You may well have heard of Pyre’s creators. Developers SuperGiant are the minds behind two previous wonderful games, Bastion and Transistor. If you’ve played either of those you’ll know that their latest effort, Pyre has a lot to live up to. And live up it does. Pyre is warm, touching and genuinely thought-provoking, weaving a tale focused on a large ensemble cast, all of whom seek one thing. Freedom from exile in the Downside. The initial premise is somewhat complex but suffice to say that you and your friends must stand together on a journey across the wastes in order to find redemption through a series of “rites”. These rites are what form the core gameplay.
But before I talk about the gameplay I feel duty bound to express exactly how good the narrative is. As I mentioned (and in stark contrast to previous games) SuperGiant opted to center the story around a much larger cast of characters, which means the voice acting of previous games is, unfortunately, absent. The story is told through a visual novel style instead. Take it as a testament to the writing that every character is bursting with life and personality despite lacking a voice. It’s all in how they interact with you, and each other. You make real decisions in Pyre, and I was routinely astounded by how every character would react to and reference each story event, and how the story could continue under any circumstances and still be so good. It felt real. Even if what was happening was more scripted than I realized, it never felt that way, which is crucial. I do know for certain that any combination of characters can go free (including the possibility of none at all).
Pyre explores themes of freedom, betrayal and belonging in ways that I haven’t really seen before in games. The divide between the exiles in the Downside and the people of the Commonwealth is a powerful narrative device. The player is often invited to contemplate upon it. You can feel the desire in those around you to return, and the whispers you hear about life on the other side are tantalizing and sobering all at once. You feel what it would be like to be separate from everything you once called home. An especially nice touch is the fact that those who have been in exile too long begin to grow horns and slowly turn into “demons”, a manifestation of a certain state of mind perhaps.
As you progress, your companions gradually open up to you, and there are countless opportunities to engage them in conversation and learn more about them. Their pasts, their motivations and their desires, are all eventually laid bare. Every character is unique and interesting. You won’t find any tired archetypes hiding here. You come to care about these characters as more than just tools for gameplay, they are all distinct personalities. This makes certain story moments concerning who goes free and who remains in exile deeply impactful, as well as being good design that forces you to use every character.
The story is not the only area in which Pyre succeeds so emphatically. The gameplay also has a lot going on. You take control of three members of your party and must carry an orb into your opponents pyre, dousing the flames and eventually extinguishing them. You can throw the orb in for a lower score or dive in with it for a higher one. In doing so, the character who scored will be unavailable for the next round. This is just one example of the game’s depth, depth, in this case, being the number of meaningful choices you can make during gameplay. Do you use Rukey to speed past your enemies and dive into the fire? Or do you use Volfred to build an impenetrable defense? There are also a huge number of smaller tricks and moves that you can use to your advantage. For instance, anyone holding the orb is vulnerable. This means that you can throw the orb at an opponent, forcing them to catch it, and then attack for an easy banish.
Each one of your companions has different strengths, weaknesses and abilities, allowing you to build a team that caters to your specific play style. Ti’zo can self-destruct, Pamitha can fly, Sir Gilman can zip backward, detonating his own slime trail as he does so. The breadth and depth of the options available allow for gameplay that never gets old. Your tactics are constantly evolving and changing.
Outside of all this, you are treated to the usual high-quality music and visuals we have now come to expect from SuperGiant (check out Vagrant Song on youtube). If you want new and interesting gameplay look no further. If you want a highly evocative story and memorable characters, the same applies. There are a heck of a lot of reasons to love Pyre.
I was born in Oxford in 1998 and have been gaming for almost my entire life. I want to see this industry evolve as a storytelling medium and deliver experiences that stay with people. Interactivity is a narrative device that only games can employ, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it can take us.