If like me, you are a fan of a football club not called Barcelona or Real Madrid, you are probably resigned to seeing your team's best players eventually move on to greener pastures. But imagine seeing such a scenario happen not in a sports simulation game, but in a fantasy role-playing game called Pyre.
What's more, the stakes here are higher. The player is not just moving to a better team, he is leaving the Downside, a purgatory for exiles and criminals of the Commonwealth nation.
And you, as the pseudo-manager that controls the team, have to make the call - do you deny your best player his freedom, simply to improve the team's chances of winning in the future?
Pyre is a delightfully weird mash-up of genres from the fertile imaginations of indie developer Supergiant Games of Bastion and Transistor fame. Teams of exiles compete in a series of quasi-religious rites that resemble 3-on-3 basketball. Winners gain favour with the god-like Scribes that created this tradition.
After playing against every other team in a league format, the two most favoured teams compete in a final Liberation Rite where only one member of the winning team gets to return to the Commonwealth via a magical inverted waterfall. The other members will have to wait for another chance in the next tournament.
The goal here is to extinguish your opponent's pyre before yours is doused. Throwing the ball (Celestial Orb) into the pyre, or plunging into it with the Orb in a move akin to a slam dunk, whittles the pyre by a certain amount. Jumping into it deals more damage, but the player himself is banished from the arena for a short while, leaving his team down by one.
PRICE: $20 (PC, version tested)
GENRE: Action role-playing game
Like a Moba (multiplayer online battle arena), there is a roster of characters, each with a distinct, if basic, skill tree. Their abilities can be upgraded by competing in rites or by equipping with gear bought from a merchant or found while travelling in the Downside. Some can take to the air while others can teleport a short distance. Using abilities depletes a stamina gauge, which balances things out.
While I found it easy at first, the game's AI got more devious later in the game. You can also ramp up the difficulty in order to level up your characters faster. Unfortunately, there is no online multiplayer mode, which reduces the game's replayability. However, you can play against a friend by connecting an extra controller.
The other substantial part of the game involves a lot of reading, as you uncover the world's history through lore entries in a magic book. Each character has a back story that is revealed via dialogue options, like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. The cast of characters, which include a one-eyed wyrm knight, a talking dog and a harpy, have their own reasons for wanting to return to the Commonwealth, which affects who you decide to free from exile during the Liberation Rite. Opponents, too, have rich back stories with their own musical motif.
It later turns out that the Nightwings, the team that recruited my manager-character (simply known as the Reader), is always favoured by the Scribes. Hence, the Nightwings would always take part in the Liberation Rite, even if they lost all the regular games. Perhaps the developer wanted everyone to experience the story, even if they disliked the fantasy basketball part of the game. But this knowledge did not dampen my competitive spirit - I would still try to win all my games and restart a rite if I lost.
• Verdict: Pyre has plenty of charms, from its lovely artwork to its excellent soundtrack. But it is fairly short, as it took me only 13hr to complete.