Supergiant Games is on a roll, their first two games, Bastion and Transistor, were groundbreaking games that had vastly different gameplay styles from each other but both focused on innovative narrative styles and featured music that not only enhanced the experience, but was a necessary part of the games. Now they are back with their third title Pyre, a stylish adventure/strategy/narrative game that stood out as one of the best titles at the crowded PAX East conference.
Pyre gives an outstanding first impression with it’s stunning art style as soon as you start playing it. The game oozes personality with the quirky characters introduced right away, and the vibrant color palette is a welcome sight with so many games focusing on gloomy visuals. The game starts with you near death and found by a group of exiled wanderers; they nurse you back to health and discover that you have the rare ability to read and decipher the lore books they need to compete in the Rites – a secretive competition through which they can find a way to return home. They welcome you into their travelling wagon, which will be home base and where most customization occurs and head out into the world called the Downside to initiate the Rites and start their journey.
The initial characters are very interesting and each have their own distinct personalities and sizes which plays into the core gameplay mechanics. There is a small, medium, and large character, and in the PAX East demo you are introduced to them and their personas, the small one is cynical and feisty and the larger one is stoic and methodical, typical tropes sure, but written and presented in a way that makes you care. Shortly into your journey you are challenged and enter your first taste of the Rites and this is where the game got a bit weird and I was truly not sure what I was doing for a little while and then once I got it I was hooked.
Gameplay centres around an orb that you have to carry over to the opposite teams starting area, carry it into their essence pool and you subtract points from their total (in the demo both sides started with 10 points). The small characters remove one point, medium two points, and the large three points, because of the scale differences they all move and jump at different speeds, so much like a typical sports game you need to decide on offence or defense to complete the round. To complicate matters when you do not have the orb you are surrounded by an aura that can temporarily banish any one holding the orb, if you have the orb you can be banished so care and strategy is key. You can leap over enemies, you can also pass the orb if you are in a tight spot as well as linking your auras by staying close to each other to provide a defensive zone to prevent the other side scoring. Your last option is an offensive strike which heads out in an arc in front of the character (bigger the character larger the arc), this can banish characters even if they have an aura. Anyone banished returns in a few seconds so you need to think fast when playing in a Rite match.
Looking at the core gameplay Pyre is a big departure from the style of Bastion/Transistor and in my mind that is a great thing. The narrative focus that is the hallmark from the studio is still there and as strong as ever, especially in the world building with branching dialog trees, customization, and party leveling, but the gameplay is something new and fresh and I am itching to try more. It is obvious from talking to the team at the show that I only saw the tip of the iceberg that is the game Pyre and that there are many more characters, gameplay tweaks and story hooks that will put this game in the worthy ranks of their first two titles. Pyre is a stunning game with very interesting potential that is still in early development, Supergiant Games hopes to have the game out in early 2017 and it will release on Playstation 4 and Steam.