It’s kind of cool how the development team at Supergiant Games has managed to come so far within just a matter of years. The company’s original effort, Bastion, was a triumph, a terrific mixture of storytelling and isometric exploration. Then came Transistor, which followed suit with an even more compelling story, as well as battle tactics that players could master with ease. Now we come across Pyre, and, once again, it demonstrates just how compelling game design can be done by an indie studio. And to think, they’ve mastered the formula by their third game.
Apparently, in the land where your character, the Reader, dwells, your skill isn’t so easily welcomed. You find yourself exiled from a land known as the Commonwealth and pretty much left for dead. Fortunately, you’re saved by a mysterious group of allies, with them joing your cause in an effort to make things right. Where the previous games that Supergiant released didn’t depend too much on a majority of characters, Pyre feels like a turnaround – but that’s not the only big change in design worth noting.
What’s great is how well you bond with the characters that you deal with over the course of the game. They aren’t just quickly named characters that come and go as they please – you actually form bonds with them through the Reader, and, as a result, your relationships grow over the course of your journey. This involves taking part in the Rites of Flame against other adversaries, in the hopes of making your way back to the Commonwealth.
But this isn’t a matter of relationships – it’s a matter of forming a team that can make a difference when it comes to battle. You essentially have three member-teams competing against one another, with the winner moving on in the Rites. It consists of attempting to steal the orb and taking out the other team’s pyre (hence the name) before you lose your own. There are many tactics to be learned here, but it’s kind of neat how the depth comes together, as new strategies come up with your characters. What’s more, you can level them up properly, with abilities and stats that can be maximized, as well as talismans (talismen?) that can be introduced into the fold.
It’s a different kind of gameplay than we’ve been used to from Supergiant Games, and it may throw those of you who truly loved Bastion and Transistor for a loop. But, as mentioned above, the team has learned to mold new gameplay ideas into something that works – and tremendously well as that. You actually learn from your adversaries, and also try to make your team members work to their best benefit, so each battle can be easily won. It’s a bit hard to explain, but once you conquer your first team, you’ll have the basics nailed down, and you’ll start to feel the vibe that Pyre is going for.
There are losses, mind you. You won’t always conquer like a champ, and sometimes you’ll learn certain consequences that come with your team. But despite the bittersweetness of these moments, it shows just how strong the bond with your character truly is – and it’s pretty damn nuts, especially when it comes to making your gameplay experience feel more distinctive. It’s like it has the depth of a role-playing game, but with competitive tactics that mixes up things pretty nicely.
And you can play against friends locally, which is pretty neat for those of you looking for a different kind of versus experience with couch play. The sessions I took part in were great fun, and reminded me that others could learn something different from the game, just as I did. That said, I do wish online multiplayer was included, though that would’ve delayed Pyre a bit further out – and, nah, I’m fine with the way it is.
Pyre looks absolutely fantastic, with a beautiful world that’s well put together, and character design that actually makes a difference, instead of stuff that’s merely slapped in place just to make us feel better about weird little beings. You actually identify with characters better this way, as well as the world you’re dwelling in. This is probably Supergiant’s best looking game to date – and, yes, that’s considering the beauty of Bastion.
Speaking of beauty, hot damn, did I love the soundtrack. Darren Korb, who worked on the company’s previous games as well, once again concocts a selection of music that truly fits what you’re doing in the game. It’s amazing stuff, and makes me realize I should probably hunt it down for my private music collection.
While Pyre isn’t the usual Supergiant Games molded game, that’s actually an advantage. This team has proven that they can take ideas and twist them around into something genuine. If you didn’t believe that already with Transistor, then you will with Pyre. Its gameplay is compelling and offers something really cool with each new round, and the presentation will wow you, as it’s amongst the best stuff you’ll find in an indie game to date.
We’ll probably be waiting a while for Supergiant’s next big concoction for the game industry, but if they’re anything like Pyre, they’ll be worth the wait.
RATING: 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Disclaimer: A review code was provided by the publisher.