Since 2011, Supergiant Games has been firmly rooted to a visual and audio aesthetic that few can shake a stick at. The beauty and creativity of their previous titles, Bastion and Transistor is largely accepted as utterly undeniable. I am pleased to say that Pyre not only continues this tradition, but shows incredible growth for this rather remarkable indie studio. Of course, there was the utterly gorgeous top down art style, that Supergiant has spoiled me with for years, but there was a refinement of their style to a level that left me utterly breathless. And the return of Darren Korb's musical direction, once again made me shell out another $10 on yet another Supergiant soundtrack but, even Korb's work benefited from noticeable improvement. I was so surprised by the subtlety of the animations and the instrumentals that quickly, I learned that I had to take my time in Pyre to catch everything I wanted. Pyre is a game which invited a close reading and rewarded me when I paid it the attention it asked of me with an experience I won't soon forget.
But, that has nothing to do with gameplay, so what kind of game is Pyre? Undeniably, it is a text-rich RPG but, from there it's a little bit difficult to describe. There's nothing else like Pyre, exactly. It draws from fantasy sports video games, like Blitzball and Blood Bowl, like with strategy games, there's a emphasis on positioning and team composition, and light party management mechanics with ability trees and items, with many in-game effects, called talismans. It sounds a bit all over the place already, but Pyre is an all around, tight gaming experience. In the first few hours of the game, Pyre slowly introduces the mechanics of the 3v3 basketball-like, rites which constitute, Pyre's active gameplay. By the end of this introduction, the logic and strategy behind the rites made sense, to me, and I was comfortable enough to begin devising my own strategies. Pyre's tactical fantasy sports theme works and works well. I was never overwhelmed by the standard difficulty, but I was also kept on my toes with some particularly difficult match-ups. It's one of the strangest, and best combinations of genres I've seen in a while. But, even so, the gameplay isn't the main appeal of Pyre, it's the story.
Pyre is set in a dystopian world where reading is prohibited by law. You play as a nameless, faceless "Reader"that has been sentenced by the government of the Commonwealth to rot in, what is essentially purgatory, the Underside. A band of masked wonders, named the Nightwings find you, and ask (force) you to assist with a secret competition among exiles called the Rites. Through this tournament style competition, the victors may return home to the Commonwealth where their transgressions are forgiven and they are given a chance to live a life of affluence and comfort. As you travel with this group, you meet and recruit a variety of characters of all different types of races and get to know both your own band of Exiles as well as the Exiles, who you compete against.
Pyre's colorful cast of allies and adversaries are some of the most compelling and likable characters that I have ever gotten the pleasure of getting to know in any medium and certainly the best in a video game. Moment by moment, I became more invested in the stories of the characters as their quirks and backstories came to light. Characters who appeared all business, became more tender and goofy characters showed their range of emotions. They were well written and their interactions both with each other and with the player felt natural and believable. This made the story's themes of obtaining freedom and defining what freedom truly means, important to me because, I really did want the best for the Nightwings, and even many of their adversaries.
Pyre is in many ways, a radical story. It pays no attention to typical gender dynamics, allowing men and women to perform many roles within the narrative. At the heart of Pyre's story is a question about freedom under authority which felt important, given the current happenings of the world. Then, answers in, perhaps, an unexpected way. Pyre's story, gameplay, and general aesthetic, is executed nearly flawlessly, making Pyre a must play of 2017, let alone any year. But, stay away if you can't handle a lot of text.