Date: March 30, 2021
I don’t think many people would disagree with me if I said that writing in video games usually isn’t very good. Heck, I don’t think many people would disagree if I said that it’s usually pretty bad. So when a game comes along where the writing isn’t just passable, but absolutely fantastic, it’s something worth talking about. Disco Elysium isn’t just one of the best-written games I’ve ever played, it’s one of the most well-written stories I’ve ever experienced, period. I’ve never felt more attached to my character and the choices I made than I did in my first playthrough of Disco Elysium, and I’m beyond excited to have another reason to explore the city of Revachol with the release of Disco Elysium – The Final Cut. Available now (and as a free upgrade for those of you who already own the game), the new version adds some quality of life changes, new quests and NPCs, and full voice acting for every line of dialogue in the game.
To sum up the game in brief: imagine Planescape: Torment but with magical realism instead of magic, and set in a vaguely soviet-bloc style alternate reality 1950s instead of a Dungeons and Dragons world. In short, you’ll be spending most of your time in dialogue trees. Your stats matter a lot, but you won’t be doing much fighting in Disco Elysium; instead, your character’s stats dramatically change how you are able to interact with your environment and the game’s NPCs. Additionally, and perhaps most uniquely, your stats will also determine the dialogue and information that your inner monologue gives you as you move through the game. Passive checks will allow you to discover secrets or gain insight into characters, based on what stats your character is strong in. This system makes your build feel incredibly impactful, even though all you’re doing is wandering around alleys and chatting up the city’s denizens.
In true RPG fashion, you’ll collect various pieces of clothing that you can wear for their stat boosts. I promise you, however, that you’ve never played a game with armor stats like this before. Instead of adding resistances or protection, Disco Elysium’s clothes provide passive buffs to the stats you use to interact with NPCs and the world — stats like Authority, Savoir Faire, and Empathy. While you can just min-max your clothes and swap them around for maximum impact on the problem you’re currently solving, I had a lot more fun creating an outfit that I thought fit my character’s personality, and letting those stats determine how I moved through the game. I’m usually a min-max kind of guy myself, but Disco Elysium draws you into the story in such a way that it’s hard not to start role playing.
Items also function fairly uniquely in Disco Elysium when compared to other RPGs. Most items are for story flavor or quests, but you can also collect bottles on the street for spare change, and there are various drugs you can take that affect your skills in a variety of ways (this got the game banned in Australia), slowly destroying your body all the while. It’s nice to play an RPG that doesn’t require much inventory management for a change, and I honestly had a lot of fun playing dress-up with the wide variety of crazy clothes you can find.
Without giving too much away, the game is as dark and weird as the trailer would lead you to believe, and uses small stories to paint a big picture of the world and its inhabitants. While on its surface the game begins as a detective story, it ends up branching into all manner of narratives and weird little missions, in a way that feels perfectly natural — one side-mission I acquired partway through the game was a task entitled “Find smokes and smoke them”, which sums up the charming triviality of many of the side quests nicely. While there’s only one real ending, and the game’s narrative seems fairly linear, the path you take through that narrative is your own. Crucially, Disco Elysium manages to make all the little choices feel important: I spent a long time deciding whether or not my character would want to sing karaoke (he did, by the way).
If you’ve already played the game, now’s a great time to try another playthrough with a different build. If you still haven’t played it, and you want a game that will make you laugh, ponder, and then maybe recoil in horror, you owe it to yourself to check out Disco Elysium.