Like Supergiant Games’ previous games Bastion and Transistor, Pyre has striking aesthetics, a poignant soundtrack, a world that arouses intrigue and a narrative that focuses on internal and external journeys. Except, there’s one major difference, it’s a sports game. However, the combatants in Pyre aren’t playing for a championship trophy, they’re playing for a chance to escape from an interminable purgatory imposed onto them by the country they once inhabited.
The country responsible for creating these exiles is called the Commonwealth, the purgatory they’re banished to is known as the Downside. Unfortunately for you, you’re occupying the latter. You play as the Reader, an exile on the verge of succumbing to the unrelenting conditions of the Downside until you’re rescued by a passing trio of exiles. The Downside contains people from all walks of life and your saviours are no exception – there’s a scrappy cur named Rukey, an austere man named Hedwyn and an imposing female demon by the name of Jodariel. Why they’re exiled is unimportant, what is important, is that they know a way to freedom. You’re informed by the trio that exiles are able to return to the Commonwealth if they atone for their sins by successfully competing in a ritual known as the Rites. Thankfully for you, they need your skills in order to participate – and are thus recruited by the band of bandits on their journey for salvation.
As you’ve probably gathered by now, Pyre is not a conventional sports game. If anything, it’s one half sports game, one half party-based RPG. Upon being recruited, you’re immediately thrown into the ritualistic game of Rites. The Rites consists of two teams of three, competing for a chance to return to the Commonwealth. The aim is simple, both teams have a flaming pyre on their side of the arena. In the centre of the arena is a large celestial orb that both teams must try and take possession of in order to put it into the other team’s pyre. Every time a team successfully does this, its hit points are reduced. The first team to extinguish their opponent’s pyre wins the Rite and moves one step closer to liberation. To add the theatricality of the Rites, the games are commentated on by a disembodied voice who sounds like Alan Rickman mixed with Scar from The Lion King.