You have to hand it to Supergiant Games. If there’s anyone who can push the boundaries of world-building and gameplay mechanics, it’s them. Bastion and Transistor are considered by many to be some of the best indie games ever made. Both had excellent gameplay, stunning worlds, incredible music, and stories that you had piece together yourself. With a repertoire like that, their third title has a lot to live up to. Until this month, we didn’t even know that a third game was in the works. Well at this year’s PAX East it was available to the gaming public for us to try out. It’s called Pyre, and while it still has all those attributes that I mentioned earlier, Pyre is very different from Bastion and Transistor. In fact, I can’t say I’ve played anything like Pyre before in my life.
The demo they showed off at PAX East shows off what I presume to be the first 30 minutes of the game. In typical Supergiant fashion, you know essentially nothing about the world you’re in and have to figure it out bit by bit. In the case of Pyre, however, you play a character who has no idea what is going on. On the brink of death in this purgatory like wasteland called “The Downside,” you are found by the three other protagonists of your story. The mysterious rogue Hedwyn, the giant horned woman Jodariel, and the fox-like creature Rukey. After taking you into their homely caravan, it is revealed that you are one of the few that can read the tomes they carry and become known simply as ‘Reader.’ It is through reading the Tome that you’re introduced to the central gameplay mechanic of Pyre, the Rites.
On a side note, one thing I thought was really cool is that you determine the Reader’s gender by select the pronoun they intially refer you to in the dialogue box and changing it to whatever pronoun you’d like, including gender-neutral. If you played Transistor, then you know how sublty progressive Supergiant is when it comes to being inclusive in gaming. This was a really nice touch and love that they’re still doing it for Pyre.
Now, the reason why you are your new allies are in this wasteland is because they’ve been exiled for committing crimes against “The Commonwealth”. But there is a way out. By prevailing in these Rites, your group gets closer to earning their freedom. The Rites themselves are a cross between magical combat and a sporting match. Teams of three attempt to extinguish the others’ pyre by throwing themselves and a celestial orb into the the pyre. The team member to do so is then banished until the same team scores again with a different player, or the other team scores. Side note, I don’t like using sporting jargon to describe this. But from what I’ve played, it’s perhaps the easiest way to explain how the Rites work.
Rite participants also have the ability to dash, jump, and cast their aura to temporarily banish another player. Additional strategy comes into how the different members of your crew have different natural talents. For example Rukey is quick but doesn’t impact the pyre much, while Jodariel is slow but will do lots of damage to a pyre.
At first, when I was learning how to play I thought I would be terrible at the game. Trying to remember all of the rules (and controls) to complete a Rite seemed like a daunting task. But somehow Supergiant has made the mechanics super easy to understand. After the tutorial and an introduction to the world exploration mechanic, you enter your first real Rite to earn your freedom. Even with the introduction of smarter opponents I was able to with relative ease complete the Rite. In fact, each time I made it to the enemy’s pyre I felt that each ‘goal’ was well earned. Upon prevailing in a Rite, your party gains “enlightenment” which is used to improve your skills and gain new abilities.
For a game that won’t be released until 2017, Pyre is incredibly polished and seems vast in scope. While the focus of the demo was certainly on the Rites, the inclusion of world exploration, character conversations, and the level up system all point to a game that has the potential to be biggest game Supergiant has done yet.
The demo itself was only around 35 minutes, but I’m already in love with the things that Pyre brings to the table. From the characters to the world of Downside and the Rites, there’s the potential for a truly fantastic story. It’s mysterious and somber, but also full of advenutre. However, when I think about all the different ideas that Supergiant brings together for Pyre, its odd that this jumble of ideas comes together to make something so beautiful when it could have been a chaotic mess.
As I tweeted at Supergiant after playing Pyre: I thought that waiting for two hours for the demo was totally worth it. I’m sure the full thing will be worth the wait for whenever it’s released in 2017.