Pyre is hard to explain. An upcoming game from Supergiant Games, creators of Bastion and Transistor, Pyre, feels somewhat akin to Supergiant’s previous games, at least in its art style. Where it departs from that feeling of familiarity is everywhere else.
But let’s start with the art-style. Pyre boasts a number of different segments to the game, from portrait conversations, to a dazzling overworld, to the ‘combat’ itself, and while each keep the same general tone, they all differ slightly. The portrait conversations are made out in lush, colourful, hand-drawn images, with floating backgrounds and well laid-out text. The overworld too is a rush of colour, an almost confusing assault on your eyes that you get to navigate around in a winsomely animated carriage. In the ‘combat’ portion of the game, the characters continue to look like they are hand-drawn, but the animations are smooth, and special effects, from flames to sparks to a hue similar to the northern lights surrounding the arena, abound.All this to say the game looks very pretty.
What Pyre is though, is a very interesting amalgam of several game types that you wouldn’t normally think would fit together. The portrait conversations that start the game at first reminded me of a point-and-click adventure, one with hidden secrets, dialogue options, and a veritable bevvy of information to uncover. The overworld reminded me substantially of ‘Organ Trail’, or similar games, with frequent breaks in traversing the overworld lending gathering and training options. Both the overworld and the conversation system look and feel robust; they have a sense of fullness that helps draw you into the world of Pyre.And then there’s the combat.
The combat system reminds me most of rugby, hockey, football… it reminds me of any number of sports, really, because it seems as if, at the end of the day, Pyre is a sports game, hidden inside an RPG, hidden inside the gorgeous illustrations of a point-and-click adventure.
During the combat portion of the game, you can only move one of your three characters at a time, same with your opponents, and the goal is to whittle down the opponents’ ‘Pyre’ by having your characters jump into the enemy flame at the other end of the arena. You have three characters, a heavy, medium, and light one, each with different speeds, and each do different damage to enemy units, and what it comes down to is almost a team management game. How far do you move your heavy, where do you stop him so that he blocks enemy units? Do you try to rush in with your light character to score one point of damage, or do you try to move in the heavy so you score three?
The characters have attacks, and they respawn shortly after they are killed, or after they jump into the enemy pyre, meaning that if you miscalculate you can find yourself down two, or even three, of your controllable characters.
The combat in Pyre is very hard to explain, to be honest, and the best way to understand it is to watch it play out. But it feels good, nuanced. It feels like there is a lot of available strategy to the game, and even in the three ‘matches’, I hesitate to call the combat a battle, as it really does feel more like a sports game than anything else. Even in those three matches, the difficulty quickly ramped from frustratingly easy, to incredibly fun, to frustratingly difficult.
How much room Supergiant have to expand the basic gameplay of the matches, and how much flexibility you have to customize your team remain to be seen. Will the rugby-style combat remain as interesting throughout multiple-hours of gameplay as it was in a thirty minute demo? I really hope so.
Because at the end of the day, Pyre is beautiful, interesting, and one of the best sports games I’ve played in years. Which is really strange for an RPG.Or whatever it is.
Video by JakeAcappella, Text by David Alloggia