As a storyteller, I’ve absorbed a truly intense degree of inspiration from Supergiant Games. With each of their three titles pulling fascinating explorations of the flawed status quo and deeper dives into the meaning of mortality. Each time, their methods and tools vary greatly in scale, direction, and intensity. Bastion (2011) crafts a finely tuned and slowly discovered post-apocalyptic landscape, chronicling a tight cast of strangers in their attempted activation of a citadel that might be able to fix everything. In Bastion, there’s an importance given to seeing the world fully, exploring every nook and cranny out in the massive wild. Transistor (2014) offers a sleeker, far more intense experience about a singer named Red on the run. She is running from both the high government and a living program ‘The Process’ that’s recently gone out of control. Events are kept more local within the city of Cloudbank, which is rich and beautifully detailed, but the story is presented in such a way that the journey constantly overpowers the need for a specific destination. Now we have Pyre, a tale that chronicles a magical world of exiles, each desperately seeking a way back to the illustrious Commonwealth from which they’ve been banished. Only through participation and victory of the sacred Rites may these exiles find their way home.
There are a few things that resonate from the company’s previous titles, no doubt minor echoes from Supergiant’s ironically small team. The first is the clever adjustable difficulty system, a trademark of all their games thus far. Instead of setting a difficulty, there are specific modifications and limitations that push individual aspects of the game to incite a challenge. These alterations are all optional and the full exposure creating a truly gruesome environment. The company’s goal is creating games that appeal fully to all willing players, regardless of skill. The second is a focus on clever narration and how it drives the story, despite Pyre’s telling as more traditionally told than its predecessors. The third is similarly rooted art and sound design; Supergiant Games has developed a signature style that carries throughout all their games, bending just enough to match the tone of whatever project they undertake. Finally, the overall strength of its story-driven narrative tremors with inviolable impact.
There are two things I should make abundantly clear about Pyre:
First of all, Pyre is phenomenal. The sheer scale of the world and all it’s intricate construction is of the highest caliber. You travel through a treacherous land full of unruly folk and incredible history; a land that would gladly sing you its tales without reservation. This is far beyond simple world-building. Pyre is an exquisite example of world-crafting; aiming not only to be functional but so freakin’ artistic it’ll make you cry. There are nearly 20+ named characters in this adventure, and you will understand and experience them in earnest. There is such a deepness to each of them, you feel you could ask any of them a hundred personal questions and still not have all the answers. The story is fresh, not in the wholly original sense, but in terms of presentation, flavor and nuance. Here is a narrative in which every moment is worthwhile, every encounter stressful, and every conversation a blessing. While the gameplay takes its sweet time to open its shell, it reveals a magnificent black pearl, unique in all the world. It’s worth applauding a title that, in 2017, doesn’t compete with nearly any other existing game. It’s too special in execution and theme to be confused with anything else. Pyre wields a strong identity that many games today severely lack.
The second thing is far more personal. After having beaten the game and traversed its weaving narrative, I can say that I was more emotionally invested in Pyre than any other title this year. It’s characters were so rich and lifelike, I couldn’t help but feel for their plight. Walking into each Rite, you don’t just play the game, you carry the struggle and weariness of your fellow exiles. You are more participant than onlooker in the grand scheme of things. The direction of this story and outcome are yours alone. It’s very hard for this game not to start feeling intimate well before the first major decision; a pressure that perpetuates until the very end. I won’t spoil the game, but I almost feel there is little to spoil.
Regardless of how your travel differs through exile, the foundation here is a powerful and meaningful experience. Twenty dollars is a total steal, and if this should ever become a sale item, I would immediately thrust it to the forefront. Every title I’ve played from this team has offered not only a solid playthrough, but a revelation. Supergiant Games is a fiery crucible in which only the worthiest efforts emerge. Pyre upholds that legacy with a flame that may char your very heart into cinders, but you’ll wear its burnt brand with pride. Your journey will be so different from mine. I can’t wait to hear how you’ll traverse the Downside with wagon in tow.