Supergiant Games make it three for three with this three on three RPG.
I'm going to start this review off by saying that Pyre is unlike anything you've ever played. It's a fantasy sports RPG with hints of The Banner Saga (although not quite as depressing) that deals with fate, forgiveness and friendship.
That said, if you know and like Supergiant Games' other games, Transistor and Bastion, you will find plenty that's familiar. A twisted, shattered world populated with interesting, flawed characters, tragedy, humour and sacrifice, all wrapped up in gorgeous visuals and an amazing soundtrack.
You take on the role of The Reader, a literate individual in a world where literacy is prohibited. Cast out of the Commonwealth, landing in the Downside (think Australia in times of transportation) where you are taken in by a Triumvirate. This team of three needs you to guide them in the Rites, which are mystical three on three battles in which the team needs to douse the opposing Pyre while protecting their own. Each triumvirate jockeys for position in the hope of getting to a Liberation Rite, where one of their number, if victorious, will be returned in glorious fashion to the Commonwealth.
As your team travels the ruined world of the Downside, you make friends and enemies, attract new members to your team and battle other triumvirates. The RPG elements in Pyre are relatively simple: your team levels up depending on participation and performance in the rites, conversations reveal more about your team mates and the Blackwagon (your caravan/ship/zeppelin) fills with trinkets. As The Reader, you can use your downtime to mentor individual team members or educate yourself in the ways of the rites, which confers a smaller bonus to the entire team.
The Rites are the meat of the game. Choose your three from your roster, and face off against an opposing triumvirate. Here's where Supergiant do something quite special - your misfit roster is diverse and weird and they all have special skills. Your starting line up is made up of a dandy dog, Rukey, a warrior demon, Joladriel and a relatively normal human, Hedwyn. As the game progresses you meet a bog crone, an imp, and a worm knight, amongst others. The skills possessed by each team member vary wildly - Sir Gilman the worm, for example, can slash backwards across the playing field following his sticky worm trail, while Ti'zo the imp can hover over danger and move with quick dashes.
The main aim of the Rites is to slam the Celestial Orb (a shiny ball) into the opposing Pyre, gradually dousing the flames. The first to extinguish the opposing Pyre is the winner. Each team member has an Aura that can be used offensively as a blast, or defensively (a player carrying the Orb has no aura and can be disrupted by touching an opponent's aura). Managing the different auras and skills of each team member is essential to success, as being hit by an opponent (or indeed, scoring) banishes that team member. If you are banished by an opponent you return within a few seconds, but banishment by scoring removes that player until the next "goal". As you can only control one team member at a time, this all gets quite tactical. It's exciting, and when you're up against some of the harder teams you're forced to change your tactics on the fly, which can be a lot of fun.
Luckily there are practice modes, challenges and a whole slug-shop of talismans to aid you in your challenge. Outside of the main game there is a comprehensive versus mode which allows you to pick from a roster of all the main characters from the game, with powered up talismans. You can play 5 different difficulty levels against the CPU, or persuade a friend to join for some 3 on 3 local competition.
This wouldn't be a Supergiant game without some degree of emotional heft. As you are victorious in the Liberation Rites, you get to choose who gets returned to the Commonwealth, and who stays behind in the misery of the Downside. As the game progresses, the story arc makes this choice harder and harder, until an inevitable emotional climax. I was genuinely torn towards the end, feeling that certain characters deserved their freedom, while at the same time needing them as my team tactics revolved around them. I started to justify my choices to myself - of course so and so would be ok with staying, I should let someone else go... But in the end, it's a tough choice. The relationships that develop between the team mates themselves and you, the reader, make the end game tough to bear.
Again, as this is a Supergiant game, you can expect wonderfully stylized visuals, and Pyre does not disappoint. For me, it's the most beautiful of all their games, with a surprising amount of colour and light throughout the game. Character design is definitely out there but at the same time relatable (seriously, you'll love Sir Gilman the worm!). Music-wise, Supergiant stalwart Darren Korb does a bang-up job (again with the wonderful Ashley Barrett on vocals). The only thing missing is Logan Cunningham, but that would probably be asking too much.
In conclusion, Pyre is an experience you need to have. A new type of game which has beautiful art and great music, an emotional storyline, and relatable characters. Give it a go!