Thanks to the critical acclaim earned by Bastion and Transistor, there’s a lot of expectation whenever Supergiant Games puts out a new title. The award-winning studio’s third game, Pyre, has the task of not only living up to the legacy of its predecessors, but also delivering a unique adventure all its own. With all that in mind, we’re happy to report that Pyre is just as good as the best Supergiant Games has put out over the years, and is definitely worth checking out for fans of the studio’s previous work.
As is typical for Supergiant releases, Pyre is somewhat hard to describe. Basically, the game is a blend of a party-based RPG with sports, with enemy encounters typically consisting of contests called Rites. In Pyre, Rites are special competitive rituals that residents of Downside engage in to try to earn their way back to the “other side.”
Rites consist of grabbing a ball in the middle of the arena and taking it to the opposing team’s pyre. Each pyre has a set number of life points that can be depleted by delivering the ball via direct contact or throw. Rites continue until one team’s pyre is completely diminished. The concept is simple enough, and has a lot in common with many real world sports, so the rules should be easy to grasp.
The Rites in Pyre can be a lot of fun, especially as they increase in intensity and pace later on in the game. However, the controls make it a little difficult to keep up with the more challenging opponents. While the controls can be tweaked, the default control scheme on PC asks players to choose between moving with a mouse or using the arrow keys. This is problematic because the only way to throw the ball is by right-clicking the mouse, but the arrow keys offer better precision when moving across the arena floor. The computer-controlled opponents don’t have this problem, and so human players can be at a disadvantage because of the controls. On console, however, the game is much easier to control, from movement across the field to aiming and attacking.
Pyre‘s core sports-like gameplay can be fun and challenging, though its somewhat inaccessible controls may turn some players off. Even if players aren’t completely enthused by this part of the game, though, there is much more to Pyre that makes it worth playing. The game is infused with RPG elements like leveling characters to learn new skills, engaging with party members outside of Rites, and earning new gear to buff characters.
The RPG elements are where player choice is first apparent in Pyre. Players have to choose which path to take on each character’s skill tree, and they also have to decide which gear to equip before going into any given Rite. Player choice also plays a role in advancing the story, as players are often tasked with deciding which route to take to get to the next Rite and what the party members will do on the way there.
In the Rites themselves, players have to select which party members to use and which to keep on the bench. Since each party member has different stats and abilities, players have to be strategic about who to focus on. If a Rite is lost, players aren’t sent to a game over screen like would happen in other games, but rather, the story continues with the player and their party having failed their latest challenge.
These elements help Pyre feel like an RPG, and the game really does play out like a typical RPG, albeit with a lot of the fat trimmed. Instead of spending time exploring towns or grinding for XP and loot, players are taken from one story beat to the next. They’re either interacting directly with their party members, making important choices, or participating in a Rite, which keeps things going at a relatively quick pace.
Even though Pyre‘s story moves at a fast pace, players can choose to take their time to learn more about the game world and its characters. Text boxes have hyperlinks for important characters, areas, and items that are mentioned, so players can hover their mouse over these keywords to learn much more about the game world. Diving this deep into the narrative is completely optional, but Supergiant Games has managed to craft a very intriguing tale that makes the extra reading worth it. Having said that, the game is a little too text-heavy in the beginning and that makes it a slow start, but once the plot gets rolling, the game is hard to put down.
Pyre‘s narrative is complemented well by its breathtaking visuals, which are reminiscent of Supergiant’s previous games as well as classic Disney cartoons. Pyre doesn’t have a lot of animation, but what is there is sharp and impressive, with vibrant, colorful explosions that really make the game pop. Rounding out its presentation is a killer soundtrack that helps Pyre‘s narrative and visuals come together in a way that makes the game world come to life.
Besides the engrossing single player story, Pyre also has a versus mode for players to try out, but it’s nothing special. Pyre doesn’t have online multiplayer support, so players are limited to local matches against friends or with AI-controlled bots. And since the sports-like Rites are arguably the least interesting aspect of the Pyre experience, simply playing them without the stakes of the campaign’s story is not a very appealing prospect. Even so, its inclusion is still appreciated, and gives the game added replayability for those that really enjoy the Rites.
Speaking of replayability, Pyre is easily Supergiant’s longest and meatiest game to date. Those that have criticized the studio’s previous work for being too short will have to eat their words here, as the game’s branching paths and multiplayer mode should give players plenty of reason to dive back in after the credits roll.
Like the award-winning Transistor and Bastion, Pyre is a superb effort by Supergiant Games, and cements the studio as one of the industry’s premiere indie game developers. Even if players aren’t excited by its sports-like gameplay features, Pyre has a wonderful cast of characters and an engaging story that make it hard to put down. It’s easy to get lost in Pyre‘s world, and it is the kind of game that will leave a lasting impression on those that play it.
Pyre is available now for PC and PlayStation 4. Game Rant was provided with a PC code for this review.