Supergiant Games went from unknown to showstopper immediately with Bastion. Three years ago, at PAX East, they announced Transistor and dropped the mic once more. And goddammit, they’ve done it again with Pyre! Maybe the hardest game to explain, I feel like you can’t even get a grip on what’s happening in Pyre without actually getting hands on with it. Maybe that’s why the demo here at PAX East around 30 minutes long. It’s something you need to sink your teeth into, and Supergiant always tries to make their story and narration front and center.
There was a ton of world building in the demo, which kind of sets up the premise of the game, but I’ll give you the short version. You’re an unnamed woman banished from whatever major civilization still exists (called the Commonwealth) and sentenced to a life of misery in the badlands. You are met by a rag-tag group of misfits, and they know you can read, a trait forbidden in the Commonwealth. By reading tomes you can interact with these magical ceremonies called “Rites”, which forms what appears to be one major pillar of the actual gameplay of Pyre.
The Rites are fantastic. They’re the only way the characters can win their way back into the the Commonwealth, for no real explained reason (yet). Imagine dodgeball, but when you score, that player has to sit out the round until another player scores. It’s all done three-on-three, but you control the three characters of varying sizes, strengths and speeds. It’s a classic heavy, balanced and quick character set up, and only one character can move at any given time. You balance out the defense and offense by banishing characters. You can attack or charge with the small field around whatever character you’re playing to “banish” an opponent (whose team was made up of three of the “medium” class of character in this demo, so maybe there will be some variance there) and they have to sit on a cool down before they can come back in.
The goal is to grab the item in the center of the field (which, when held, prevents you from attacking and leaves you open to attack) and landing it in the enemy’s “pyre” 10 times. You can get two points for chucking the thing in though, which leaves you way open since you need to charge up the shot, but like I said before, gets you double points.
Right out of the gate the strategy is crazy deep: get your heavy in the middle of the field and have their defensive aura kind of block the enemy’s movement access, attack with your medium, and charge in with your quick and lightweight character. Or any huge variance on it. It was great watching other people try the demo, seeing people play a bit more ranged, trying to banish the entire team before scoring, or just assaulting in with the heavy and hoping for the best. There is more nuance to some of the aura and radius mechanics, but it’s easier to see with those mechanics in mind. Controlling just one character at a time and having to switch between the three playstyles constantly and on the fly feels great too. It’s fast paced, and reminded me a lot of Rocket League. The tension when the enemy closes in on you and you’re about to dunk on their pyre = flawlessly executed.
But that’s only one slice—there is a whole metagame here that seems just as deep, only in the RPG field instead of the sports field.
Choose Your Own Destruction
Between Rites you make your way across the badlands in your caravan. It has limited fuel, so you have to split yourself down multiple paths, Oregon-trail style, in order to get to your destination and acquire resources along the way. The branching example was one path was a village where one of the caravan members knew someone who owed them a favor, and the other led to a rural area that another character could gather a specific resource from. I took the resource route, and the character in question got a resource that could be sold for money or recycled for fuel, meaning there may be even deeper permutations past just path choices.
I don’t know if there is a loyalty system of any kind with your party members, but one did ask me what I thought of them, and upon telling her I found her frightening her morale went down for six days, meaning she’d perform worse in Rites for that time. It’s full on text-RPG/visual novel, choose your own adventure dialogue options, with a slick interface that uses a Destiny-style menu cursor to explore options, but also bring up quick lexicon-summaries of characters, places, and parts of the world that maybe the player is unfamiliar with
In short: the game sucked me into its world effortlessly, by making it easier to learn more about.
You can also choose different activities to do during your evenings, like gather resources locally or tutor another character to raise their ability level. They’ll get experience in Rites too, which means they can dump points into their own skill trees and have a greater repertoire during battle.
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There was so much across the thirty minutes Supergiant was showing, and all of it was up to the standard and pedigree that you’d expect from the folks that made Bastion and Transistor. It’ll be on PS4 and PC in 2017, and that’s about all we know. I do know that I can’t wait to see what secrets the game hides. For those of you like me, who wanted more choices out of Supergiant’s games, this is the game you’ve been waiting for.