Pyre might be what I’ve wanted out of every Dragon Age game. I’ve never finished a Bioware RPG since Mass Effect 1, and I know, I know, I can hear the groans. I love the idea of the their games, but as I start to progress through those worlds I find myself losing steam. To me the dream they pitch is: a disparate group of adventurers with contrasting personalities, thrown together for a whirlwind quest of epic proportions with everything at stake. Friends will be made, strange new vistas uncovered, and maybe even….kissing?!
What I actually get though, feels more like chaperoning a school trip. My party can’t do anything on it’s own, they need me to tell them what to wear, when to eat, and generally be the deciding vote in every aspect of their personal life. Instead of the feeling of being swept up in a grand adventure I often feel compelled to grind low-level missions just to get ready for main story events, or for fear of missing out on content before moving on. This robs any sense of urgency and scale from the story, as I find myself chasing chickens for the tenth time or taking a week off from saving the world to become the best horse racer in a small town.
In Pyre, you assemble a rag-tag group of adversaries and allies as you trundle through purgatory in a magical flying wagon/house. It’s awesome, if you haven’t played it you should check it out.While your routes are generally pretty restricted to some binary choices you get control of how you get to your destination, and along the way you can stop to encounter interesting side stories or learn more about your companions. This is really all I want from this kind of story, and by removing a map with a thousand possible things to do, it really makes me care more about the things I can do.
While the game is built around performing The Rites, ancient rituals you perform to curry favor with the gods and earn your freedom (and technically similar to something like magical basketball) your time in between might seem less…gamey. Some (most) people have compared it to a visual novel. And that’s ok! I think it’s to the great strength of both sections that they are divided up like that. I felt like I really got to know the people I traveled with, and I cared and worried about them even after the game ended. If I had been playing a traditional open-world party RPG I probably would have spent so much more time doing a thousand tiny quests and juggling my constantly expanding inventory. I don’t know that I would have developed the same level of care and love about these people as distinct characters separate from mine, even though I was doing some level of inventory and stat juggling all the same. Everything just felt more manageable, and I felt more like I was travelling with new friends than little kids.
How should I play a Bioware game? Am I missing some level of automation to smooth it out and get to the story quicker? Does anyone have advice? It’s hard enough to even pick up a game with length these days, let alone fool myself into thinking I’ll have time to finish it. But that dream is still out there and when I read about people playing it for the third time (looking at you, @xoxogossipgita) it makes me feel like I’m missing out on something I’d love. For now I can hope that more people will make games like this with Pyre’s more restricted scale, because that means I get to play more of them!