Days after Supergiant Games announced Pyre, its latest project, the development team was at PAX East last weekend to showcase the game. Needless to say, the line to play an early version of the game was long. Fans of the studio’s previous games (Bastion and Transistor) stayed in line for hours to play, and it was well worth the wait.
The demo started as you were rescued by a trio of exiles: A large horned figure named Jodariel, a human called Hedwyn, and a dog-like being named Rukey. These exiles committed some sort of crime in the unseen city of the Commonwealth and were sent to another area called Downside as a form of punishment. However, all exiles have a chance to be clean of their sins and return to the Commonwealth through a trial called the Rites. With your help, as you seem to be the only one that can read the Book of Rites, the trio must travel Downside and compete in various Rites against other exiles in order to return to their beloved home.
Along the way, you’ll find out more about your three companions, as well the overall lore of the strange world. Most conversations are displayed in text, with certain words highlighted. You can hover over these few words to get additional background information. Most of the important information on the Rites is obviously found in the Book of Rites. The demo featured two pages of the legendary tome, but it seems that there’s more information as you progress through the dangerous trial.
Trial By Pyre
The main attraction, of course, are the many Rites that the trio has to perform in order to get one step closer to redemption. These events involve two teams of exiles: your team and another group that is also trying to win back passage to the Commonwealth. Both teams have a flaming signet, or Pyre, on their end of the field. In the middle of the area is a large glowing ball. Both teams will attempt to get to this ball and bring it to the opposing team’s Pyre, which will reduce the Pyre’s hit points. The first team to destroy the opposing Pyre wins the Rite.
It’s a basic concept that sounds like a strange version of American football. However, it has additional mechanics that make it even more interesting. You can temporarily “banish” opposing exiles by inflicting magical damage onto them, giving you the advantage in numbers. After a few seconds, the banished exile returns, which should give you enough time to get the orb into the opposing pyre. The banish mechanic works both ways, though. If you manage to touch an enemy exile or get caught in their magic attack, you could lose a team member for a short period of time. In other words, it’s similar to creating a power play in hockey.
There’s also elements of ultimate Frisbee in these Rites. The exile holding the orb will be the main target for opposing teams, but you can pass it around to other teammates as you move forward. If you drop it, you’ll have to get to it as fast as possible while banishing enemy exiles in the way if you want to win.
Jodariel, Hedwyn and Rukey are differently-sized beings, and their respective sizes determine their movement speed and the area affected by their magic attacks. Jodariel is the biggest of the three characters, so she moves the slowest. On top of that, she can sprint only for a short time. However, she has the widest area of effect with her magic attacks, which makes her effective in clearing out exiles. If you use her to deliver the orb to the pyre, she inflicts the most damage, as well.
Compare that to Rukey, the smallest of the group. He has the fastest movement speed, and he can sprint for a significant period of time. However, he inflicts only one point of damage to the pyre if he delivers the orb, and he has the narrowest area of effect for magic attacks. Finding a way to combine all three characters’ abilities, movement and attacks during the Rites is crucial if you want to win.
Putting It All Together
Of course, all of these tactics are easier said than done. The Rites are more like a real-time strategy game, as you have to continuously move your characters throughout the map while taking out exiles and throwing the orb into the pyre. But once you get acquainted with the mechanics, the Rites can make for some intense moments.
There was a long stretch in one match where I continuously used Jodariel to take out exiles while Hedwyn grabbed the orb to set up a long pass to Rukey, who tossed it into the pyre. As effective as Rukey was, he wasn’t the best path to victory with his one-hit-per-point every time. By clearing the path of enemies with Hedwyn, and distracting other opponents with Rukey’s agile movements, though, I could pass the orb to Jodariel who threw the orb into the pyre for three hit points.
It was so satisfying to see these small plans come together, and my head swirled with various “plays” that I could use to force enemy exiles into a specific location while my other players were moved around so that they could have a clear shot into the pyre. In that moment, the Rites didn’t seem like a trial of redemption; it felt like another intense sport, and I loved every minute of it.
The Story Unfolds
However, that’s not all there is to do in Pyre. Between Rites, you’ll have to travel across Downside with the group. With each passing day, you have keep yourself busy with other activities such as finding food for your “drive-imps,” who pull the group’s blackwagon; manage each character’s abilities; or converse with the group to learn more about the Rites or the crimes each of them committed to end up in Downside.
At the end of the demo, I didn’t want to leave the booth. I wanted to wait in line and play it again. Even in its early state, Pyre managed to pull me in with its story and characters, but more importantly, with the mechanics of the Rites. It’s fast-paced and exciting. We should see more of it at future gaming shows, but for everyone else, you’ll have to wait until 2017 to try out another seemingly-brilliant game from Supergiant Games.