No Game Over: Pyre and the Acceptance of Failure

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I had mixed feelings about Pyre, the recently released tactical RPG by Supergiant Games. Despite my misgivings on how the story and gameplay were structured, I was fascinated by Pyre’s complete lack of a traditional Game Over screen. Unlike most video games, Pyre forces you to accept the consequences of failure.

Warning: Spoilers for Pyre!

Pyre is dressed like the beautifully crafted, voiced, and orchestrated RPG that we’ve come to expect from Supergiant, developers of Bastion and Transistor. But its unique combat system is modeled after a sports match, closely resembling 3-on-3 basketball.

The initial narrative follows a linear journey through the prison world known as the Downside. You and your recruited team face-off against teams of other competitors, all eager to escape this world by competing in the Rites. Naturally the Rites involve trying to get a mystical ball into your opponents’ goal, er, pyre.

The story accepts your results whether you win or lose any given match. That’s a shockingly mind-blowing way of handling an RPG, where falling in combat usually requires you to either restart the battle or reload an earlier save.

But Pyre is set up more like seasons in sports, which encompass multiple games of wins and losses. While you can certainly attempt to finish the game with an undefeated record, the story doesn’t require it. In fact it presents a rather nasty difficulty spike during your second championship match: the Liberation Rite.

The speed and efficiency of my suddenly very competent opponent caught me completely by surprise. I lost the match handily. I grew upset at how I felt cheated by this suddenly very aggressive and competent AI. I expected to be treated to a Game Over screen so I could try the match again.

But it never came. I watched as the enemy team’s leader was granted her freedom, and my own team fretted. We returned to the wagon, licking our wounds and promising to each other to do better next time. I realized the game was teaching me an important lesson: it’s okay to lose, even on the big stage.


Video games have relied on the Game Over crutch for decades. It’s a simple feedback loop – if you can’t complete this task, keep trying until you do. Occasionally an RPG may force you into an unwinnable battle, knocking out your green team while showing off the strength and power of the big bad. Your team gets beaten up and flees, or is captured, or the big bad laughs and runs off. It’s a scripted event, one that the game designed for you to fail as part of the story. Success was merely an illusion.

Many modern western RPGs and adventure games like to offer you real choices and options, from where you go to whom you ally with. There could be many different ways to role-play a character. Sometimes you may have to decide who lives and dies. Games like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and Fallout love giving you tons of options and freedom with exploration and quests.

But these choices and paths rarely include failure as a real option. They’re still telling the same story, and require you to mostly play along, tweaking some details here and there. But should you fall in battle, your character isn’t captured or slain, and you aren’t forced to live with the consequences. It’s Game Over, man.

Pyre’s story can change dramatically depending on how often you fail. A caveat is built in to the story to make sure you always reach the Liberation Match in each season, despite your W-L record. This does make individual matches mean a lot less in the long run, though you’ll gain better experience by winning.

Winning and losing the Liberation matches are where the story can really change direction. As an additional quirk, winning the championship match also causes you to lose a player, as they ascend from the Downside. You need to release these players in order to improve your chances at receiving the better endings. Losing thus comes with a consolation prize: you’re not down a player for the next season.

game over

As a lower budget indie game Pyre can alter its ending quite dramatically. The ending is told through simple vignettes and slides of the various players, both friends and foes. The concept of multiple endings is certainly not unique to Pyre – Chrono Trigger had over a dozen back in 1995. But your ending is directly related to how well you perform in the Liberation matches, as well as the choices you make with which of your characters can earn their freedom. Even if you manage a perfect record, there’s not enough tickets for everyone to make it home.

Many action games as well as Telltale’s episodic adventure games could greatly evolve by learning from Pyre. Games like The Walking Dead and Guardians of the Galaxy tell heavily scripted stories that offer dramatic choices throughout key moments.

I love that in most of their dialogue scenes refusing to say anything is a valid option. However during action moments if you miss a quick-time event a character typically dies or fails, and it’s Game Over. Likewise many action games like Tomb Raider employ quick-time events during tense dramatic moments. You fail, Lara dies, Game Over.

The dramatic tension of these situations are quickly drained when you have to restart the whole scene. How much more interesting it would be if your character were injured from the failure, and you had to keep going?

A few modern examples do provide interesting twists to failure. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor’s entire Nemesis system is built around falling to one of Sauron’s Uruk. Any Uruk who survive an encounter with the player, or even manage to slay them are promoted to captains, gaining new abilities and powers. It provides a unique system that catapulted Shadow of Mordor into a memorable experience.

game over

State of Decay also plays around with failure using  permadeath. In a zombie-infested world you can locate randomly generated survivors to add to your growing colony. As a third-person action game you control one of these survivors at a time as you scavenge for supplies. But should you get overrun by the undead, that survivor is gone forever. They drop whatever they were carrying, morale is shaken at the colony, and you have one less ally on your team. It creates a tense, pulse-pounding scenario when things get bad, as you can’t rely on the crutch of reloading to save a favorite character.

Pyre’s failure isn’t as dire as killing off characters, but I appreciate a game that can cleverly incorporate real, meaningful failure into its narrative. More games should learn how accepting failure as a valid option can enrich the experience, provided the other gameplay systems support it.



Pyre Review: Remember the Nightwings

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Available On: PC, PlayStation 4

If you hear about RPGs and Sports games, you may recall the RPG-like campaign stories injected into otherwise traditional sports, such as The Journey mode in FIFA 17, or the new Longshot mode in upcoming Madden NFL 18.

Pyre, beloved indie studio Supergiant games’ third title, does the opposite. Sports-like gameplay is integral to escaping the intriguing fantasy world that you and your diverse band of outcasts are trapped within. The results are an innovative sports-as-combat battlefield that meshes well with Supergiants’ heavy focus on story-telling, art design, and music, though Pyre ultimately falls short of their previous efforts.
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Supergiant Games Announces Pyre Release Date

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One of my most anticipated games of the year finally has a release date. Pyre will launch July 25 for PC and PlayStation 4 for $19.99. You can pre-order to get 10% off.

Pyre is an RPG that takes place in a Purgatory-like world called the Downside. Your party of exiles will strive to return to their world by competing in Rites, which resemble 3v3 sports matches. The goal is to extinguish your opponent’s signal flame while protecting your own. You can equip your chosen teammates with Talismans and Masteries.

Pyre features a branching story. Even if you lose a match there is no Game Over screen. The result of each Rite will form different paths and stories. Supergiant Games claims that no two stories will be exactly alike, creating a more personal narrative.

Two-player local multiplayer will also be included with the Versus Mode. Versus Mode lets you choose from over 20 characters in the single player campaign to compete against each other in a Rite match (you can also play versus the CPU). This will be the first time Supergiant Games have included a multiplayer option in a game.

Pyre is the third game from indie developer Supergiant Games. Supergiant Games exploded onto the scene with 2011’s Bastion and roared back with 2014’s Transistor. Both games featured emotional stories, phenomenal voice acting, great art, fun combat, and stellar soundtracks.

Supergiant Games’ audio director and composer Darren Korb returns for Pyre with over 90 minutes of music. The soundtrack will be available through Steam and on the official website.

Pyre launches July 25 for PC (Steam) and PlayStation 4.


the legend of zelda: breath of the wild

30 Games to Get Excited About in 2017

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Every year is seemingly the best game ever for gaming. But 2017 will give us a new Mass Effect, new Zelda, and new Nintendo console with the Nintendo Switch. That’s an incredible lineup, and there’s even more to come, like Super Mario Odyssey, Red Dead Redemption 2, and Horizon Zero Dawn. Indie titles continue to generate huge buzz as well, with games like Yooka-Laylee, Tacoma, and Night in the Woods coming this year.

Read on for our 30 most anticipated games of 2017.

For Everyone:


Cuphead has been in development for years and delayed several times. But it’s looking like 2017 will finally let us play this unique side-scrolling shooter set in a striking world of retro animation.

Mid-2017 (PC, XBO)


Deformers looks like someone took a goofy ’90s toy line and turned it into a physics-based arena brawler. Super Smash Bros. with balls?

February 14 (PC, PS4, XBO)

Ever Oasis

Remember one of the few new games Nintendo announced during last year’s E3? Ever Oasis looks like a charming action-RPG mash-up of Zelda and Animal Crossing.

2017 (3DS)

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

The Legend of Zelda is one of the most beloved franchises in all of gaming, and Breath of the Wild is set to shake up the standard formula in some stunning ways. The biggest new addition is a true open world for Link to explore.

March 3 (Switch, Wii U)

LEGO Worlds

It’s LEGO meets Minecraft in this multiplayer build ’em up. It’s been on Steam Early Access since June of 2015, and finally getting a proper release date this February.

February 24 (PC, PS4, XBO)

Poochy & Yoshi’s Woolly World

If you missed the excellent Wii U version, Yoshi’s Woolly World is coming to Nintendo 3DS. This edition is optimized for the 3DS, and includes new bonus levels featuring Yoshi’s new adorable sidekick Poochy.

February 3 (3DS)

Splatoon 2

A sequel to one of the Wii U’s best games was announced during the Nintendo Switch Presentation. Splatoon 2 is very a much a sequel – retaining the solid paint-shooting, team-based battles with more weapons, stages, outfits, etc.

Summer 2017 (Switch)

Super Mario Odyssey

With a new Nintendo console comes new Mario games. Super Mario Odyssey will give us a proper follow-up to the more free-form 3D Mario games of the Nintendo 64 and Gamecube eras. Mario’s hat has become a power-up that lets him reach new heights.

Holiday 2017 (Switch)


Billed as a spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie, Yooka-Laylee looks to capture the friendly fun of 3D action-adventure platformers. The Wii U version was recently canceled, but now it’s coming to Nintendo Switch in addition to other platforms.

April 11 (PC, PS4, Switch, XBO)


For Older Kids and Teens:


Below is another game that’s been in development for years, originally announced in 2013. It’s an adventure set on a mysterious island, and developed by the makers of Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery.

2017 (PC, XBOX)

Cosmic Star Heroine

One of my personally most anticipated games is this pixelated RPG that takes its inspiration from 16-bit classics like Chrono Trigger. Zeboyd Games has crafted some excellent indie RPGs. Cosmic Star Heroine stars a sci-fi bounty hunter on an intergalactic adventure.

2017 (PC, PS4, Vita)

Halo Wars 2

The sequel to 2009’s Halo Wars looks to recapture the rare magic of a real-time strategy game that works well on consoles. Halo Wars 2 returns to the sci-fi Halo universe, and introduces a new villainous alien faction called the Banished.

February 21 (PC, XBO)

Horizon Zero Dawn

Horizon Zero Dawn is a 3rd person action-RPG set in a sci-fi world filled with crazy robot dinosaurs. Heroine Aloy is a post-apocalyptic hunter who can hack these creatures to gain powerful allies as she explores the world.

February 28 (PS4)

Injustice 2

Injustice 2 continues the dark, alternate timeline from the first game that featured Superman as a tyrannical villain. New fighters include Supergirl, Gorilla Grodd, and Deadshot.

May 16 (PS4, XBO)

Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite

Fans have been begging for a new Marvel vs. Capcom title for years. The fighting game series has an incredibly large roster from two major franchises, and a signature tag-team battle system – though Infinite will feature two on two instead of three on three.

2017 (PC, PS4, XBO)

Night in the Woods

Night in the Woods is a successful Kickstarter indie game due out in early 2017. Don’t be fooled by the graphics and anthropomorphic characters. The game explores some heavier themes as you return to reconnect with small town life. It’s also really funny.

February 2017 (PC, PS4)


After Bastion and Transistor any new release from Supergiant Games should cause you to stand up and take notice. Pyre is a party-based action-RPG set in an underworld that you try to escape. The team-based combat is reminiscent of a soccer match and features local multiplayer.

2017 (PC, PS4)

Star Wars: Battlefront 2


A sequel to 2015’s generally well-received Star Wars Battlefront is coming this Fall. It will feature content from the new Star Wars movies, and probably feature a full single-player campaign in addition to the large-scale multiplayer.

Fall 2017 (PC, PS4, XBO)


For Parents:

Detroit: Become Human

David Cage and Quantic Dream have established a fun niche of story-heavy adventure games featuring motion capture. Detroit: Become Human tackles issues of artificial intelligence in the near-future city. Characters can live or die based on your complex choices.

2017 (PS4)

For Honor

A unique medieval fantasy setting throws vikings, samurai, and knights into an all-out war. For Honor features large battles as well as one-on-one duels. It will include a single-player campaign as well as multiple multiplayer modes and maps.

February 14 (PC, PS4, XBO)

God of War

A new non-numbered God of War is the long-awaited sequel to 2010’s God of War III. Kratos returns (sans chain-swords), now accompanied by his son as they explore a new world based on Norse mythology.

2017 (PS4)

Mass Effect: Andromeda

You may have heard of sci-fi RPG series Mass Effect. Mass Effect: Andromeda is the first in the series since 2012’s Mass Effect 3, and the first to star a different protagonist. Andromeda takes place hundreds of years after the original trilogy, in an entirely new galaxy.

March 21 (PC, PS4, XBO)

Persona 5

Spinoffs from the Shin Megami Tensei series, the Persona games are one of the most beloved modern JRPG series. Persona 5 continues the story and gameplay of navigating an anime high school while making friends and battling monsters.

April 4 (PS3, PS4)


Prey is an all-new first-person shooter developed by the makers of the Dishonored series. It looks a bit like Dishonored in space, as you’re stuck on a space station with hostile aliens. You’ll be able to choose between a male and female version of the main hero, Morgan Yu.

2017 (PC, PS4, XBO)

Red Dead Redemption 2

The trailer above has nearly 10 million views, in case you’re wondering about Red Dead Redemption’s popularity. We know almost nothing about this long-awaited sequel. This Grand Theft Auto Western is easily one of the most anticipated games of the year. It’s also the most likely to be delayed into 2018.

2017 (PS4, XBO)

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

The long-running action-horror franchise is looking to go much more horror than action this year. Biohazard is the first main-series Resident Evil game to feature first-person gameplay. It’s aiming to return to its roots of solving puzzles and exploring a spooky house.

January 24 (PC, PS4, PSVR, XBO)

South Park: The Fractured But Whole

South Park: The Stick of Truth was a surprisingly fantastic RPG that recreated the art and characters of the long-running adult cartoon. The Fractured But Whole adds a satirical superhero theme that was introduced in later seasons of the show.

2017 (PS, PS4, XBO)


Gone Home stunned many with its environmental storytelling. Fulblright’s next game is called Tacoma, named after the space station the game takes place in. Players must piece together what happened to its residents by exploring the station.

2017 (PC, XBO)

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands

The Ghost Recon series returns to a more modern-day setting in the large open world of Bolivia. The third-person shooter will feature four-player cooperative multiplayer.

March 7 (PC, PS4, XBO)

Torment: Tides of Numenera

Planescape: Torment is one of the most cherished tactical cRPGs in history. This spiritual successor enjoyed a multi-million dollar Kickstarter campaign and Steam Early Access, and is finally set to release this year. Torment takes place in the Numenera tabletop RPG setting, set on an unrecognizable Earth one billion years into the future.

February 28 (PC, PS4, XBO)

pax east logo

PAX East 2016 Kicks Off Today

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The sixth annual PAX East gaming convention begins today. It lasts throughout the weekend. The popular Penny Arcade Expo was originally created in Seattle in 2004 by Penny Arcade webcomic artist and writer duo Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins. Since then it has expanded to Boston in 2010 (PAX East), Melbourne in 2013 (PAX Australia), and San Antonio in 2015 (PAX South). Read More