character portraits during conversations, but I am willing to let it slide when those portraits look as detailed as they do.
So, while I was somewhat interested in Pyre before actually trying it, I cannot wait to get my hands on the final game. This was a true surprise for me, even if it shouldn’t have been. Supergiant Games has yet to make a bad title and I don’t think Pyre will be their death knell.