Every once in a blue moon, a game comes out of left field that blends fresh ideas with tried-and-true mechanics to create something greater than the sum of its parts. US-based developer Supergiant Games has hit gold once again, continuing their extraordinarily successful run of fusing striking art, intelligent gameplay, and intricate storytelling, while wrapping these all together into a wonderful audiovisual symphony. Basically, Pyre is good. Like, really good. Though it does come with one minor caveat.
Pyre is a party-based RPG that takes place in a vast purgatorial land known as the Downside, where you and a team of exiles battle through ritualistic Rites against other purgative outcasts in a bid to gain your freedom. You are the Reader, a special exile with rare skills; one being that you’re pretty great at reading the cosmology hidden within the stars. This peculiar skill reveals the destination of where the sacred Rites are to take place, and because of this, your team – referred to as the Nightwings – hold you in high regard. When the game kicks off, your party consists of three companions. However, as you progress through the campaign, many more members join your cause.
The world within Pyre is marvellously vivid in both tone and color; a beautiful, distinctive and intricately crafted fantasy fairy-tale creation which intermixes Eastern and Western cultures, fashion and artistic influences to create a visually arresting, visceral world that is arguably one of the most distinctive characters within its imaginative universe. Along with the usual human characters, there are a plethora of different species that join your team – and conversely also get to battle – from dog-like humanoid Curs, talking tree-like Saplings, winged harpy-esque Harps and small, cute critters known as Imps, to name but a few.
The variety in the character roster is impressive, particularly when you factor in their various distinctive playstyles, specific strengths and weaknesses and special abilities. For example, Curs are blessed with speed but are tricky to control and don’t make as much of an impact when they score. On the other hand, the larger Demon units have really wide aura attacks and also hit hard when they score, though the trade-off is that their movement is much, much slower. It’s fun learning and experimenting with each of the character’s distinctive playstyles.
So what does the moment-to-moment action entail? Well, the core gameplay revolves around three vs. three matches that task teams with transporting an orb and “scoring” it in the other opponent’s pyre. The pyre is essentially each team’s “goal” and the flame diminishes each time the opponent’s party scores, or “douses” it. If your pyre gets extinguished, then your team loses. The celestial orb spawns in the middle of the map at the beginning of each round and when a character scores with it, they are sidelined for the next round, giving the team who just scored a slight disadvantage. Only one character on each team can move at any one time.
If you’re wondering, there is combat in Pyre but it’s not your traditional hack-and-slash fare. Instead, units possess “aura” which surrounds characters like a circle, if this energy touches an adversary, they’re banished from the arena for a short period of time. Characters can “shoot” their aura at opposing teams which also banishes them if the shot lands. These attacks vary from class-to-class; a Demon’s shot is wide, while a Nomad’s is narrow yet fast. Adding to all this is a fairly deep well of stats that affect the gameplay in various, nuanced ways.
The raft of stats under the game’s hood adds welcome strategy into the mix; Glory affects the damage dealt to an enemy team’s pyre, Quickness influences speed, Presence affects the character’s aura size and Hope modifies the duration of banishment when defeated on the battlefield. Units have their own set of stats and these play into their different strengths and weaknesses. Furthermore, each class has their own sets of unique abilities and masteries which are unlocked via skill-trees. Though all this may sound a little dizzying on-paper, Pyre’s the sort of game that feels much better when you’re actually in-the-moment and playing it — once you’ve nailed a round, the core gameplay mechanics will quickly fall into place.
At its core, the gameplay is remarkably elegant while also being surprisingly both accessible and strategic, too. Running around the battlefield like a blue-arsed fly is sometimes how I roll (and it works surprisingly well), though there are a myriad of tactics one can employ to defeat your adversaries more efficiently. For example, throwing the celestial orb into an opponent’s pyre means that that character doesn’t suffer the penalty of banishment from the next round. It’s a nice risk/reward move as it’s pretty tricky hurling the orb into a pyre successfully, but it’s super satisfying when you do finally pull off the shot.
Thankfully, Pyre also totes an extra little accoutrement that helps round out the main campaign; a local multiplayer versus mode is available from the start, and this welcome addition pits you and a player against each other in a head-to-head battle. Further still, there’s also the added option to battle CPU bots of varying difficulty. This extra inclusion definitely adds some longevity to the overall package.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the one minor caveat I have with the game: it can occasionally get a little too wordy for its own good. To be sure, this could well be a positive aspect for those who desire to squeeze every last narrative detail from its well-constructed plot. However, it may also be a quibble for those who are simply chomping at the bit to get to more of the addicting action. Occasionally, I leaned more towards the latter.
It’s lovely immersing yourself in a game as strikingly different and authentically unique as Pyre. It’s an audiovisual delight, with a mesmerizing painterly art-style which is further complemented by some excellent, tactical gameplay. It’s got a strong identity, and I really hope it finds its niche, while resonating with those who’ve fallen in love with Supergiant Games’ previous titles, Bastion and Transistor. Simply put, Pyre is a magical symphony of the senses.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which we were provided with for review.
Pyre is an audiovisual delight, with a mesmerizing, painterly art-style which is further complemented by some excellent, tactical gameplay, too. Simply put, it's a magical symphony of the senses.