Set in a desolate land called the Downside, Pyre’s shining achievement is in how it makes the player feel weary from loss and the journey, while remaining compelling throughout.
The latest game from indie developer Supergiant, Pyre continues the company’s stellar track record in creating an engaging story, and marrying that story to gameplay. This is also a very different experience compared to Transistor and Bastion.
Pyre is mostly a visual novel, filled with player choice; the other large part of the game consists of conducting the “Rites,” which come in the form of a magical three-on-three game of handball. The games are exciting and the results have real consequences on the overall success of your journey.
As a Reader, you have been exiled to the Downside because of your ability to read, which is forbidden in the Commonwealth. You are scooped up by a trio of exiles who are looking for help to partake in the Rites, under the guidance of a mysterious benefactor. The ultimate goal for each triumvirate is to win enough in order to be invited to a Liberation Rite; by winning that final step, an elected member of the group gains the freedom to return to the Commonwealth in an exalted position.
Your group’s mysterious benefactor has another idea: He is gathering exiles with the goal of returning to the Commonwealth and changing things, possibly ending the need for the Downside altogether.
While the game can come across as plodding at times — your enjoyment of visual novels will determine your enjoyment of Pyre — the cast of characters and the lore surrounding the Downside is captivating. Throughout my journey, I grew attached to each member of my team, and truly wanted to help Jodariel, Rukey and the others return to their lives. I also grew to like many of my opponents.
Pyre continues regardless of the result of the Rites. If your team wins, then your chosen representative gains freedom. If your team loses, that team member stays in the Downside with you, while the other team goes free. It’s a great system that encourages multiple playthroughs and ensures my experience will be different from yours.
As the game wears on, the Liberation Rites come more quickly, and if you’re successful in them, your team begins to thin out quickly. As my team dwindled from its height of eight or nine, down to a final trio, sadness began to seep in. I realized my journey was coming to a close.
In this way, Pyre’s story isn’t all that unlike other great stories involving a harrowing journey. In the end, Frodo and Sam reach Mount Doom alone, as the rest of the Fellowship has dispersed. Roland of Gilead approaches the Dark Tower on his own, as each of his ka-tet met a different fate. A great journey is filled with highs and lows, love and loss; and in the end, the hero approaches his (or her) destiny, alone.
The final choice related to who would be set free was agonizing because I’d grown close to each of the characters, and hoped for each to be happy in the end.
I’ve said nothing, yet, of the way the game looks and sounds. Pyre is a beautiful game, and each of the environments are high art. The soundtrack is predictably great. Character designs are compelling.
During some of the later Rites, I did experience significant slowdown on my PS4 Pro. When the results are final and play into your plan’s success, a frame stutter can alter how the story plays out.
Pyre is worthy of your attention, filled with a touching story and exciting gameplay. Some may grow impatient at the time it takes between each Rite, but this is a game that truly rewards patience.