LAN Mob Game Review - Pyre

Back in 2011 I played a brand new indie game that released during Microsoft's "Summer of Arcade" promotion titled Bastion. Bastion went on to win countless awards, including full blown Game of the Year awards from multiple journalists, which is a monumental achievement for a studio's premiere work, not to mention the game launched with a $15 price tag. The studio behind the breakout hit was none other than Supergiant Games and they helped prove a small indie studio can stand toe to toe with AAA games. Supergiant went on to release Transistor in 2014, proving Bastion's success was not a random stroke of luck and cemented their place as one of the best indie studios to ever do it. Enter Pyre, Supergiant's third studio title which released on August 1st, 2017. Not only did Pyre surpass every heavy expectation I had for it, Supergiant also managed to do something a lot of devs only dream about. Pyre is unlike anything I've ever played before, I couldn't even begin to compare it to anything else outside of Supergiant's past titles. The world building, character development, atmosphere and unique gameplay has not only proved Supergiant's chops once again, it's a testament to their strengths. Pyre is nothing short of a masterpiece and really drives home what immersion in video games is all about.

Pyre has an absurd wealth of world building, but it's relatively easy to keep up. Players take on the role of the Reader, a character you never actually see and is truly presented as you, the player. The Reader finds themselves in the "Downside", a purgatorial land for people who have broken laws in the "Commonwealth", which is essentially society. The Reader's sin which got him sent to the Downside was simply literacy, which has been banned in the Commonwealth, which ironically earns him a seat on the Blackwagon, a caravan of characters traveling the Downside. This band of exiled travelers eventually find themselves competing in sacred rituals known as The Rites, under the guise of The Nightwings. As "The Reader" it is your duty to oversee these Rites, all in an attempt to earn your freedom back and make your way home to the Commonwealth. The plot thickens over time as the Nightwing's roster expands and plot twists present themselves, but the goal remains the same throughout the 12-16 hour campaign - earn freedom for you and your friends. 

Rukey Greentail the Trafficker, Jodariel the Demon and Hedwyn the Deserter. 

These Rites make up the meat of the gameplay in Pyre, and I gotta say, these rituals are not what I expected at all. The Rites resemble a game of 3v3 basketball! Teams compete against each other to plunge an arcane ball of energy into their respective titular "Pyre", sapping some of the energy with each goal. Once either Pyre reaches 0, the game is over and the team with energy still in their Pyre moves on. This sounds relatively simple, but I assure you Supergiant developed these Rites to be a fast paced and tactical pleasure to compete in. Outside of passing, shooting and even dunking, the Nightwings exude "auras" which can be utilized to "banish" opponents, removing them from the Rite for X amount of time. You can either sling these auras like some sort of Harry Potter spell, or simply tackle your challengers with the aura surrounding your body if you aren't holding the orb. Add in the intricacies of multiple party members with completely different abilities, a leveling system where you can earn even more abilities, equipping talismans which add further effects and the wide variation in arenas and each Rite is a completely different experience. Once you have a good understanding of your roster and how aura, banishment and scoring works it's very easy to become completely immersed in the excitement of the rites.

Each beautifully hand-drawn arena has a different atmosphere and obstacles.

As exciting as these Rites are, the time spent between them is equally as beautiful and compelling. As I mentioned, the world building present in Pyre is top tier and that's thanks to the creative approach to story telling. Between the rites, as you travel the world map, you learn more and more about the world in which Pyre takes place in. You explore the masterly crafted hand drawn world of the Downside and experience it first hand, as you hear all sorts of tales about the Commonwealth. You can even learn all about the legends and tales of the ancient past, via spending time with a book in the Blackwagon. A huge majority of this world building is technically supplemental to the main narrative, but it carries just as much (if not more) power, especially while communicating and interacting with the cast.

Players can interact with a number of items within the Blackwagon, and will notice the wagon filling up with trinkets and various memorabilia as the adventure goes on.

I think this is where Pyre shines the brightest. While the main narrative is incredible, the day to day side conversations and simple RPG esque player choices create an atmosphere and immersion that one would not consider possible for a game resembling a "fantasy sports" gameplay. As you travel and spend time with the wonderfully written cast of characters, you find yourself illuminating multiple branching story arcs, which are presented to you in a way similar to a graphic novel. These characters are easily what make Pyre so damn special. The cast of main characters include multiple races that all share the similar fate of exile, but shine bright with unique attitudes and narratives. There's Hedwyn, a young boy with a kind heart, Sir Gilman, a cyclops snake thing who has sworn an oath of knighthood and even a little imp creature that communicates via adorable sound effects. Not only is the cast ridiculously likable, Supergiant knows they are, and creates some heart wrenching decisions for the players to make, but I won't ruin that surprise for you. Ironically enough, these characters don't even speak a real language and you still perk up at the sound of their voices, a true testament to what Supergiant is capable of.

Ti'Zo is one of my favorite members of the Nightwings, even though he hates fish for some reason. 

It's hard for me to even state one sentence regarding Pyre without noting how absolutely stunning this game is to the senses. Supergiant is well known for making great games, but to anyone that has ever played a Supergiant game, you've certainly felt that extra stylized "Supergiant" feel to their games. Not only is this phenomenon present in Pyre, it may be the strongest example of it yet. This game bleeds beauty from the moment you boot it up, it's borderline absurd. The art style is unique and recognizable and once again I simply cannot even begin to compare it or explain it well enough, it's simply something one should experience for themselves.

The Sea of Solis is only one of countless regions in the Downside.

Pyre's beauty isn't simply all eye candy, however. Darren Korb returns once again, delivering a vibrant, variable and powerful soundtrack, just like always. I'd seriously recommend taking the time to sit and listen to the whole thing, but at the very least check out one of the main tracks. (which features Ashley Barrett once again!) 

I could talk strategy for the Rites, the best talismans to equip, what side missions offer the best rewards and even what characters are the "best" for completing the challenges, but none of this is why Pyre is a game worth your full attention. Pyre is just like your favorite song, equal to much more then the sum of its parts. It's not a matter of if you will get emotionally invested in the world and cast of characters, simply what will pull you in the deepest. Here I was worried Pyre wouldn't meet the pretty ridiculous expectations I had set for it, but Supergiant Games delivered and then-some, making Pyre my favorite title they've put out to date, and one of my favorite games of the entire year. Please do yourself a favor and allow yourself to be immersed in a modern day masterpiece.
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