Pyre is a sporting event with unprecedented mechanics that align to create a real-time, turn-based RPG inside of tightly-woven, character-centric visual storytelling. The way the game grounds itself in rituals and the way the characters are introduced blend together an experience with a lenient learning curve that grows in complexity and depth.
The video contains visual aids, context, and a lovely crow. There are no story spoilers.
The Stars Align
Now, what if I told you there was a game out there where unprecedented mechanics aligned to create a real-time, turn-based RPG sporting event inside of tightly-woven, character-centric visual storytelling?
You’d call me crazy, and you’d be right.
Pyre is real-time because everything and everyone moves at the same time. Except for the majority of the characters…
Which is why it’s also turn-based (or at least pseudo-turn-based), because you can only move ONE of your three characters, or Exiles, at a time.
So combine this strange combination of aspects and you got yourself an entirely new sport, except instead of the traditional sportsmanship and overall good vibes, we have triumvirates conducting Rites and banishing one another using their wrongdoing as a weapon and an Orb that absorbs said weapon that can quench the opposing team’s fire. Oh, sorry, I meant Pyre. (Get it?)
Triumvirates Have Their Roles
So the genius of this new sport is how each team’s role — whether offensive or defensive — is completely flipped on its head.
The offensive team is, rather surprisingly not the Cleveland Browns at an NFL game, but rather the team who currently holds the Orb and trying to score by diving into the opposing team’s Pyre.
The offensive team, ironically enough, has no offensive power. Whichever team holds the Orb is left vulnerable by removing the banishing Aura around them (and into the Orb), but passing also leaves them vulnerable since the defensive team can Aura Cast freely and the offensive team cannot. The defensive team can just knock out idle characters, but if they’re not careful, diverting their attention like that could allow Exiles to slip past with the Orb and score.
Offensive (Orb) Triumvirate:
- Able to score.
- Can attack (Aura & Aura Cast) freely.
So this is what I mean by flipping the team’s roles on their heads. Mobility and attack options are completely flipped to the point where the only way the offensive team can banish the defensive team is either by dropping the Orb and becoming neutral, or if by chance a defensive Exile runs straight into one of your idle Exiles.
You have to give cultists credit where credit’s due. The 8 founding fathers (Scribes) of these cults gave these poor Exiles hope and a future in a real-time, pseudo-turn-based sporting event that has more depth and skill than any other sport out there.
But hey, that’s not fair for me to say. I can at least make some comparisons to other sports.
For instance, Ultimate Frisbee, except the disc holder is the only one who can’t move.
In basketball, the players pass the ball around and try to score. Imagine basketball but only one person can move at a time. This could only be enforced in a video game, but the idea is there.
In Golf, one person hits the ball at a time.
And finally, each Exile wears a mask, just like in Soccer when guessing which country everyone is from.
Jumping and Hopping
I wanted to briefly and gratuitously touch on jumping and intercepting, because you can, in fact, jump over the Auras.
The jumping adds that extra depth needed to avoid Pyre’s gameplay from being too shallow or lacking any sort of variation, simply because it would become a cat-and-mouse game if you could only run around trying to get past a bunch of Aura walls or throw the Orb back and forth until Dean Takahashi beats Cuphead’s tutorial.
With a system as powerful as Auras, and with such a skillful yet just as powerful counter of jumping, right now it’s simply a game of Go Fish but every card in the deck is an Old Maid.
Which is exactly why jumps can be intercepted. When intercepted, the Orb is dropped and so Exiles can race to it.
It’s very important to note here that Exiles are not banished when their jumps are intercepted, since that would prove too harsh when trying to balance the two powerful systems at play.
- It would have an adverse effect when trying to avoid the cat-and-mouse style gameplay that Supergiant Games has already worked so hard to avoid.
- It would promote being more defensive rather than aggressive with the Orb.
- If an Exile is intercepted, more likely than not they’re at a stamina disadvantage from having to run and jump more often and frequently due to the lack of any Aura or attack methods.
The RPG Aspect
Now, the actual RPG aspect of this game is another step in the right direction away from the tedious individual character level-up systems that plague RPGs.
Each Exile chosen for a Rite gains experience called Enlightenment, which flows perfectly with the story, and everyone else gains what’s called Inspiration. When you do use inspired Exiles, they gain twice the amount of Enlightenment.
As the other Exiles wait to participate, why should their progress be halted? They’re still there with you on your journey. They’re still Inspired by watching the others compete in unity.
The story is tied directly to the gameplay through it characters, including you, the Reader.
The Reader overlooks the Rites and watches, directs, and chooses the Exiles during a Rite.
We’re taking the role as a literal player overlooking the battlefield and essentially directing our fellow Exiles, and it flows with the story flawlessly. What kind of game can pull that meta crap and get away with it in a serious manner? The Matrix?
But yes, Pyre does take it seriously. It becomes central to the plot at hand as characters confide in you and believe in you to make the right choices and to send them home.
And it’s not a gimmick. Unlike Shadow of War’s loot boxes.
So imagine overlooking a chess board and moving your pieces one at a time while a rather demanding and self-righteous voice sits across from you… right Dad?
Also, fun little fact! Literacy is illegal and is why you were exiled. Being able to read appears to mean being able to read English. Not only is the Book of Rites all in English before and after the text pops up at you, but Tree Man can also read and ends up speaking to you in English at one point before returning to the common tongue. That is such a cool notion that really ties the Reader concept together.
I Hear Voices
Pyre’s voice acting and soundtrack is brilliant.
The voice actors at first seem to simply relay the characters’ general sense of their voice, rather than the word-by-word narration seen in their previous games — Bastion and Transistor.
However, the voice acting actually relays more than a general sense of their voice. Their voices inflect, change depending on their mood or the emotions that they’re portraying, and utilize sounds in their speech. Pyre’s voice effects add a surprising amount of personality.
The voices, and each character’s backtrack for that matter, really reflect who they are and goes hand-in-hand with their dialogue to form their unique character.
Pyre’s Three Starting Characters[‘ Mechanics]
Now, let us dive into one of the most central mechanical points I want to make.
That is, the three starting characters — Hedwyn, Jodariel, and Rukey.
These three characters work together yet comprise almost the same moveset. The only initial differences are simply the movement — the speed and slight variations of dashes/runs — and the size of the Aura Cast. This gives each character the same overall initial feeling mechanically while retaining individuality enough until they start leveling up.
This is important since it makes the tutorial transition much easier. Once you are introduced to and get the hang of one character, the others come more naturally.
The Exiles gain new Masteries as they level up, or essentially new upgrades or abilities, which is where they truly diverge into their own uniqueness.
For instance, Jodariel can gain an extra dash and a passive that says adversaries banished by her take 30% longer than usual to return.
Hedwyn can gain passives that let his stamina last longer and his team’s stamina recover faster.
Rukey can end up jumping multiple times and can become more reliable by having a chance of returning from banishment faster.
So while each character starts with almost the same toolset, each of them ends up with their own individualized, unique Masteries that flesh out each character mechanically.
It’s most certainly the reason for Pyre having such a lenient learning curve despite the new sport and unprecedented gameplay.
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