Disco Elysium Review

Disco Elysium

Developer: ZA/UM
Publisher: See Above
Released on Oct 15, 2019

Disco Elysium is a breath of fresh air above most standard RPGs, featuring a rich, open-world that lets players explore every nook and cranny. You are a detective who has made some bad decisions in life. But with an intricate murder case hanging above you, it’s time to do your job and go investigate the city of Revachol to narrow down a list of suspects. You can dial up the charm, resort to violence, become a man of culture, and more.

Genre: A TLDR RPG

The Title Screen

I find that when I play a game these days, the graphics, gameplay, and story are three things that people harp on the most. Personally, graphics hold little sway over me and gameplay needs to be stellar to grab me, but a good story keeps me in a game far longer than anything else. Fortunately, Disco Elysium is fantastic at crafting a story I can truly get behind.

The Story Where It Begins

Investigating the Body

Disco Elysium follows the investigation of an amnesia-stricken detective after one hell of a bender. He apparently partied so hard that he had forgotten not only his name but also basic facts about the world he lives in. Within an hour of him waking up on the floor of his hotel room, you must carefully guide him as he discovers a gruesome hanging in the backyard of the hotel.

The detective needs to work together with supercop, Kim Kitsuragi to find the truth behind this man’s death in the war-tarnished coastal town of Revachol. This hanging murder case slowly turns into a much more intricately woven web of revenge, cover-ups, class warfare, and ugly truths about your detective’s identity.

Electrochemistry assures you there are no downsides to taking drugs.

Your detective is NOT a man who has his life in order, and this is expressed in a cool way by having your skills and traits take on voices of their own to pull him in all different directions. They come together to form a chorus of voices trying to help him, but this only makes him more conflicted when he attempts to piece together his life.

The game’s world is similar enough to ours that players feel comfortable with looking around. But as they begin to learn about the town and its residents, they realize that those guys are instead living in a parallel world but with different names for the politics and ethnic identities that shape who we are.

This actually lends itself well to getting players implanted into the mind of the detective since both are in worlds that seem familiar, but function just a bit differently if you pay attention to the details narrated by inanimate objects.

The harsh light of reality after your all-night binge.

The best part about this game is that the humor, drama, and intrigue all mesh together into a fascinating story that makes you want to pilot this bumbling drunk fella to the end of his investigation. Though it should be known that this game does not take shortcuts on it’s world-building and there is an absolutely staggering amount of dialogue.

Keep in mind that this is a dialogue-driven murder mystery, not a run and gun police investigation. It would be a bad idea to rush headfirst into a situation just because you are getting impatient and want a piece of the action. With all the acid tripping scenes, you could miss out on a lot of crucial information by skipping the dialogue.

Skill Check Mechanics in Disco Elysium

Your Character Sheet/Skill Screen

Every aspect of the game is made up of small systems that all link back to the overall narrative. It runs on an RPG system that involves rolling dice (sounds just like a certain board game right?) against skills your detective has based on four statistics:

  • Intellect – Education and learned knowledge acquired via studying or refining the mind.
  • Psyche – Willpower, gut feelings, or intrinsic 6th senses for sentiments about the world and it’s denizens.
  • Physique – Strength, violence, and constitution for situations where talking will not solve a problem like a jammed door.
  • Motorics – Control of your body when it comes to reactions, your level of self-restraint, and utilizing what you are capable of doing.

Questioning if the skill check is worth trying at only a 28% chance.

With these skills, you will encounter two kinds of skill checks which display the percentage chance of you succeeding–as white and red. Red skill checks are a one time deal that you won’t be able to attempt again regardless of the result. White checks, on the other hand, can be reattempted after you level up the skill you used on your first try.

Since you will be walking around the city of Revachol for about a week in-game, you have plenty of time to save a check for later when you feel that you have a better chance. You also have the option to unlock conversations with characters or clothing in the game that provides more bonuses to increase your luck at overcoming skill checks.

The Thought Cabinet (60 Pennies For Your Thoughts)

Your advancement through the game need not be tied only to your skills. There’s no doubt that you’ll come across ideas or concepts that your detective might want to work into how he uncovers clues to the case. Over time, the detective can dedicate these crazy-inventive ideas to the Thought Cabinet with varying effects. For example, being a part of the Anti-Object Task Force lets him break inanimate objects easier as the case progresses.

The amount of customization you can have with your detective is astounding.–You get to dress him up in 80 different outfits, mix and match a total of 24 skills, and wield 14 resourceful tools. Apparently, you can manipulate people for your personal gain or even become a ruthless business tycoon. Of course, romance is off the table because you are still playing a bumbling drunkard.

The World Map and the available white checks

Investigating earns the detective more skill points to buff his attributes. The in-game journal keeps track of any tasks your detective should work on, regardless of how important they seem, as well as the white checks that they may reattempt or want to level up in order to succeed on them. It’s a real shame that you don’t have a waypoint system to fast-travel back to people you have to speak with.

All of these factors link back to helping the detective inch closer towards solving the mystery. Near the end of the game, you are ranked based on how well you managed to investigate the whole town as opposed to the number of crimes that remain hidden. You can turn him into a real crime-stopping superhero or a walking disaster who should be admitted into rehab.

Bouncing theories off of Kim at a crime scene

Disco Elysium is a Brilliant Game

This game is extremely well written and deserves all the praise I and other critics give it. The characters are intriguing, the protagonist is a fascinating man to play as, and the mysterious town and crime scenes are compelling to learn about. The only weakness Disco Elysium has is that it’s rather bloated. It has done too much to saturate the world with exposition.

Much like how your partner nags you, you must determine the evidence that actually matters as you investigate, or else you will suddenly spend 10 in-game hours wasting the whole day on a wild goose chase to understand the war that occurred years ago.

I spent around 30 hours playing the game, but I feel like 10 to 15 of those hours were just extra padding or filler arcs. I enjoyed the time I spent with it and loved the game’s style, mechanics, and story, but the secondary information in the world really wore thin on me towards the end.

Screenshots

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