E3 2016: The road to freedom is a long and difficult one in Pyre

Supergiant Games has built an interesting collection of work. First they began with a traditional action role-playing game in Bastion, then a strategy/action game hybrid in Transistor, and now a role-playing game/sports hybrid with Pyre. You can never tell what they’re gonna make next, but if there’s one thing you can count on, it’s that their work is certain to be intriguing. Although Pyre wasn’t officially at E3 this year, we were lucky enough to get a peek at the game courtesy of creative director Greg Kasavin.

Pyre casts you in the role a relatively new exile. You’ve been ousted from your home for reasons unknown, left to fend for yourself in the outside world. And you haven’t done well on that front. The game begins some time into your exile. You’re wounded and starving, almost on the brink of death. Just as all hope seems lost, however, a trio of masked exiles finds and nurses you back to health.

You’re brought into their wagon and the group introduces themselves. The man who stitched you up is named Hedwyn. He’s joined by Jodariel, a large horned woman, and Rukey, a small canine-like creature. Throughout the conversations thus far, certain words were highlighted. By moving the cursor over them, you can read some background info on characters and locations. It’s elegant solution to the usual writing problem of figuring out when to dole out exposition, and a handy reference whenever you forget something about the current topic of discussion. It’s through these footnotes that you learn a lot about the world. It also elaborates on your own dialog options to give you a better sense of the tone your responses carry.

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The trio didn’t help you purely out of the kindness of their hearts, though. They did so on the suspicion that you can read, a skill reserved for only the most privileged in society, for they are looking for a way to escape their exile and believe the answer to be contained within one of the many books their wagon holds. You pick one up and faint within seconds of scanning its pages. When you awake, you all find yourselves transported to otherworldly plane. A voice from on high explains that this is an initiation to an event known as the “rites,” a series of challenges that allow exiles a chance to be reaccepted into civilization.

The rites play out like a sport. You and the opposing team compete to plunge an orb into the other team’s flame, thereby weakening it. Each team has three members, usually consisting of small, medium, and large characters. In the case of my team, those roles were filled by Rukey, Hedwyn, and Jodariel, respectively. How many points are taken off the other team’s flame is determined by the player’s size. Bigger characters take off three points, whereas smaller characters take off only one. The catch is that whoever plunges the orb into the flame is absent for the next round. So while you can try and slowly guide Jodariel there to deal the most damage, doing so could potentially leave your defense wide open.

Playing defense is primarily a game of positioning. You can only control one character at a time, so while one is rushing toward the orb, the other two remain stationary to guard your own flame using their aura. Aura is a field that instantly knocks any member of the opposing team out of the game for a few seconds if they pass through it. The range of their aura corresponds to the size of the unit. The bigger they are, the larger their aura is. You can bypass it by jumping over it, however, or by firing off some magic of sorts (but only if you’re not carrying the orb).

This first game is merely a practice round, but it still takes a bit of effort to win. Granted, that was mostly due to me still getting used to the mechanics, as the match itself was relatively straightforward. The second game was where things kicked off in earnest. The other team in that rite were far more aggressive, their defense harder to bypass.

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Before the other rite began, however, we had to get there first. The road ahead split into two paths. The high road led to a small town where someone who owes Rukey a favor lives, while the lower path led through glade that Jodariel was confident would hold something of value. Both lead to the same destination, but what you find on the way is important. Every step of the journey consumes food for the animals that pull the wagon. If you don’t have enough, you’ll be in trouble. That wasn’t a concern in the demo, luckily, but the addition of resource management was unexpected. There’s a lot of systems in place here.

The second rite wasn’t much different from the first, only now I was playing against another proper team as opposed to ghostly replicas of my comrades. They put more of a fight and forced me to actually swap between offense and defense. No small feat when I was carrying the ball for most of the game. At the end of the match, the team earned some experience points. Once they level up, you can upgrade various attributes such as the size of their aura or movement speed. Incremental growth, sure, but it provided a nice window into how the role-playing game elements manifest.

The demo ended shortly after. There was some brief resource management during the time between rites, but I didn’t get enough time to examine it closely. Based on what I played, though, Pyre definitely shows promise. The storytelling feels more traditional than their previous games, but it still has that Supergiant flair for efficiently delivering exposition and lore.

Pyre will be out on PlayStation 4 and PC sometime in 2017.

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