Supergiant Games, the studio behind Bastion and Transistor released their third game, Pyre, last month. It is a fun, weird, quirky, and a downright great game. It is more than a game, it is a story and a journey that encourages the player to think and question things about their own worldview outside of the game. It is an excellent game.
You can’t talk about a Supergiant game without first acknowledging the stellar soundtrack. Darren Korb is at it again and has produced a soundtrack just as good and just as engaging as either Bastion or Transistor; his usual sidekick, Ashley Barrett, appears on the soundtrack, and as is her custom, she lends her great voice to a great soundtrack. Pyre is worth the cost and playthrough just to experience the music. It does what great soundtracks are supposed to do: it sucks you into the game and adds layers to aid in immersing the player into the story and create relationships with the characters. Really top-notch work from Mr. Korb on this one.
You start Pyre in the Downside, a hellish landscape whose inhabitants have been thrust down, exiled from the Commonwealth. It’s exile, not death, however much it seems like it. You are initially confronted by three companions: Hedwyn, a seemingly normal man, Jodariel, a demon, and Rukey, the cur. They find you and you are quickly added to their team of misfits to be their reader. You learn to “follow the stars” to participate in the Rites—basically 3v3 matches that closely resemble a basketball or handball game—each team of 3 is called a triumvirate. The rites were originally the brilliant idea of The Eight Scribes and are tests for your team to earn their freedom and punch their ticket back into the Commonwealth. Your team’s name is the Nightwings, whose name invokes some disdain, adulation, and adoration as you travel throughout the Downside taking on other triumvirates. As you take on other triumvirates, you gradually get closer and closer to the Liberation Rites to set your team free.
As you move from place to place, you end up bringing in more exiles to join the Nightwings and fight for their freedom. As the Nightwings’ designated reader, you control your triumvirate to defeat the opposing team. The control mechanics are great. Every character has different skills, abilities, and attributes. Each player has an aura that banishes an opposing player as soon as they touch it, and you can perform an “aura blast” to direct your aura’s power to banish the opposing team’s players. Some characters are slow and powerful (Jodariel), some are quick and nimble (Rukey), and others are well-rounded (Hedwyn). You encounter players who can fly, teleport, slam, etc. My favorites are the quick and nimble characters like Rukey and Sir Gilman (a character you pick up along the way). Each character can also hold a talisman that grants special attributes to your players. As you control your triumvirate, teamwork is key to douse the opponent’s pyre…once a pyre is taken down to zero, the round ends.
Admittedly, the first rounds seem very easy, it took me 11 rounds to get my first loss. Losing doesn’t kill your chances for freedom, but it does prolong the possibility. As you continue on your journey, the difficulty does ramp up, particularly when the Titan Stars become available. Titan stars are difficulty modifiers that can be enabled and disabled at the beginning of every round. Some Titans have your pyre start with -30 points, one increases your opponents’ pyre by 30 points, and more.
Pyre is also replete with lore. Who are the Eight Scribes? Why were the rites established? What’s up with the Commonwealth? What are the origins of each team, including the Nightwings? Usually reading a bunch of lore in-game is tedious, but Supergiant has done a superb job of making the lore interesting and engaging. As you go through your journey in the Downside, you unlock more and more pages in an ancient book that contains the lore and history of the world of Pyre. It is fitting, given that your role, and name, in the game is Reader. Also, you spend a lot of time speaking and getting to know your partners in the Nightwings—it’s easy to want to skip all the talking, but it’s worth reading it.
Up until now, this review has been generally spoiler free. General spoilers will follow, but I will try not to divulge too much of the story, or the really great surprises that makes finishing Pyre so rewarding.
Once you get to participate in your first Liberation Rite, you learn the biggest twist of the game: only one person can be freed per Liberation Rite. This forces you as the player to not only choose carefully, but also to choose wisely. As you are traveling in the Downside, a plan is hatched to change the Commonwealth forever through the players who are set free through the Liberation Rites. You cannot liberate all the characters, and there’s no way around that. Who are you going to liberate? Who are you going to make stay in the Downside forever? Ultimately you participate in many Liberation Rites, the last one being the most difficult choice in the game; and that is what makes Pyre so great. Yes, you participate in Rite after Rite to get to more Liberation Rites; it’s very repetitive, but the narrative makes you grow attached to the characters, and makes the last decision very grueling.
When I finished the game, I didn’t know whether to be happy, sad, or both. Do I regret liberating some characters and not others? Yeah, I do. Pyre tells a greater story than the liberation of outcasts—it questions destiny, fate, choice, and desire. The sign of a truly great game is a game that has a purpose outside of itself; a game that forces you to question things about your own life and your own worldview…that is Pyre’s most compelling attribute. Supergiant Games has produced another superb game that is fresh, new, and engaging. While there are aspects of the game that seem very tedious at times, it is worth the journey.
Stuart "wrathweaver" Bevan is the founder of the gaming group, The Broman Empire. He secretly believes he was born a time lord, in spite of what his doctor says. His favorite console is the Ps2 and his all time favorite game is Final Fantasy VII. He's currently "obsessed" with his Nintendo Switch and he's been severely tempted to call in sick for Destiny 2's release.
- Great and engaging story
- Artistic visuals of the game
- Feels repetitive at times