PAX 2017 Impressions: Pyre
Come on baby, light my Pyre.
At PAX East 2017, we got plenty of hands-on time with Pyre, a turn-based RPG/supernatural demonic basketball game (bear with us) from Supergiant Games of Bastion and Transistor fame. During our demo, we sampled the game’s single-player and multiplayer components, and walked away extremely impressed and optimistic about how things are shaping up.
Visually, Pyre immediately impresses as expected with the lovely art direction Supergiant has become known for. The painting-like visuals evoke Bastion and, interestingly, characters resemble the style of Dishonored (if far less harsh and angular). The game begins with the unnamed main character (you) awakening after being expelled to a desert-like expanse. Almost immediately, three exiles with extremely cool masks speaking an extremely cool-sounding language happen upon you and ask if you can read.
It seems reading is outlawed in the world, and these three (comprised of a youngish fellow named Hedwyn, a gruff horned woman named Jodariel, and Rukey the talking doggo) are in possession of books they believe will help them ascend from this desert prison. Of course, they can’t read. That’s where you come in. They need YOU to read and decipher the books in their possession to discover a possible escape from their exile. It all happens rather quickly with a lot of exposition rapidly tossed at you, but surprisingly nothing feels rushed or difficult to understand.
From here you’re free to determine actions taken in the group’s caravan as it rumbles from one location to another. You can level your characters up (mentoring), rummage for goods to sell, and read the forbidden texts to beef up your mentoring skills.
A really cool touch is the ability to mouse over words tinted red in the text and learn more about that particular name or term. It helps a great deal in fleshing out the game’s lore and is something we wish more games would implement.
But of course, the most succulent meat on the bone is combat, referred to in-game as rites, and it’s here where Pyre truly shines.
Combat is set up in arenas book-ended by the titular pyres, and it’s your job to guide your fellow exiles in slam-dunking an orb into the opposing team’s pyre by passing it back and forth and avoiding other players. You’re probably thinking, “oh, that sounds an awful lot like basketball” and you’re right; it is, but with some really neat twists. Oh, and one of the most compelling announcers in any game, ever. Seriously, the guy is theatrical, grandiose, and overall just perfect.
Every member of each team is surrounded by an aura. This aura is present at all times UNLESS that character is in possession of the orb. If a character with an aura touches the player carrying the orb, the unprotected player is temporarily vaporized and the orb falls to the ground. You can focus your aura and fire it at an unprotected player, but doing so will leave you temporarily without an aura yourself.
Passing the orb automatically switches control to that character, but you can also manually switch to an unencumbered character to play some defense. You can also jump, and nothing feels better than going Air Jordan over the opposing team to slam that orb home in the rival pyre. Damage to the enemy pyre is contingent upon which character scores; the powerful Jodariel is slow but deals the most damage, Hedwyn is right in the middle speed and strength-wise, and Rukey is lightning-quick but deals minimal damage.
One of our first thoughts after playing a few battles was “Man, this would make for some SWEET multiplayer”. Well, you’re covered……sort of. While Pyre does feature an incredibly enjoyable 1v1 local competitive mode, the developer remains unsure about an online component.
On the Playstation Blog, Supergiant noted, “we haven’t made a decision yet on whether online play makes sense given everything else we’re doing on Pyre with our small team. We think bad online multiplayer is worse for a game than no online multiplayer, and we promise to do what’s best for the game as a whole.” While the game itself loses nothing by omitting online play, we had so much fun passing and dunking through a supernatural basketball court that we truly hope Supergiant finds a way to implement it satisfactorily.
We still have so many questions. Why is reading outlawed? Is the rites announcer friend or foe? Why can’t we sound as awesome as he does? Is the desert some form of purgatory? While we can’t answer those just yet, our time with Pyre left us incredibly impressed and even more anxious to experience the full package when it releases later this year.