Pyre - Review  

C'mon Hedwyn, It's Game Time. Get Your Hanes On.
by Sam Wachter

Less than 20 Hours
+ Interesting story and presentation
+ Beautiful and captivating world
+ Quirky but inspiring gameplay
- Controls have a high learning curve
- Not all classes feel equal in terms of playability
- Decisions don't entirely matter
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   Supergiant Games has constantly made games that I've always managed to gel with. Bastion is one of my all-time favourite games, and I fell hard for Transistor despite some of its problems. I want to preface by saying that Pyre is a delightfully strange game with an RPG heart held within a sporty shell. It's an interesting concept on a whole of fusing an RPG with a sport like basketball to create one of the most unique beasts I've ever had the pleasure of reviewing.

   The story of Pyre is an exceptional one at its core. Players take on the role of a Reader, someone who can use the stars as guidance to create a path for exiles to be liberated from their sins. The exiles that the Reader encounters are trapped in Purgatory, and their souls can only be liberated by performing Rites, rituals where the exile shows their value and worth against another group of exiles so that they can achieve salvation and be brought back into the world of the Commonwealth.

   There is an eeriness to the underworld in which the exiles are trapped in. Supergiant's writing does an amazing job of capturing the idea that in despair people can find hope. In hope people can learn from their past and perhaps make changes towards the future. Every character that the Reader exchanges pleasantries with shares parts of their former lives. A lot of the story is subtle and the relationships that are forged with these characters are genuine, which is so different from Supergiant's other titles that mainly focus on a protagonist, one other character and a world in ruins. In Pyre, the world is already in ruins, and people are essentially trying to make the best of their situations. It's an interesting change of pace and one that is welcome.

Jodariel is ready to slam now. Jodariel is ready to slam now.

   The story and decisions that the player makes affect how exiles will perform during Rites. Talking to an exile before a Rite will sometimes provide bonuses to their abilities or stats. During movement on the world map, decisions made by the player can affect the exiles or enemies that will be encountered in a Rite as well. These decisions don't affect the story on a larger scale, but they can change the environment of the Rite to either be advantageous for the player or pose new and additional threats on the field. There are also instances where the Reader can attempt to provide other assistance before Rites, such as foraging for resources, tutoring an exile and studying in private to expand the player's knowledge on the world's lore.

   There is also a unique form of Rite known as the Liberation Rite. The goal of these Rites are to set an exile, selected by the player, free while the other two exiles on the field act as their support. The winner is free to return to the Commonwealth, while the loser continues in the cycle of Purgatory. Win or lose, the story continues and decisions made affect the narrative in so far as that the player will learn whether the character was successful in their atonement when they make it back to the Commonwealth. Failure in the Liberation Rites does not cause any large rippling effects in the world, though it feels as though they should. In terms of decision making, these aspects are stellar.

   Pyre is a RPG-sports title. There's no classier way to describe it. Players engage in a three-on-three match where the goal is extinguishing the other team's pyre and score points. If this sounds familiar, it's because Pyre melds together basketball and fantasy elements. The goal is to score the ball into the pyre, then exiles can use magic, speed, and other skills to push players on the map. When an exile, friend or foe, has been banished off the map, there is a cooldown period for when they can return to perform their roles once more. There's a lot of amazing ideas in Pyre, and on the surface, there is this notion that a sports RPG shouldn't work (the existence of Blitzball and Inazuma Eleven aside) and yet it's a lot of fun to play. Like many sports, it can be difficult to know what the enemy team has in terms of their skill set and how they are going to use it.

   The controls are not the most intuitive at times on PlayStation 4, and have a bit of a learning curve to them. Moreover, all the exiles that join the party have their own abilities that make them unique, and this translates into how the controls work. Some characters play far stiffer than others, while some have special abilities that are difficult to find the correct timing and positioning. There's a lot of trial and error involved in learning the controls in Pyre, which for some players may be a turn off. However, the game has this spell it puts the player under to keep at it, learn the controls, and extinguish enemy pyres.

Girl's got skillz. Girl's got skillz.

   Visually, the world of Pyre is breathtaking. Much like Supergiant Games' other efforts, it is a world rich in colour, with each environment evoking a specific personality. The characters are beautifully designed and the overall visuals do an amazing job of giving the player a larger sense of foreboding. Exploring the world always leads to something new, though admittedly going through the same areas repeatedly does get somewhat disappointing after the third or fourth go. In terms of sound, there is minimal voice work and what is in the story is done in the world's "native tongue", though in an oddly suitable role, Logan Cunningham narrates the matches as a rather cruel version of a sports announcer. The soundtrack isn't as strong as Bastion or Transistor, but it still offers some lovely ear candy as players explore the world. The soundtrack is much more subdued, and fits the tone of the world. It's gentler, with not a lot of high-energy songs. The vocal track that plays during the Liberation Rites is one of the game's most breathtaking pieces, and easily a standout compared to other tracks.

   Pyre is not a long game and can be completed in under ten hours. The difficultly can be adjusted, and players can amp up their challenge by adding Titan Stars, bonus difficultly challenges that provide extra experience points, at the start of any match. The versus mode is solid, though I did experience a bit of framerate droppage, though again nothing in so bad that it hindered the match.

   I do not care for sports games, and yet I adored Pyre. It's one of those games where in the hands of an amateur developer, the idea could have been flimsy and the execution awkward. Supergiant Games constantly shows passion and innovation with each of its titles, and doesn't seem to be afraid to go back to the drawing board when something isn't quite working. Pyre is essentially the high fantasy version of Space Jam, only the Reader is not Michael Jordan and no one from the NBA had their powers stolen, yet the team has heart, soul, and is made of a bunch of rag-tag misfits. It's easy to root for the little guys.

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