Supergiant's Pyre Focuses on Companionship and a Little Bit of Sports
Before digging into Supergiant Games' latest game--the enigmatic-looking, recently announced Pyre--my co-worker Mary Kish asked this question: "What is this game in your trifecta of titles? Bastion was what you always wanted to make, Transistor was something different you wanted to try... What is Pyre?"
Designer Greg Kasavin paused for a moment before answering: "I feel like that question is best answered by people who are not us."
I played 30 minutes of Pyre, and here is my answer: Pyre is an exercise in teamwork and prioritization. It's a game about finding your purpose in the world by allowing others to help you. It's a strategy game where you are given ample opportunities to learn about the land you're traveling the people you are traveling with. It's also a sports game.
The story opens with your nameless hero--the game allows you to identify yourself as "he," "she," or "they," a small but smart touch in allowing players to more deeply identify with their character--alone in a wasteland. You are picked up by a trio of travelers--the friendly Hedwyn, scowling Jordarial, and Rukey, a canine creature--in a very prettily designed wagon and asked if you can read. When you inevitably discover you can, your perusing of the tome the trio offers triggers the beginning of something called the Rites.
The Rites turn out to be the aforementioned sports-esque game that take place on an otherworldly plane of existence. You guide your trio of travelers through a small arena against three opponents. Both sides have a burning pyre on each end of the arena, which they must protect from enemy interference. This interference comes in the form of a glowing orb, which can be picked up and hurled into a pyre to dim its flames.
But playing the Rites is not as simple as that. Each character can briefly dash, but once their stamina is depleted move at a slow slog. This leaves them open for enemy attack; if the glowing circle around an enemy--its aura--touches you while you're holding the orb, that character is removed from the arena for a brief period of time. Similarly, if your character's aura touches an enemy holding the orb, they will disappear and drop the orb. If you're controlling a character not carrying the orb, you can summon a ranged blast of energy and hurl it towards whomever is carrying it, knocking them out and temporarily removing them from the arena.
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You can swap between the characters you control on the fly, as well as pass the orb among them. Because of this, you have to keep track of where all three party members are on the battlefield, as well as who has the orb or is closest to it. This seems like it's a lot to keep track of and remember, but it's not: in the half-hour I played, I was able to get into the swing of things, and by the end I was jump-shotting my orb into the enemy's pyre from several spaces away. These Rites segments feel like a mashup of red light, green light and basketball, with a dash of dodgeball mixed in.
That need for unity when carrying out the Rites is also necessary when you're not in the arena. As the only member of your four-person mobile household who can read--you are dubbed the Reader--you are responsible for strengthening your team and evolving their skills. As your wagon travels over terrain, the sky will fade from day to night, and at nighttime you must stop and complete activities to develop your semi-merry (there's an air of solemnity over everything) band. You can either scavenge for resources and stock up on supplies, continue to read about the Rites and unlock new bits of Pyre's lore, or spend time "mentoring" your three companions--essentially leveling them up and allowing them to learn new combat skills, like being able to dash longer.
You are also given the space to explore your mobile home and talk more with your new friends. Here you can learn more about their own sordid pasts, as well as what they expect on your journey. At one juncture I found myself alone with the ever-smiling Hedwyn, who told me that he is there for help whenever I need it. Four dialogue options popped up, each offering me an opportunity to see deeper into his past. But one option stood out to me: "Ask what happens if you don't ask for help."
Kasavin says that Pyre's focus will be just this, learning to rely on others. And it's clear that you won't get far in Pyre without thinking of all three companions at all times. You can't just mentor and level up one; to succeed on the ethereal court of the Rites, you have to make sure they are all given time to develop. To better understand them and the world beyond your wagon walls, you need to take the time to talk to them. This isn't a game you could just power through like Transistor, or focus on your own power like Bastion. In Pyre, your friends are your power, and it's your responsibility to cultivate that.
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