It’s been little while since we were last graced with a Supergiant game. Transistor was released in 2014, an excellent second outing after 2011’s Bastion – but since, the developer has kept relatively quiet about its newest game. That’s finally over — Pyre has now arrived on PC and PS4.
Set in the Downside, a realm of exiled peoples, the game sees you awaken before a trio of masked roamers eager to find out who and what you are. After confirming your gender – or eschewing either, a welcoming and minor inclusion for those who don’t conform to either – you’re recruited as their Reader, a master of the lost and forbidden art of understanding the written word. With your help, Jodariel the hulking horned woman, kindly gentleman Hedwyn, and… Rukey the moustachioed dog-man can reform the Nightwings, a famous team of Exiles. Under your guidance they travel across the Downside and complete the Rites, to free themselves from purgatory and return to their original homes.
Pyre sets itself apart from its predecessors in more than just story. While Bastion and Transistor employed similar gameplay mechanics – albeit implemented in unique ways – the studio’s latest game is more of a step in a new direction. Where the former games were more combat-focused isometric explorers, Pyre is far more focused on its narrative and RPG elements. The game’s combat takes place by way of the Rites, a recurring arena combat system used to advance the story. In it, two teams of three compete to steal a magic orb, dodge their opponents and transport it to the opposing team’s eponymous pyre, burning themselves up in the process. While at its core this seems like an overly simplistic game, the base mechanic is layered up with intricacies as you proceed through the game. Each exile projects an aura around them during the Rite, which can destroy an opponent on contact – it can also be focused into a projected beam to block pathways or attack distant enemies. The key risk here is that whichever character holds the orb loses access to their aura at the same time, making them intrinsically vulnerable.
Initially you only have the three Nightwings to choose from; Jodariel moves slowly but has a large aura and a stunning jump move, Hedwyn acts as a middle ground with decent speed and aura, and Rukey moves faster but has the smallest aura of the three. Over time you gain access to a wide range of other party members with unique abilities and attack methods, allowing you to vary your strategies even further. Add in a levelling mechanic (or ‘gaining Enlightenment’, as the game phrases it) and the ability to equip various mods to your power set, and you soon have a varied stable of strategies to choose from. Each enemy team demonstrates some element of these varied characters, both as a way to challenge the player and also inform them of strategies that will no doubt become available soon after.
Between combat portions, Pyre focuses on its narrative. The Nightwings navigate their blackwagon through the lands of the Downside, chasing the rites as dictated by their Reader. Each area will offer branching paths that will affect your team in one way or another. One path may allow you to collect resources to be sold at the Slugmarket, in exchange for new equippable talismans, while another may provide a stat boost to all party members for the next Rite. While they don’t greatly influence your experience of the game, they do help make it feel like your OWN experience, much like choosing your pronouns at the outset. All these areas are also covered in amazing, technicolour artwork that varies hugely from one zone to another – reminding me of the design aesthetic of Hyper Light Drifter in particular. Be sure to pay attention, as it’s easy to overlook – but every area is full of intricate details that make the Downside truly feel full.
While I had some difficulty getting into the gameplay at first, due to how different it is to previous games from this developer, I’m glad to have persevered. Given the chance, Pyre opens up a world rich with lore to enjoy, and a variety of characters to throw headlong into magical bonfires. With both the story campaign and a multiplayer match mode available, it’s easy to get deep into the Rites yourself.
Pyrewas reviewed using a promotional code on PS4, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.