Pyre in the test - flames of freedom

Author: Rae Grimm
Date: 2017-07-27 07:30:00
With Pyre, Supergiant Games delivers one of the prettiest games of the year. In the test, we reveal what the mix of visual novel and group-based role play can do.

Fortunately, not everyone thinks that's bad. A diverse group of outcasts could use this rare ability and with our help they want to leave their exile behind and return to the Commonwealth in glory.

Colorful mix of genres

Thanks to his visual novel genes, Pyre has a strong text focus , which helps to better understand the unusual and original world. That the game is well written and never degenerates into an exposure apocalypse helps a lot. Nevertheless, Pyre is not for the reading lazy. The game tells its story of the struggle for freedom through conversations and entries in the "Book of Rites", a book in which we learn everything about the world of Pyre and its inhabitants.

Pyre does not use the usual fantasy drawer with dwarves, orcs and elves, but instead donates creative character design and exciting figures that we want to learn more about. There are, for example, the dog-like cur, the worm-like wyrm knight, the crones that are reminiscent of aging Medusa or the cute imps that look like a cute version of demonic birds.

Our party - the Nightwings - consists of representatives of each race, which we can see as a kind of class at the same time. In addition to their appearance and their backgrounds, they differ in their skills. Harpies like Pamitha are fast and, thanks to their wings, can fly over chasms and enemies, while the Wyrm Knights can jump far and catapult themselves over greater distances. The classes are well balanced, the biggest difference is in the way they move, which is a factor not to be underestimated on the battlefield.

When magic meets handball

In Pyre there is (at least at first glance) only one way to escape exile: by qualifying in so-called rites , a quasi-religious rite. This is a kind of team sport in which three people (a so-called triumvirate) compete against each other on two sides. The aim is to extinguish the fire (the eponymous Pyre, i.e. pyre) of the other team with the Celestial Orb before their own flames go out. The whole thing works like a kind of fantasy handball on an isometric battlefield. Instead of jerseys, however, the participants wear robes and masks, and instead of sporty finesse they use magic. And instead of gates there is the pyre to be extinguished.

Choices play a big part in Pyre. It starts with the choice of who is allowed into the arena. Each character and race comes with its own strengths and weaknesses. As a demon, Jodariel has a heavier build and a larger aura - a kind of protective shield - than other characters, but also moves more slowly. However, it is worth it if it creates such pressure waves with one jump that it knocks the opponents back. Curs like Rukey and Wyrms like Sir Gilman are small and fast and therefore manage to avoid enemies and catapult themselves into enemy fire, but their auras are also smaller.

The aura is important because it serves as a protective shield that can send the opponent in possession of the orb into time out. If our team has the orb (i.e. the ball), the corresponding character temporarily loses its aura and is therefore much more vulnerable. At the push of a button we switch back and forth between the figures, because only one person per team is allowed to move.

Sometimes characters simply don't want to or can't go into battle. For example, because you and another character are not green, because they have been through previous fights and need a break, or because they do not consider themselves worthy.

Consequences & the nemesis system

It is exciting to see how the various decisions in Pyre affect. As usual in visual novels, the focus outside of the fighting is on conversation. On minimally animated screens, we can shape our own character by choosing our background story or influencing the relationship with the companions. For example, if we tell an insecure Rukey that his mustache is not as chic as he thinks, he will not take it positively and lose hope, which will affect his speed of return after being exiled in the next fight.

No less exciting is the fact that we ourselves decide which characters disappear from the game . If we win one of the special rites, then one of our companions is allowed to leave the exile. Who, that's in our hands - provided the candidates have already proven themselves worthy. Only experienced Nightwings with a certain level are allowed to return to the Commonwealth. So we have to decide whether we want to give a friendly character freedom, but permanently lose a valued friend and fighter, or whether we want to get rid of a pain in the ass.

The highlight of the matter: In order to get rid of unloved characters, we still have to play with them sufficiently beforehand, because otherwise they have not qualified for freedom. Pyre's mechanics force us to play with all characters and even release our favorites at some point. A farewell that is not always easy, not just in terms of play.

Instead, the characters either mourn the defeat or are happy about the victory until they meet again at some point. Because in Pyre we always compete against the same groups, almost like in the real Bundesliga. And just like in real team sports, the teams change with every match and get stronger. For example, because they were inspired by their victory or motivated by their defeat. Or through new, better team members.

Wonderful diversity

While the Nemesis system is quite exciting, it cannot prevent boredom later in the game. Our opponents are a wild mixture of creatures and personalities, but a little more variety would not have hurt in the end. It doesn't help that our main opponent is perhaps the palest figure we encounter in exile.

And as beautiful as the hand-painted backgrounds and characters are, at some point we saw all of the battlefields. The developers try to keep the look of Pyre fresh through different seasons, but with only ten arenas, the variety is still limited. In addition, the obstacles that appear on the field differ almost exclusively in appearance. Be it thorny tendrils, a chasm or mysterious signs on the ground that cannot be crossed - in the end they are all just different blockages.

Nice, nice, Pyre

Pyre is beautiful. Or better: Pyre is breathtakingly beautiful . Thanks to the many loving details, the hand-painted fantasy world is bursting with atmosphere, and even if we complain about the lack of variety in the level design, it's hard to get tired of Pyre.

The wonderful graphics go hand in hand with atmospheric lighting effects as well as a fantastic sound design and soundtrack and create such an atmospheric complete package as we now expect from Supergiant Games. Even if you don't know who developed Pyre, you will recognize the visual signature of the makers of Transistor and Bastion. And that is an achievement that not every developer can achieve by far.