Pyre on PS4 Pro
Supergiant Games has something with Pyre. It’s got all of the style, charm, and beautiful visuals of the studio’s beloved Bastion and Transistor, an engaging story with plenty of background and lore, and a neat idea for team-based RPG action. Yet, despite all of this promise and an esteemed lineage of games behind it, Pyre never quite delivers on its potential.
Pyre transports players into a fantasy world where criminals are exiled out of the Commonwealth and what is essentially a realm of purgatory known as Downside. You awaken in the middle of Downside, unsure of your name and in the presence of three other exiles. Jodariel, Hedwyn, and Rukey Greentail are simply trying to regain their freedom, competing in 3 vs. 3 competitions known as Rites which, upon winning enough, allow participants to rejoin society, free from the shackles of their former misdoings. You soon discover that your character is capable of reading, a skill few exiles have, but one that is incredibly helpful when participating in the Rites. That’s pretty much the basis of Pyre’s story. You’ll set off on an adventure across Downside, battling other bands of exiles in Rites in order to slowly but surely help your group regain their places in society. This initially straightforward plot eventually gives way to something more intriguing. We’re not going to go too in depth on this to avoid spoilers, but know that things aren’t as simple as they may initially seem.
The realm of Downside is nothing short of stunning to take in. Just as you’d expect from the team at Supergiant Games, Pyre’s hand-painted artwork is magnificent. Each different section of its world oozes with personality, and the character models really help to bring this eccentric bunch of exiles to life. From a wiley, smart-talking dog-like creature called Rukey to Jodariel’s stern, commanding stature, each character feels wholly unique and is a joy to interact and converse with along the adventure.
Each of the exiles that’ll join you on your adventure not only feels unique in personality, but in their stats and abilities when competing in a Rite as well. These are 3 vs. 3 battles where each team must use the Celestial Orb that falls in the middle of the arena to douse their opponent’s Pyre and lower its hit points from 100 to 0 before they do the same to yours. You’re able to pass the Orb between your team or fling it into the Pyre, jump, sprint, and cast the exile’s Aura to banish an opposing team member from the game for a duration determined by one of their stats. As such, there’s plenty of freedom here for creating a strategy that works towards your team’s strengths.
Assembling your team is just as strategic as what you make them do out on the field. While Rukey is incredibly fast, he won’t deal as much damage to the Pyre as the larger, slower demon, Jodariel. During my time spent with the game, I certainly warmed to particular exiles far more than others, but as you progress through the game, you’ll find yourself having to experiment more often as staple members of your team become exhausted.
It’s a great concept and one that, for the most part, I thoroughly enjoyed. However, the game’s difficulty curve is incredibly gentle, to the point where playing through on the default difficulty will seldom cause you any trouble. If you get a perfect team together, then you’ll coast through the entire game without breaking too much of a sweat. Furthermore, the aforementioned strategic element is somewhat undermined by the inability to control more than one character at a time. If you switch to a different character, the other two remain perfectly still, just waiting to be blasted by an enemy attack, removing them from the game for a potentially crucial amount of time. Simply being able to move your previously controller character with the right stick would make this a little less infuriating, but you’ll often find the enemy AI picks off your idle teammates, leading you to be outnumbered. I understand why only one team member can move at a time in context of the game’s story, but it felt like a baffling misstep in a game that feels like it should be even more fast-paced.
As you progress through the game, you’ll uncover Talismans that can be equipped to your team members to grant them enhanced abilities in Rites, as well as level up characters, unlocking their Masteries granting them permanent buffs or abilities. A mystical Beyonder Crystal in your team’s wagon also allows you to pit them in Scribe Trials. These 1 vs. 3 Rites provide a nice extra side activity and challenge to the main events and offer up lucrative rewards in the process. If you’re looking to really up the challenge and reap the rewards, though, in the latter stages of the game Titan Stars can be enabled, nerfing your team or buffing your adversaries. Aside from the promise of more experience for your team, though, there’s not much to really tempt you into enabling these unless you’re desperate for a more challenging ride.
What is particularly interesting is the way in which Pyre makes your success or defeat in the Rites part of its branching story. Though I didn’t get time to complete a radically different playthrough, my results (and significant choices I made along the way) did change the outcome of the story. It’s a great way of making each player’s adventure feel unique, but I doubt it’ll be enough to entice most players to start a second playthrough.
Outside of the Rites, Pyre made me feel like I was embarking on a magical adventure. At least, it did at the start. The journey leading up to your first Liberation Rite – the ‘final’ of a series of Rites which sees the chosen member of the winning team returning to the Commonwealth – has you choosing between different paths and places to stop off at. While one character may feel there’s treasure to be found on one route, another may feel the faster route would be beneficial, allowing you more time to spend on Vocations. These Vocation periods allow you to search for nearby resources, study alone allowing you to buff your entire team’s stats gradually, or mentoring one exile for an immediate experience boost. Just because you pick a path doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily find the treasure rumored to be there, though. It made the whole thing feel more immersive and realistic, rather than my fellow exiles’ hunches being 100% correct all the time.
Alas, the grand scope of adventure in the first section of Pyre came to a close all too soon. After a certain point, much of this exploration makes way to move things along at a faster pace. The whole experience then began to slump into a monotonous routine. Complete a Rite, talk to an exile, check where I’m going next, head there, complete Rite, rinse and repeat. It’s a shame because the content here is great, but it feels like it’s stretched too thin for the duration Supergiant have gone for. You’ll even have to compete against the same teams over and over after a while, rather than meeting new groups along the way.
Once the campaign is out the way, Pyre offers up a Versus mode, allowing players to challenge a CPU opponent or a friend in local head-to-head showdowns. The absence of online multiplayer here is disappointing, as Pyre’s Rites just feel like a perfect fit for filling a spare 30 minutes you have in your day and online leaderboards recording Wins and Losses would have provided ample bragging rights among groups of friends. Still, playing local head-to-head is sure to become a favorite the next time you’ve got your friends over.
Throughout the 12 or so hours it took me to complete Pyre, the game very rarely faltered. However, there was one instance in the latter stages where the game suffered from a blip of horrendous slowdown during a Rite. While this is forgivable in small doses, its spontaneous nature during the action-packed Rite, on a PS4 Pro no less, meant that I was simply destined to be defeated. I didn’t experience this at any other time outside of this Rite, though, so hopefully, it’s an isolated experience.
Pyre is a diamond in the rough. Its sense of adventure and novel Rites are ultimately held back from realizing their full potential by a campaign that feels drawn out, static teammates, and easy enemy AI. There’s plenty to love here, and Pyre will most definitely worm its way into the hearts of many, but it doesn’t quite top Bastion as Supergiants’ crowning achievement.
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Score: 3.5/5 – Fair