PAX West 2016: Lighting the Pyre

Supergiant Games’ next release is Pyre, a unique mix of Rocket League and Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles that is hard to explain but intuitive to control. With the gorgeous art design, music and dialogue that Supergiant is known for, the game is likely to both excite gamers looking for a unique new experience. The alpha build demo at PAX West 2016 introduces us to Hedwyn, Rukey and Jodariel as the party that joins us as the Reader, a mysterious leader who reads from an ancient tome of knowledge as the story progresses.

The art style and dialogue choices in the narrative mode are reminiscent of The Banner Saga, a blend of thinly inked lines and rich colours with a layered element design style that look like panels from a luxurious graphic novel. The soundtrack has a softer tone and aesthetic than the operatic techno jazz of Transistor or the folk strings in Bastion, an exciting development for gamers like me who love the standalone soundtracks as much as anything else for Supergiant titles.

 

The combat is really different in comparison to Bastion’s real time action platform approach and Transistor’s use of alternating between real time movement and paused attack sequencing. Pyre’s combat is a 3 versus 3 goal scoring battle where players can grab a central orb that you can carry it through running and jumping or pass it immediately to a teammate, options that reward those with experience playing sports titles such as Madden or FIFA that require frequent passing. Characters without the orb emit an aura that destroys enemies upon contact (hence the Final Fantasy reference to the protective Crystal Chalice) or emit a beam attack with the same effect to defend their goal. Each character’s varying size impacts their aura size, movement speed and the point value of their score on the opponent goal or namesake pyre, with the first team to score 10 points moving on as the winner.

The game’s battle system sounds like a lot but it’s easy to learn through the introductory tutorial, layering in advanced techniques such as using characters to zone defend with their auras and timing sprint + jump to evade attacks or leap over defenders when attacking can be learned in a round or two.

Between battles, our group travels in an Oregon Trail style wagon that moves between checkpoints towards a target destination that offer the opportunity to Forage Resources, Study or Mentor at each stop. Forage sets the Reader off to survey the surrounding area for building elements for eventual use (but not in the demo), while Study reveals more of the in-game tomb of lore and Mentor raises the enlightenment of your selected party member. It’s an interesting way to add dynamic party evolution while remaining on one of the development focuses of the Pyre universe by building up the character abilities, lore and arsenal on each step of the journey.

The safe move would have been to develop another platform title in the style of their previous hits, but Supergiant instead takes a bold direction that may be polarizing for fans with set expectations. Pyre is scheduled for a 2017 release on PlayStation 4 and PC; based on my initial experience, it promises to be a unique and unforgettable game.

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