I’m currently on a second playthrough of Pyre. I wasn’t sure if I liked it in the beginning, but I think I can now more definitively say that I like it.
It’s quite an oddball and fairly experimental. I’m not sure how polarizing this game was when it was released, but I can imagine it being one of those games. One reason is that instead of being an isometric action game like all of Supergiant’s other titles (Bastion, Transistor, and then later Hades), Pyre instead is a sports game?
The Gameplay – Basketball
Yeah. Basketball basically.
It’s a 3 vs 3 match. There’s a ball and you gotta get the ball into the basket (the Pyre). You can pass the ball between characters and throw the ball around. To score, you can throw the ball, or you can just run straight into the fire with the ball to do a lot of damage at the expense of losing that player for a round. I find the second option to be easier and more fun.
All characters have attacks they can use to “banish” opponents. When someone is banished, they’re off the field for some amount of seconds before they respawn. If you’re holding the ball, opponents can banish you by just running into you. The player with the ball can’t attack either, so basically whoever is holding the ball is very vulnerable.
Some characters can jump, some can fly. You can equip everyone with one talisman that gives them a special ability. Each character also has an ability tree and you can rank up and select abilities. There’s also four stats that determine different things.
As someone who has never played anything remotely like a sports game, it was a nice breath of fresh air and surprisingly fun. I would say, give this game a shot if that seems interesting, but go in with the expectation that this game is nothing like Supergiant’s other games in terms of combat gameplay.
There is a mode in the game in which you can play as any team and face off against any team with some difficulty customization. I personally haven’t dabbled in this yet and I’m not sure if I will, but it seems pretty neat.
The Gameplay – Visual Novel
In my opinion, this is where the Supergiant part really comes through and personally my preferred side of the game even though I learned to really like the basketball.
The plot revolves around a group of exiles, people who have committed some sort of crime and were banished from “The Commonwealth” traveling around conducting rites (aka the sport matches) to eventually have a chance to regain freedom and no longer be exiled. Every team you face up against is under the same predicament.
For the most part, the choices you make are just choices within dialogues as well as choosing where to go next. I’m not sure how much these random choices affect the plot, but I know that every single character in the game (including all those not on your team) has at least two endings, though I believe it’s even more than that. I have to imagine these decisions hold some amount of weight, but I’m not sure.
The most obvious choices that matter are the liberation rites, which are really important and affect the outcome of the story drastically. The intro of the game is fairly linear, but as soon as you hit the first liberation rite, it gets interesting. I’ll just leave it at that for now.
I found the main cast of characters to be interesting and likable. Characters will talk to you throughout the whole journey. Areas generally have events for certain characters (see below) and you’ll also get prompted to speak to them at each stop you make. You learn more and more about each one as you go.
Also, this is such a small and simple feature, but I really like how I can mouse over the names of characters whenever they’re mentioned in dialogue and the game will remind me who they are via description and picture. I’m really bad with names and bad with large casts of characters, so this was a bit of a godsend going through the plot.
No Game Overs
Honestly, this was one of the biggest reasons I was compelled to play this game. I often get frustrated with games in which I game over a lot because then I feel like I need to spend time doing something over and over again, and these days I don’t have enough time for that. However, if a game is too easy, then it also feels not as satisfying due to the lack of challenge.
In Pyre, I would say the rites are at a decent difficulty. The AI gets progressively better and more aggressive as you go through the game. There are also ways to increase the difficulty if you wish, but I only found myself doing so rarely. However, despite all the battles you have, you’ll never game over. If you lose a fight, then you’ve lost that fight and keep going.
For the most part, I did try to win as many fights as I could, but there was one rite that I lost on purpose (though I probably would have lost anyway if I kept trying) because I was curious to see what the outcome would be.
The game keeps track of how many times you win or lose against the other teams. After all, it’s just basketball, right? You win some, you lose some. And I think it’s really cool that losing is seamlessly built into the plot. Like I mentioned earlier – every team you face up against is in the same situation as your team.
The Endgame Slog
I’m not going to dive into this because I really want to keep this post spoiler free, but I found the tail-end of the game less enjoyable than the rest because it ended up being a bit repetitive in the sense that you keep fighting opponents you’ve already fought. And then towards the end of the game, the time between battles gets shorter and shorter so you just end up playing a lot of basketball.
Plot-wise, at the end, emphasis is given to the overall plot, which is fine and makes a lot of sense, but it means there’s not much story coming from the characters in the tail-end. Again, it makes sense though since at that point I effectively “finished” all their story lines, but I do really enjoy character moments, so I personally found it disappointing.
That being said, I still think the end of the game is solid. I’m just complaining at this point.
The Art and Music
I love the art in this game. All the environments are really pretty and colorful. The character designs are interesting and aesthetically pleasing.
As for the music, it’s not a Supergiant game without Darren Korb and Ashley Barrett right?
Some of my favorites:
– In the Flame
– Thrash Pack
– Vagrant Song
– Knights of the Sea
– Grand Ceremony
– The Old Ways
– The Blackwagon