Who would you choose to be if, you drank so hard that you forgot your own identity? Are you a charismatic down-on-your-luck superstar detective? Or maybe a cool and suave, cigarette smoking, tough guy, hobo-cop? In Disco Elysium, players can be pretty much whoever they want, from smooth-talking hustlers, to analytic intellectuals. Both developed and published ZA/UM, Disco Elysium is a text/dialogue based CRPG played from an isometric perspective, set in a beautifully painted open world. Without spoiling anything, players are tasked with uncovering the plot of a murder – with their esteemed partner, Kim Kitsuragi. At first I wasn’t sure what to think of Disco Elysium, but after spending some time with it I started to fall in love. let’s review, and see what this year’s Video Game Award winner for Best Narrative was all about.
Now, how one derives fun from a product tends to be highly subjective. Therefore ALL forms of review are opinionated, and should be taken with a grain of salt (this included). So let’s review Disco Elysium through the lens of more objective metrics such as; Graphical fidelity, story/characters, content/length, controls and gameplay, then finally, sound design and cinematics. This product was reviewed on a 1050Ti 4Gb, 8GB Ram, and i5-7300HQ
As previously touched on, the art style of Disco Elysium is comprised of painted environments and portraits. It’s a very particular style that won’t be to everyone’s liking; however it suits this title quite well. Character animations aren’t overly complex, being often ‘short-and-sweet’, yet, concise with the intended portrayal. Be it, getting out of bed, simply walking, or; matrix jumping backwards with both of your middle fingers up yelling “Fuck you, asshole”. I know it sounds wild – because quite frankly, it absolutely is. The UI is clean, though takes some minor orientation. Players can highlight interactive portions of the environment, such as doors, stairs, people, items and collectibles.
Furthermore, the menus of Disco Elysium are well formatted and easy to navigate. At first it can seem a little overwhelming but after some minor adjustments, checking inventory, stats, and quests are rather uncomplicated.
Moving on to performance, at 1080p I noticed some occasional frame drops, to little detrimental effect. Screen tearing was non-apparent. The majority of the time Disco runs smooth as butter.
Characters & Story
Right from the start, Disco Elysium is clever and captivating. A whim of existence sparks in absolute nothingness, and your journey begins. The writers’ incredible ability to project tone ranges dramatically in-game, from serious and sombre, to hilarious and jovial. Characters can be both insightful, and insulting often helping or hindering you based on your dialogue choices and personality. Most notably is your partner, Kim. Mr. Kitsuragi makes for an outstanding companion, offering crucial insight and sometimes casting doubt on your decisions. Players can adhere to the same morals as Kim, or challenge his opinions on a variety of topics ranging from confiscation of goods, to drugs, to politics.
On that note, politics are integral to the plot of Disco Elysium and mostly everyone in Revachol has an opinion on something. From race, economic class, political beliefs, accountability, and plenty more, there’s always a dramatic or thought provoking conversation afoot.
Content & Length
To an avid number-loving RPG fan, this game could potentially offer a lot (emphasis on a lot) of gameplay, and replay ability. Average playlength is somewhere between 40-60 hours, depending on player choice. Though this is a game where it’s encouraged that you ‘stop and smell the roses’, trust me – there’s a lot to see and smell. This is because Revachol is a living, breathing city with personified inhabitants, who each have opinions and lives of their own. After nine, most people go to bed, by 2 AM – the city is dead, and your partner asleep. It’s a city with deep lore, and rich history, with stories to be told. There’s truly so much to interact with, and such possibility in how, with 14 tools, 6 substances, 60 ‘thoughts’ and 24 skills.
With the astounding variety of personalities available for players to sculpt, with the complex ingame skill sets, there’s incredible multitude in ways to approach Disco Elysium with great success. Or, die of a heart attack, get shot, and give up being a cop for social realism! Maybe, spend a playthrough ignoring your responsibilities to do drugs, smoke and drink with a boombox. The text that accompanies each action, dialogue and thought is highly descriptive, and oftentimes very dense. There’s a lot of content here, and you just won’t be able to soak it up in one playthrough.
And for the true masochist, a Hardcore mode has recently been added for extra replayability.
Controls & Gameplay
For the most part, Disco Elysium is a point and click RPG with complex dialogue and choices as its bread and butter. The choices you make, and the combined ‘thoughts’ and skills that you’ve chosen will determine the paths available to you on your journey.
Essentially, everything players do, say or think, is chosen through a dialogue menu. The options available to the player are often dependent on your skill stats, so, if you’re character has high visual calculus he may be able to analyse a situation in great mathematics detail offering separate options. Similarly, if your detective has high authority maybe you’ll flex your way through Revachol. Skills in Disco Elysium aren’t quite as simple as your standard, charisma, strength, agility, etc… There’s a much more intricate nuance here, each door that closes – another opens.
With that being said, traditional ‘combat’ isn’t present in Disco, as everything comes down to a choice – a roll – a result. The probability of success being dependent on your skill set and personality. Skills in Disco Elysium aren’t quite as simple as your standard, charisma, strength, agility etc. There’s a much more intricate nuance here. At the start of the game, players are given a total of 8 points to distribute between the main 4 categories: Intellect, Psyche, Physique, and Motorics. This modifies and sets capacities for each of the 24 individual skills that players may improve as they gain experience.
Additionally throughout the game, as player actions compile a sort of personality – thoughts will form. As previously mentioned there are 60 thoughts that help define your character. Thoughts range from conceptualizing race theory, and being merely apologetic, to forming bonds with your partner. The additional depth this layers onto the already complex systems Disco Presents is quite welcome.
Sound Design & Cinematics
Straight to the point, the music of Disco Elysium gets repetitive after a while. Which I found strange considering the OST is over 4 hours. But, that’s not to say it’s bad. Choice of music is calming, a great choice of background music so the soundtrack doesn’t jar players while they’re casually strolling around Revachol remembering how to police. The voice work, when applied, is highly expressive and the acting is usually believable.
Use of sound in Disco is subtle, but effective. Players can hear the chatter of crowds, the clinks of bottles and coins, seagulls, yourself (in various forms), to an exceptional, yet reserved effect. Disco Elysium doesn’t bombard you with loud noises and flashy colours, tactful in it’s focus. It’s all in the details, like the sound of a satisfying click after a successful roll, or the ability to convey whatever impending crippling doom would sound like.
There are no real ‘cinematics’ in Disco Elysium to speak of, the closest could be considered in-game action segments your character performs such as: jumping a gap or, punching a guy named Measurehead.
At the end of the day, Disco Elysium is a creative breath of fresh air. It’s a game that can be approached in a variety of ways, with unique results each time – even with failure. Disco Elysium manages to consistently subvert player expectations in nearly every aspect (with the exception of politics). In all honesty, it’s just a fantastic game and a vision realized. It manages to be clever, existential, and even meta at times. The style of gamplay might not be to everyone’s tastes, but the quality of content is unquestionably fun. From socio-economics, and politics, to drugs, liquor and disco, Disco Elysium has got it all. And in damn fine style.
It should be noted that due to the personal political beliefs of the developers, Disco Elysium’s user score has been rating bombed – if only a little. Though I believe it is objectively best to separate art from the artist, and let their product speak for itself. There are readily apparent political leanings presenting in-game that being said, most of the time it does not impact player choice.
Wrapping up this Disco Elysium Review, it’s an excellent title to add to your collection and absolutely worth the price of admission. Disco Elysium is available on PS4, XboxOne and PC.
What did you think of Disco Elysium? Let us know in the comments.
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A CRPG To Remember
- Score - 9.2/109.2/10
+ Amazing Voice Work For Partially Voiced Characters
+ Dense Dialogue, Lots of Depth
+ Immense Variation and Replayability
+ Great Characterization
– Attempts to Remain Impartial, Holds Leaning Political Undertones
– Could Use More