Life is a journey. Some journeys are short, others are long and rife with peril, twisting and winding at a bewildering pace. These journeys often intersect. Some end up merging despite starting in very different places and others split and head in drastically different directions. A journey near its end may cross one that’s just beginning. And ultimately, no matter how similar, each journey is entirely unique. Pyre is a game that celebrates these journeys. It explores their diversity and relative importance. Most importantly though, it celebrates the journeys striving for a common destination.
The player’s journey begins well into that of the player character “The Reader”. The Reader’s life has taken a turn for the worse and they find themselves in the Downside. A place as fraught with danger as it is filled with colour, the Downside is home an array of fascinating characters ranging from the religious serpentine witches to nihilistic dogs. This cast is the game’s main strength. The Downside has nine unique races and two sub-races in total. Furthermore, it’s home to just about every kind of landscape. Harpies occupy the cliffs, for example. Swamps are home to the creepy Crones. Humans (both Nomads and Savages), Demons, Imps (and Howlers), and Curs, on the other hand, live all around. Finally, there are only two Saps and two Slugs.
The player spends the early game learning. Not only are they learning to play, they’re learning who they’re playing with. The Downside’s secrets are revealed to the player through the Reader’s secret ability – reading. Reading allows the player to look deeper into what is being said or shown to them in addition to understanding the grunts of an Imp. This creates a great player-character relationship that allows the player to dive into their character’s shoes with ease. Furthermore, the reading mechanic highlights a keyword, letting the player hover over it for a description. This helps SuperGiant avoid the awkward exposition dialogues that plague other games. The world given to the player is easy to understand visually, and if the world isn’t, an explanation soon follows.
The player’s journey is actually a sporting tour. The sport is The Rites and the team are the Nightwings. But it’s not just any sport, either. The Rites are a sport of life and death akin to Aztec Football. The Rites also make up the action part of the game. The aim of the game is to get the celestial orb into the opponent’s pyre. Two teams of three face off, each character with their unique skills and stats. There are four statistics: Hope, Quickness, Presence, and Glory. Hope is the character’s outlook on life and their willingness to live it. It determines how quickly they come back from banishment. Quickness is the character’s reflexes and wit. It determines how fast a character travels across the battlefield. Presence is the character’s sins and determines their aura. Finally, Glory determines how many points a character scores.
Faster characters are weaker, some characters can fly, others can teleport. These abilities, however, are kept in a fine balance. Flying characters are invincible but can drop the orb when touched by jumping ones. The slowest characters have the largest auras meaning that those faster than them cannot banish them. However, each character can also cast their aura to banish others from afar. As the player unlocks more characters, the game’s strategic depth grows. For example, the cur has a tiny aura and amazing quickness. But more than that, he has an aura cast that although narrow, has impeccable reach. This not only makes him a great sprinter but also a sniper.
The game is paced fantastically. Early on, the player has a chance to familiarise themselves with the world and the characters. Nobody is telling the Reader the whole story, therefore creating a great alluring intrigue. As the journey goes on, intrigue grows with it. The Nightwings begin to explore or form relationships with their opponents and peers alike. A demon and a harpy are unwilling to work together. Furthermore, some characters simply won’t face off against others. This showcase of personality grows the characters and gives them a sense of independence unlike anything seen in recent gaming.
Later along the journey, the Reader finds out the purpose of the rites and the pace changes drastically. First, the Nightwings meet their sponsor – Sandalwood. Soon after they learn that liberation is possible and one of the Nightwings earns their freedom. Freeing the characters the player grows to love is only half of the motivation, however. Sandalwood has a plan to overthrow the corrupt government of the Commonwealth. As the Nightwing journey through the Downside and conduct the rites, liberation rites become more and more frequent. The game speeds off then. With auto-save and no game over, it’s possible to only free one or two of your team. It’s possible to free non-Nightwings who the player deems worthy of freedom too. There is no right way to play.
Is there a hope for a better world? That’s the question Pyre asks and hopes to answer. Life is a journey. Some journeys bypass main roads and opt for a quiet ride. Others fly through all the highways and city roads they can, affecting strangers along the way, sometimes bringing them along. In Pyre the player has a choice of supporting the revolution of the commonwealth, hindering it or simply ignoring it. Each playthrough is shaped not only by the choices the player makes, but also those choices fate makes for them. A close loss to a thug could spell disaster up above.
Let not the Voice goad you, Reader, press on. Press on for a better world. Press on for your friends, whom you’ve not known long but have grown to love. Oh, press on for yourself. Your pride and satisfaction. Press on and do what you feel is right. But remember, only time will tell what’ll happen. And only you can decide whether it’s good.