After two massively successful releases, indie studio Supergiant Games has made quite the name for itself in the industry. Both of its titles – Bastion and Transistor – have been well received critically, and are some of the most beautiful games that we've ever seen. So when the dev announced just a few days before PAX East that it had a new game on the way, and that it'd be playable during the expo, we got just a teensy bit excited. And boy did we get rewarded.
The first thing to note about Pyre is that it's actually somewhat tricky to describe; it's a radically different game from its last release. It is still, however, unmistakably a Supergiant title. We will try and explain it as best we can.
Pyre is a game where you, The Reader as you're referred to, are discovered by several masked beings in a sort of purgatory. Upon nursing you back to health, these three mysterious figures ask you to read a book for them – reading is actually a criminal offence in the game's universe – which unlocks a secret of sorts among the stars.
This book and the secrets in the stars is what set you on the path towards your first encounter with the game's main mechanics. On the way to the location that the stars guide you to, you can collect and harvest resources to provide fuel for the caravan that you're living in. In this chunk of the game, we saw that there were branching paths, so you had to choose to prioritise which types of resources you wanted to go after.
Upon arriving at your destination, you begin the first "rite", which is a sort of sports game that can lead to your freedom and subsequent escape from purgatory. For this chunk of the game, The Reader takes control of the three masked figures as they go up against a "team" of three other masked figures. The objective is to grab a sort of ball in the centre of your arena and take it to the opposing team's "Pyre".
Each side's Pyre has a set amount of hit points and you have to get the other team's health to zero. To do this you must control the three figures, but only one can move at a time. One is large and slower but can dash, one is well-rounded, and one is rather small but very fast. The catch is that when you control the ball you lose the protective barrier that everyone on the field has, so coming in close proximity with anyone on the opposing team "kills" that character for a brief time. Additionally, if a player scores in the other team's Pyre, they sit out the subsequent round until someone else – on either team – scores.
The gameplay has lots of little rules that may make it sound rather complicated or borderline abstract on paper. However, in the moment, the game is 100 per cent coherent, and actually rather easy to pick up and play. The best bet for anyone interested would be to take a look at some video footage of the game, as watching it will likely offer a better understanding of what Supergiant Games is trying to accomplish with this title.
In addition to the arena-sports component of the game, there are RPG elements as your three playable characters have levelling systems and unlock trees allowing them to do more when they get to subsequent Rites. This is accomplished by beating the other team and destroying their Pyre, and seemingly damning them to remain in Purgatory. The skill trees seem to offer things like increased stamina so you can run longer, extra dashes, and the like.
Of course, one thing worthy of note is that the title is absolutely breathtaking. All of Supergiant's previous releases are beautiful, and in particular, at least for this writer, Transistor might be the most beautiful game he's ever seen. So suffice to say, seeing Pyre is remarkable, because it just may surpass Transistor from a visual standpoint. While the new release has a more fantasy aesthetic than either of the dev's past titles, the use of colour in Supergiant's art remains as remarkable as ever.
The music and audio design set up a great experience as well. Darren Korb has delivered some of the best game soundtracks in recent memory from a musical standpoint, so we aren't the slightest bit concerned about the audio being a let-down. One interesting sound design choice stems from the dialogue, however. There is a narrator of sorts who speaks English, and allows for the player to understand them, but the rest of the dialogue is delivered through subtitled speech bubbles. This occurs because all of the characters speak in what seems to be a fictional language.
When all was said and done, our brief half-hour with the game truly captivated us. The game isn't slated to take off until 2017 unfortunately, so the wait for Supergiant's beautiful game is going to be a painful one – but based on our hands on impressions, it'll be worth it.
Are you a fan of Supergiant's portfolio so far? Are you liking what you've seen of Pyre? Hum an infectious melody in the comments section below.