Disco Elysium is a Detective RPG game developed and published by indie developers ZA/UM with Robert Kurvitz as the lead writer and designer. Now, you’re here to solve the case of a hanged body and you’re a detective but your mind is rendered blank – so is your body from clothes – yet you’re ready to dive into the seemingly never-ending pit of strange.
Gameplay – Character Creation
Alright, so you press New Game and the screen presents to you what is one of the more exciting character creations in any RPG. You have 3 preset character archetypes: The Thinker (higher intellect), The Sensitive (higher psyche), and The Physical (higher strength). Also, an option to form your own character. You have 12 points, meant to be distributed across 4 abilities : Intellect, Psyche, Physique, and Motorics and within each ability lies 6 related skills. For instance, Intellect holds Logic, Encyclopedia, Rhetoric, Drama, Conceptualization, and Visual Calculus as its skills. The skills can be upgraded as the game goes on.
Not only is this kind of character creation extremely captivating due to its uniqueness and realism (comparatively), but the skills act as your own thoughts as inner monologue throughout the game expressed through dialogues, either leading or misleading you. So damn real! You could legit build your character according to your own personality. Prioritize Intellect if you are a detached brain-being with “holy shit!” kind of ideas, if your first response to anything is “Fuck this shit!” go for Physique, and so on.
The abilities play their part in different situations. Psyche will help you explore beneath the surface boosting your perspective, Motorics will help you sharpen your senses, etc.
In Disco Elysium, your clothes can make statements for you. For instance, police apparel may boost your Authority and cut-down on Empathy. You can wear shoes, glasses, hats, etc that all have varied advantages and disadvantages. Your specific style choices can boost the already upgraded skills. On the other hand, you could try to reach a good balance between all your skills by wearing clothes that elevate the non-upgraded skills. Also, you could smoke or drink to temporarily boost certain skills.
Gameplay – Interaction
Disco Elysium is heavily dosed on exploration and interaction. The camera is in a top-down perspective. Certain objects in areas are labeled with a small circle to click on for info and the player has to click on the place to move there. Also, you’re often required to check your work journal, items, and thoughts to keep everything in check. These icons are quick to use and convenient though. Hence, the game flow is consistent. This is important because in a game that requires reading, to go through so many pauses just to read some damn info would be irritating. Convenient design points!
If there’s any combat it’s in the dialogues. You interact with different characters, either outsmarting them or getting humiliated by them. Your abilities and skills play a crucial role here. Your special attack is now instead your special dialogue. The success or failure of it is dependent upon how many points you invested in skills and a dice roll. It is a probability game. Simply put, assume, Success Requirement = 10, your skill points = 2, your dice roll number = 8, hence a success. The gameplay is about going around and unraveling the mystery, conducting “actual detective work”, and it’s amazing!
Imagine being gifted with rebirth except the gift is accompanied by alcohol and critical memory issues. Your place reeks of stagnation, you have a case to crack, but right now you have difficulty cracking even the simple case of finding your missing shoe. Welcome to Disco Elysium I guess. But man, does the story and narrative pull you in like a magnet. It’s neck-deep in philosophies that blend perfectly with everyone’s motives, influences, weaknesses, and lives.
The characters are distinct enough to have fun interacting with. Shoutout to our boi Kim Kitsuragi (or as I would call it: Kim K xD), a partner detective, for the counters he provides to our own character. He is a resourceful detective who prefers to solve mysteries with pure analysis and speaks only when he thinks it necessary to do so.
One of the good things about the narrative is that certain unknowns often reveal themselves unexpectedly. It surely keeps you pursuing. The overall feel of the story and setting is dystopian, similar to Fallout but you know, life goes on. In Disco Elysium, you’ll experience moments of pure joy, estrangement, hardcore intensity, and much more. All of which feel well-timed and earned. Disco Elysium won the award for Best Narrative at The Game Awards 2019 and rightly so!
The city is Revachol. A post-war society. Desolated. If the rich storytelling didn’t indicate anything of that sort, then the setting and world design will. There’s a scarcity of life and even among the survivors, the ghost of commercial burdens haunt their daily livelihood. Devastation of life quality has turned some of the citizens to develop anarchist mentalities as seen by graffiti with political slogans on walls and roads. Along the way, old war bunkers and devastated buildings too will enter the scene.
From a game perspective, the map is small but intricate, perfect for the kind of traversal the player can do. Although small in size, the map is filled with machines to papers and everything in-between that always are a curious read. It’s better to have a richly detailed room than a vast region which ultimately puts you to sleep. Not to mention that there are quite a few views which are aesthetically pleasing, their attraction made deeper by the history behind them.
Disco Elysium is simply phenomenal. It expertly carries and executes every feature you’d expect from a good RPG while taking a bold step forward into new ideas and innovations in the genre. This is basically a brilliantly written novel translated into a masterful video game. A +1 to the saying, “The pen is mightier than the sword.”
Amazing moments delivered by just using dialogues.
One of the best RPGs till date.