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Pyre is the latest game from Supergiant Games, the creators of Bastion and Transistor, set in an original world where those who break the law are exiled and have to participate in mystical sports-like rituals to return home. What this means is, above all else, Supergiant Games should be praised for not falling into a trap of creating an endless string of sequels, prequels, and other nasty things that come to mind when one hears the dreaded word "franchise".
Each of Supergiant's games is unique, both in terms of gameplay and presentation, and while you could draw some similarities between Bastion and Transistor in that they're both single-character plot-driven RPGs with mostly linear stories, Pyre is a different beast altogether. It's as if the developers tried to pull a “Costanza” and do the opposite of what their instincts told them. Surprisingly enough, they've actually sort-of, kind-of succeeded.
In Pyre, you play as a Reader. As the team has crafted it, this is a world where the ability to read books comes with the added bonus of being able to read minds. As such, literacy is prohibited by law, and for breaking that law you are exiled to the Downside. Now, Downside is a bit of a mix between an alternate dimension and that thing Hollow Earth theorists and Jules Verne talk about - an entirely separate ecosystem hidden deep beneath the surface of the world.
An exile to the Downside comes with a life sentence and upon weighing your odds, you decide to just sit in the middle of a desert and beat the system by shortening that sentence as much as you can. This is where you're discovered by a trio of travelers who have found a way to lead a miserable but sustainable existence in the Downside. Upon learning that you're a Reader, they ask you to decipher the Book of Rites, a sacred tome that's said to have clues on how to escape the Downside.
Flipping through the book, you learn about the Rites and how participating in them can lead you back home. The story gets more complicated later on, but already we can see the basic gameplay loop of Pyre – you travel across the Downside from one Rite to another, and then you take part in them as one of the multiple triumvirates, or teams, all competing for the same thing - freedom.
And even though the choices you make along the way affect your team's performance in the Rites in various minor ways, for the most part the journey and the Rites are two entirely separate things, so let's consider them separately.
Traversing the Downside
The first thing you notice about the Downside is how beautiful it is. Inhospitable, deadly, treacherous, but beautiful. Supergiant's art is second to none and Pyre is yet another example of that. Every single screen in the game oozes with style, Supergiant's attention to detail is staggering, and all in all, the game is simply a joy to look at.
The Blackwagon, your new mobile home, is pushed forward by specially trained drive-imps, and as the team's Reader you pick the destination by clicking on nodes at the frequent forks in the road, guided by your newfound companions' advice.
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