No Man's Sky Atlas Rises Review
Atlas Rises represents the best-case scenario in a post No Man’s Sky release world but it’s still a tough sell.
Amazing art direction that makes you want to plaster your walls in fancy prints of your screenshots.
While technically being unique is a tall order for any game, this one gets pretty darn close and does something special.
Memorable and well written characters you'll probably wish were real.
This game has an outstanding soundtrack. You'll probably want the vinyl.
This is the type of game you show your new TV off to your friends with. It looks that good.
Few indie developers are given the amount of respect that Super Giant Games enjoys and so whenever they release a game, a lot of people pay attention. I wasn’t surprised then when Pyre became much talked about and the community asked for me to give it a look. Having played both Bastion and Transistor I too was interested in what direction Pyre would be taken in and if it stood up against the waves of hype.
When trying to describe Pyre you might find it a bit more difficult than most games if only because it’s a fairly unique mashup that’s also presented in a fairly unique way. I’ve seen folks describe it as basketball, soccer (or football for those of you across the pond should I have offended you), and capture the flag. Of course, at the macro level Pyre is a simple RPG, but the reason it gets likened to a handful of sports is because of its core gameplay feature – the Rites.
Pyre sees you taking the role of another exile in The Downside, cast out of the Commonwealth. You’re found in a less than lively state by a trio of other exiles who eventually take you in. Luckily for them you’re what’s known as a “Reader” and are a very necessary piece to a puzzle laid out before them by a generous benefactor. There’s apparently a way out of The Downside, and they’re going to need your help to make that dream a reality. As it turns out, all that stands between you and freedom is a few cosmic hand-foot-basket-flag-ball games. Ok, more than a few games.
These games are referred to as Rites – an age-old trial by fire of sorts that ultimately determines eligibility of a Triumvirate (that’s roughly old Roman speak for a team of three) to chase down that freedom. Both sides may choose three members of their respective team to represent them on the field. An orb is spawned in the center of the playing field with the goal of bringing that orb to the opposing team’s Pyre. Both sides also have a Reader who ultimately gives commands to those on the field as they cannot act of their own volition in the Rites. That is, of course, where you come in.
As you progress you’ll encounter and acquire all manner of party members that all bring their own skill sets to the Rites. There are classes of sorts that determine the base size and movement capabilities of all involved as you’d imagine, and you can unlock individual abilities that will flesh out each party member to suit your play style. You’ll also have access to items and trinkets that grant bonuses to further improve your team when necessary, some of which you’ll be able to purchase while others you’ll have to acquire in other ways. The last caveat here is that only one member can be moved at a time. All of this comes together to present a very complex system for a simple game of would-be capture the flag especially when you take into consideration the variations of the battlefields you’ll encounter, but disappointingly it doesn’t quite achieve its potential for a variety of reasons.
The big problem here is that there is only really one way to “score” points and that’s to get the orb into the opposing team’s Pyre. As such that tends to immediately lend itself to a speed first, tactics later mindset. Sure you can attempt to skillfully outplay the enemy with elaborate passing plays that would make for pretty highlight reels, but depending on difficulty chosen that adds difficulty in ways you might not find particularly fulfilling. You see the AI in Pyre tends to occupy one of two states – deer in headlights, or Michael Jordan taking on a team of toddlers. During the latter it is nigh on impossible to keep pace with the movement and you’ll be left on the floor, head spinning as you try to figure out what just happened and how.
This isn’t really a git gud type scenario because as I mentioned you’re often going to also see the AI struggle to sort out what it wants to do, leaving you free to do almost anything without opposition. For me that resulted in the aforementioned speed first, ask questions later composition which served me well for almost every situation I faced short of Michael Jordan showing up to play. As such the matches were usually over in a couple of minutes and in some cases done in less than a minute. It eventually turned the Rites into a chore more than a functionally fun part of the gameplay loop and so when things were janky or out of place my patience for it was thin. This was made worse by something I’d hoped not to see in another game for a while.
For some this might be a compliment but coming from me it’s not. Pyre pulls a NieR:Automata and sees you complete what many would consider to be a beginning through end only to have you repeat the same loop several more times before getting any further narrative progression. As soon as it was revealed I was so disappointed because the game was genuinely going along at a great pace until then. After that turning point Pyre’s pacing becomes messy and monotonous for questionable levels of payoff. While Pyre has great fundamental lore and characters in place, there is very little undulation in the narrative which results in very limited personal involvement. There’s no real major feeling of drama, no real sense of urgency even when there’s supposed to be, and no real story hooks that are presented in such a way that you’re dying to know what comes next.
This is a real shame because Pyre is a gorgeous game that presents so well. It’s visually stunning and the soundtrack is equally so. Make no mistake, this is very much a Super Giant Games production and I doubt anyone who had played their previous titles would be able to mistake Pyre for anything but. The way you are moved around the map is so beautifully done, and the music seamlessly flows with your travels and even the dialogue pacing. The one gripe I do have with the presentation, however, is that someone thought it was a good idea to duck the music tracks during sound effects in the Rites. It sounds awful and does no justice to the score or the sound design in general.
I feel like there may have been some thread being woven throughout Pyre about justice, redemption, and the road back to it but it didn’t quite completely get out in the open for me if that was the case. There’s a seemingly intentional move to make losing Rites not the be all end all, and the different endings are also playing to the idea that not everything or everyone is perfect but it doesn’t always have to be that way and often isn’t by design. If you spent enough time thinking about your time with Pyre you might glean more from it, but that pacing shift and narrative delivery kind of gets in the way of what may have been the real message underlying Pyre’s story and characters.
The lasting impression for me after my time with Pyre was one of frustration. I was frustrated because I wanted to enjoy my time with it more. The way it presents itself is so fantastic and engaging but the follow up just never came. The pacing falling apart coupled with a singular gameplay element that similarly struggles to leave the ground and reach its potential left me feeling melancholy for all the wrong reasons come the end of the game. It seems though that most people genuinely enjoyed their time with the game and so as always, take my words with a grain of salt. Where I found faults, others found successes and so be mindful of that.
At the very least, Pyre is a Super Giant Games production and that in and of itself will likely be enough for many to give it a shot and should you be a fan of their previous works please do. For those who are perhaps looking for something with a bit more gameplay variety and depth, then Pyre may not be the game for you. Personally, I feel the narrative delivery to be Pyre’s ultimate fault and in an RPG, that’s generally a hard hurdle to overcome. If Pyre’s beautiful presentation and generally unique experiences are enough for you then consider picking it up. For everyone else, it might be worth it to wait and see what Super Giant Games next has in store.
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