- Disco Elysium is a murder mystery that’s like the original Fallout games with no combat, 10x the amount of writing and 10x character customization
- Seriously, there’s a LOT of reading involved to the point where it’s almost more visual novel than game – not a bad thing
- Your character’s talent tree determines your entire personality and skillset, and affects all of your interactions
- Relatively short, but has an incredible amount of depth and replayability with many different builds affecting conversations and possible scenarios
- Considering the price, well worth buying if you’re looking for a good story in a fully-fleshed out game world
At some point in gaming history, RPGs – role-playing games – became something that revolved around a singular character with a mostly set backstory, set views of the world, and set canned dialogue. Sure, occasionally you’d find a gem that gave you a bit more creative freedom with choices, but the choices rarely had any real effect on the gameplay.
Disco Elysium is developer ZA/UM’s attempt to put the role-playing back in RPG. Right off the bat, it defies your typical RPG standards: the protagonist is a huge loser, conflict is solely resolved via dialogue, not combat, and most of the game consists of you exploring the (sort of limited) world and interacting with its inhabitants. And looting containers. And trying on new duds.
The game takes place in an alternative fantasy world called, you might’ve guessed it – Elysium. No, not Disco. Revachol, a former “capital of the world”, is now one of the grungiest cities around after years of civil war and unrest, and the setting for Disco Elysium centers on a small, grungy district of Revachol known as Martinaise.
This is all pretty fitting because you’re a pretty grungy guy yourself. Your character, code-named Harry Bosch* (not actual character name) is a cop sent to Martinaise to investigate a body that turned up in the backyard of a seedy hotel. Also, your character is a giant loser.
And the nice thing about Disco Elysium is that your choices can make Harry a stellar cop, an even bigger loser (is that even possible?!), or anything in-between.
Your choices matter.
– Every game
…and it still means exactly what you’d expect: jack effing squat. Generally.
The amount of enjoyment you’ll get from this game depends on how much you like reading and immersing yourself in the richly detailed world.
The amount of enjoyment you’ll get from this game really depends on how much you like reading and immersing yourself in the world, which is richly (maybe obscenely) detailed. Disco Elysium looks and plays pretty similarly to the Fallouts of yore (Fallout 1 and 2), assuming you took out all of the combat and made every conversation 10x longer while also tossing in a narrator that constantly reminds you of how bad you look. And I mean that in the best possible way.
If none of that appealed to you at all, stop right here. You’ll almost certainly find this game incredibly tedious and boring as hell. That’s not on you, but more so that Disco Elysium just grooves to its own wacky beat. It’s a niche game that’s better off recommended to gamers seeking a solid visual novel experience rather than, say, a Final Fantasy one.
The story opens on you, reading some classic literature, enjoying a spot of tea in front of a crackling fireplace. You settle down further underneath a cozy-
Nah, just kidding. You actually wake up, bloated and hungover, in a trashed hotel room with no memory of what happened in the past week. Or, incidentally, who you are, what your name is and what you’re doing in this rinky-dink dive bar-hotel. You’re basically that guy in Green Day’s song Longview.
It doesn’t take long for you to discover that you’re a militia cop that’s here to investigate a dead body hanging in the courtyard. And while that’s important, there are other, bigger things to worry about, like the matter of your missing badge and gun. You also need to figure out how to pay for your hotel room.
Outside, there’s a figurative storm brewing by the docks, with battle lines drawn between the Dockworkers’ Union and the Wild Pines, the shipping corporation that owns the docks. Problem is, the Union head doesn’t want to negotiate with the Wild Pines rep, and you need his help to move your murder investigation forward. At the same time, the rep has a wealth of knowledge about the world, your condition, and that dead body but doesn’t want to give you any info unless you can prove you’re a legit cop.
This is just one of many interactions that you’ll have with Martinaise’s inhabitants where you’ll be at odds with multiple people, your partner, or yourself.
And this character sheet, believe it or not, will drive nearly all of your actions and interactions in Disco Elysium. It’s your character’s personality, skills, and behavioral quirks rolled in one. But where you would just have one stat for, say, intelligence, it’s broken down into six here: “logic”, “encyclopedia”, “rhetoric”, “drama”, “conceptualization” and “visual calculus”. And each of these serves a different role in the game – visual calculus lets you trace out the path of a bullet, while encyclopedia gives you random fun facts about things in the world.
You can choose to be extremely perceptive, a natural at spotting clues and a complete idiot at the same time, unable to comprehend what the clues mean. You can choose to be a drug-fueled, superstar cop that follows orders to a T. You can choose to be a meaty musclehead that sneaks around and robs people (but you’ll also be awful at everything else).
You can choose to do all kinds of wild and crazy *boop* in Disco Elysium, and the best part is how well the game integrates everything and then spits out an experience that’s unique to your character build. I can’t think of too many games that pull this off not named Kentucky Route Zero.
And so…recommended or not?
I spent around 50 hours screwing around the wonderful world of Disco Elysium. To me, it’s an easy recommendation if you like choice and dialogue-based games or love delving into games that feature a fully-developed, vibrant (maybe vibrant isn’t the best word for Elysium) world. Recommended.
Disco Elysium is available for PC and will be coming to consoles (PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch) at some point in 2020.