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Disco Elysium Game review

Game review 21 November 2019, 18:58

author: Christopher Mysiak

An scholar, librarian, wannabe witcher, and a gentleman. Cars, guns and swords are his things, as are deep stories about serious stuff.

Meet 2019's Most Amazing Game – Disco Elysium, a Quirky RPG from Estonia

[Review updated] A depraved cop investigates a degenerate industrial world, where racism is ubiquitous, the specter of communism fuels class struggles, and the good and evil are meaningless constructs. Disco Elysium, this year's most ambitious RPG

The review is based on the PC version.

 
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There is nothing. Only warm, primordial blackness. Your conscience ferments in it – no larger than a single grain of malt. You don’t have to do anything any more.

PROS:
  1. truly phenomenal writing – both of dialogs and descriptions;
  2. a unique world that subtly reflects many modern problems;
  3. remarkable atmosphere;
  4. unmatched role-playing options, unprecedented archetypes of the main character;
  5. a fascinating, clever story with a thoughtful, concise composition;
  6. expressive and relatable characters (both main and secondary);
  7. original gameplay mechanics with a unique character development system;
  8. fantastic graphics with an artistic touch;
  9. a rich soundtrack that creates a great atmosphere;
  10. pretty good (though occasional) voice acting.
CONS:
  1. the story is rather linear;
  2. the success of the hero's actions is too heavily dependant on dice rolls – the player rarely has the opportunity to demonstrate any skills.

These are the first words you will hear. Blackness truly surrounds them – there is nothing, only the letters. But the Ancient Lizard Brain that pronounces them is wrong. You'll have something to do in a minute. There will be the roar of a motor coach passing under the cafeteria and you will wake up – you will be brutally dragged out of the warm black. You've had your time. It's astounding it happened so late, really. Nothing could break you out of sleep. Neither the frosty air drafting in through the window that someone (I wonder who?) knocked with a shoe, nor the cursing, drugged kids on the backyard, not even the workers picketing at the gate of the nearby dockyard.

In any case, after the sudden awakening, you will not remember anything – where you are, what you're doing, what's your name. And above all – where's this monstrous hangover coming from. But don't worry about it. Your new partner, lieutenant Kim Katsuragi, who has just arrived – will quickly clarify the situation. In the cafe's backyard, a hangman's been swinging on the tree for the past week. Nobody know who's responsible for his ominous presence, but you, detective, have been assigned to solve the case – the orders come from precinct 41... Actually, this is your third day on the scene... but instead of gathering evidence and questioning witnesses, you were busy dumping your memory by chugging booze and sniffing anything you could get. But this ends now.

Time to find the shoe, put on your talking tie (what?), and start looking for answers. Who's to blame for the death of the hangman? Where did you lose your badge (and weapon, but let's not mention that)? Why does almost everyone in this filthy neighborhood look at you with disdain? And why the fuck are you such a mess?!

DISCO ELYSIUM IN NUMBERS:

  1. a million – the game contains that many words (let that sink in);
  2. thousands – that many skill tests are done during the game;
  3. 100 – that many tasks/items waiting to be completed/received;
  4. 70 – that many partially voiced characters inhabit the town of Revachol;
  5. 30 to 60 – completing the game takes about this many hours (according to devs);
  6. 24 – that many abilities define the hero;
  7. 5 – for that many years Disco Elysium was developed (plus over a dozen for the conception of the universe).

UPDATE AND FINAL VERDICT

*sigh of relief*

I really wanted to explore the game thoroughly. I absorbed it slowly, in small portions, enjoying every minute I spent with it – every click and every bit of text I read. And my God, is that game good. And I'm really, really sorry it's already over.

As I already mentioned, Disco Elysium harks back to Planescape: Tormentem (the devs from ZA/UM don't hide that game's strong influence). In the end, however, it turns out to be – to my taste – a superior game. A small Estonian developer the audacity to do what the big corporation, Interplay, did not dare to. Completely oblivious to the ruthless laws of the market and the iron principles of RPG design, they trusted their guts and shivers and created a work of art instead of a game. Nothing more, nothing less.

In the classic Torment, philosophy is an important addition to the adventure, but merely an addition nonetheless – it's a game unable to provide entertainment without such elements as fighting crowds of faceless enemies, fighting powerful bosses, and collecting magical swords +6. Disco Elysium does not accept trade-offs – it takes all these, supposedly mandatory RPG elements, and throws them out the window.

There is only the story. Only talking to NPCs, exploring, engaging in inner dialogue with the protagonist's own furies – and, above all, role-playing. And it's not only done in a way that sets the new industry standard – it's also perfectly coherent and subordinate to the story, not encumbered with anything that could be redundant. On top of that, it's not set in an abstract, escapist fantasy, but in realities close to our own, reflecting our own problems in a crooked mirror – the philosophical, political, social, psychological, and whatever-you-want – problems that we know from history or even from our own, present-day, socio-political backdrop.

Unfortunately, this piece of art is not devoid of certain defects. I was a little tormented by the mechanics that determine the success of any action of the hero almost exclusively through dice rolls and rarely give the player an opportunity to exercise their own competence (especially intellectual). Worse, in the end, the story turns out to be strongly linear, almost completely devoid of significant branches – it's pulled towards the finale on a single thread. There was even one time, when I got completely mad on Disco Elysium – I found that I had almost no influence on the course of a certain dramatic situation, and the game even goes as far as to falsifying the ability checks in order to bring me to a predetermined sequence of events. But that anger lasted no more than an hour. Promptly giving way to the returning, ungodly delight.

The malicious types might call the game from ZA/UM a visual novel rather than an RPG. Let them, it's their loss. I want to emphasize: this game is the perfect point in case that video games can be art. Not a product of "electronic entertainment," but an artifact of culture to match traditional literature. Difficult in reception, sometimes tiring – but also bloody emotional, tearful, deeply introspective. And also dignifying to the entire industry, which can look cinematography in the eye with increased confidence, able to take its own stand in the debate about artistic forms of expression. And as if that's not bonkers enough, this game is the doing of a small group of crazy, passionate Estonians. Hats off, ladies and gentlemen, hats off!

Meet 2019s Most Amazing Game – Disco Elysium, a Quirky RPG from Estonia - picture #1
And so the adventure... I mean, another day of your worthless life begins.

Wakey-wakey, detective...

That's how Disco Elysium begins. The game is serious, clever, morally ambiguous and, in principle, without elements of the supernatural – albeit full of fantastic, bizarre and often quirky themes or situations. This is an RPG that's one of the most unusual, ambitious and intriguing representatives of the genre released the last decade, if not more.

It's very reminiscent of the immortal Torment, even though it does its own thing in all aspects. It's an RPG that doesn't really quite fit the definition of an RPG... in any case, not according to our usual set of prerogatives defining this genre.

Let's take combat, for instance. There's none in Disco Elysium. Of course, conflicts arise quite often since the protagonist, as befits a policeman, mettles with other people's affairs, stays around shady individuals, and, from time to time, finds himself in dire straits. But forget about random encounters with random enemies. Forget traditional turn-based skirmishes, or the active pause, using strong and fast attacks, and obtaining deadlier weapons.

ACCORDING TO ANN

Meet 2019s Most Amazing Game – Disco Elysium, a Quirky RPG from Estonia - picture #2

After a few hours of Disco Elysium, my hero is dressed in crocodile shoes, yellow bell-bottoms, a mesh t-shirt (+1 to drama!), a police raincoat, and a fedora. Taking the pants and shoes off greatly increased his chances of jumping over the fence without breaking his legs. Jumping with his ass naked came naturally to him, because my hero is an absolute loser. Some time earlier, while trying to avoid paying off a debt, he rammed a woman in a wheelchair.

As you can see, the first hours of Disco Elysium is a wild ride. I can't wait to see what happens next.

Ann "Kalevatar" Garas

Meet 2019s Most Amazing Game – Disco Elysium, a Quirky RPG from Estonia - picture #3
A rockstar cop, an apocalypse cop, a boring cop or an apologetic cop? What type of cop are you? (Notice the nice, dynamic shadows, too).
Meet 2019s Most Amazing Game – Disco Elysium, a Quirky RPG from Estonia - picture #4
Morale is as important as health points, and these are the only status bars you have.

Let's say that you spurred an open conflict. First, I would like to congratulate – it's not an easy task in Disco Elysium. What happens next? The entire "combat" sequence will be resolved through dialogue. The game describes events – or rather the things that cannot be seen by looking at the otherwise sufficiently detailed 3-D character models – and gives the player choices precisely tailored to the conditions.

Here's an example: You decided to enter the yard by force and knock out the muscle, who stands in your way. This begins with a hard test of strength. You roll the dice... Success! The chic animation shows the bouncer getting punched in the throat and bending to his knees. Time stops for a moment, and a dialog box appears, offering further options: a right hook, or a spin-kick? If in doubt – the game will pronounce the inner voice of the protagonist (actually one of the voices) and offer you the best solution after testing various of his skills. And so it goes.

Meet 2019s Most Amazing Game – Disco Elysium, a Quirky RPG from Estonia - picture #5
A crowbar and a bag for collecting bottles – the essentials of any detective. Indispensable when you're broke. And believe me. You are.
Meet 2019s Most Amazing Game – Disco Elysium, a Quirky RPG from Estonia - picture #6
The game world is completely fictional, but some of its inhabitants use real languages.
 
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