Ever have a game you’ve wanted to exist for years and then something that sounds like it’s going to hit that mark is announced, and you’re worried it’s going to disappoint, but then it doesn’t? That’s Pyre for me. For ages I’ve wanted something that transposes the /just one more game/ element of games like Football Manager, FIFA Manager Mode, NBA2k/Madden GM Mode into a fantasy or sci fi world. I’ve also had a fascination with the idea of a society that intertwines politics and solves disputes through athletic competition. So, the high concept of Pyre is extremely my cup of tea. And in playing it, it did not disappoint.
My favorite thing about this game is how it re-contextualizes my favorite parts of sports games, and of sports themselves (making obvious the ritualistic parallels that modern sports have to religion in the process). The game shines in emphasizing small changes over time, and instead of ‘this player did his knee—out for season’ or ‘this player plays for another team now’ the small changes were character based and/or reflected you chipping away at your ultimate goal. It gave those changes real weight, relating to season to season growth, loss, and interaction between your “team” and the world it existed in.
It helps that the Rites themselves are also a blast. The play styles of various characters encourage a lot of interesting team composition, and the way you have to adapt as you lose players made the game a consistent challenge. Multiple times I developed a strategy and started rolling with it only to lose a key cog for a Rite, or permanently, and develop another strategy. Whether it was bodying people with Jodariel, dashing through them with Pamitha, darting around them with Rukey, being everywhere at once with Ti’Zo, or ‘pulling up from 40 with my shorty’ Rhae, I found the Rites a joy to play. In my ideal world, there would be an online multiplayer component, but as I understand it that’s one of the things that just wasn’t feasible for a team the size of Supergiant.
The game also managed to make me care about my opponents to the point that in my current, hard mode play through, I’m absolutely throwing two specific matches to put Dalbert and Oralech over. It’s super interesting to see a game embrace defeat the way it does, and in my opinion absolutely makes good on their early promise of defeat not being a failure state.
I had a conversation with Jade_Kiwi on discord and she had a completely different deep read of the game than I did, one focusing on the responsibility of academia and privilege relating to Volfred and the Commonwealth. And an incredibly interesting point she brought up was that one of the first things you’re told is “That you possess [the book of rites], and have capacity to glean its words, is testament enough to your potential” And how this speaks to a false meritocracy on a lot of levels, but where my mind immediately went was Waypoint Radio 111 where Austin and Rob talk about the failures of the new Madden Story mode and the racism leveled at African American quarterbacks. The only reason your character is special is because you’ve got the book and I’m not a good enough writer to explain why that’s a profound statement within the context of the game.
I could go on for way too long about this game, and need to save some stuff for the Favorite Music thread (Korb’s soundtrack has the range, anchored by a combination of mandolin, harpsichord, and industrial/Drum’N’Bass motifs, it set such a mood), Favorite Aesthetic Thread (the psychadelic dystopian hell we are playing in is the most interesting take on a dystopia or a hell in a long time), and Favorite Characters (Dalbert Oldheart, my heart) threads — where I’ll be Nominating this game as well. Suffice to say this game nails just about everything it set out to do, it’s the game I thought about most this year, and it’s the one that, while I was playing it, I was most conscious of the fact that it was special and I wanted to savor it.