"Pyre brings new meaning to the term 'Fantasy Sports.'"
Supergiant Games is a small independent game studio that made big waves with their first two titles, 2011's Bastion and 2014's Transistor. Supergiant's newest game is Pyre, a unique action RPG set in a beautiful, barren wasteland where the only means of escape is to defeat other crews of exiles in sacred rites, which resemble 3-on-3 basketball games. Pyre was not playable on the show floor at E3, but Supergiant's Greg Kasavin and Amir Rao held appointments to show a playable demo of the PS4 version.
The main characters of Pyre are a team of three exiles traveling in a caravan and the player-character called "The Reader." The Reader possesses the uncommon ability to read star patterns, which show the location of the next Rites. The specific end goal of the game is unclear at this time, but the player will need to complete some number of Rites before travelers can reach their destination. The Reader does not take part in the Rites - your team of ritual warriors are the large, imposing Jodariel, the average-sized Hedwyn, and the small, doglike Rukey. The Reader's image is never shown, and their identity and purpose is unclear at first. More details about the Reader, the exiles, and the world of Pyre will be revealed as the story progresses.
Pyre's overall gameplay loop takes place in three phases: traveling over a world map in the daytime, performing one of several actions during nighttime, and partaking in Rites at specific places and times. During the nighttime decision-making phase, players can choose to mentor one of the three exiles for bonus enlightenment, study in private to obtain party-wide skills, or forage for items to give bonuses to one of the exiles. There are also shops, scripted sequences, and randomly-determined events that can affect the team's travel and resources.
The Rites themselves are Pyre's version of combat, but involve two teams of three defending burning ritual pyres. Players try to wipe out the other team's pyre by seizing a glowing orb, and either tossing it or carrying it into the other team's pyre. When holding the orb, players can manipulate the orb-carrier into moving, passing the orb to a teammate, throwing the orb into the pyre, or performing special movies - Jodariel has the strongest attacks and slowest movement, while Rukey hits the lightest, though is by far the quickest. Players can only control the orb-carrier on offense, but can switch between exiles on the fly when the other team has the orb. Your team plays defense by attacking and obstructing the opponent's orb-carrier, but other teams can employ passing and special moves just like yours. After competing in Rites, the three exiles gain "enlightenment" (basically experience points) and can improve stats and learn new special skills in character-specific skill trees. And if you lose the Rites, it's not game over. Pyre has no fail-state that requires players to restart or go back to a previous save point. Losing a Rite is a setback, but it will never generate a permanent Game Over screen.
Visually, Pyre is stunning. The Rites are dimly-lit struggles illuminated by the iridescent orb and colorful burning pyres; each world map screen is a jewelry box of colorful skies and terrain. The movement of the exiles during Rites and the caravan during travel is jaunty. There are several zones to travel between (as opposed to a single, contiguous world map) but only the first zone was shown in the demo. Darren Korb is performing Pyre's soundtrack, and it sounds similar to his work in Bastion and Transistor. This is hardly a complaint, as both of those games had stellar soundtracks and sound design. The textured, gravelly voice of Logan Cunningham also returns to Pyre, where he serves as the announcer and commentator for Rites. Previously, Cunningham was the old narrator in Bastion and the voice of the sword in Transistor.
Pyre brings new meaning to the term "Fantasy Sports." The world map travel evokes Oregon Trail, the Rites resemble an action RPG version of NBA Jam, and there are multiple story paths and a few semi-random story elements, ensuring that every playthrough of Pyre is totally unique; Greg Kasavin indicated that Pyre walks the line between a linear story and a procedurally generated series of plot points. There's still plenty to be revealed about Pyre, especially its larger story, but its gameplay is totally unique and execution looks great. After finishing the Pyre demo, our social media editor concluded: "I've never played anything like this."