Many role-playing games tout the many ways that you can shape your avatar in the manner you see fit, but few, if any, even comes close to the power that ZA/UM Studio’s Disco Elysium places in your hands. As a dishevelled, incessantly hungover detective charged with investigating a murder, your adventures in the Martinaise district of the city Revachol will challenge the usual conventions in modern games, like a true, life-changing experience wrapped in a deliciously engaging detective RPG.
The number of systems at play will definitely be a stumbling block for those unfamiliar with the likes of classic computer role-playing games (CRPGs) or their tabletop equivalent. From understanding your stats, navigating skill checks, juggling companions, tracking quests, and immersing yourself in Disco Elysium’s interface, this game demands your full attention but it is all worth it.
Much like the top tier visual novels and point-and-click adventures, Disco Elysium is driven by its wonderfully written and brilliant dialogue that ranges from the mundane to the ridiculous. Everything flows through the written word, be it skill checks or the branching dialogue choices, and even when things head into violent territory.
At the centre of it all is you, probably the worst choice for a law enforcer. The immense hangover has given your detective the mother of all amnesia, presenting a truly blank slate in which you will fill in the gaps. How you respond in every conversation shapes your personality, and in turn, how the world responds to you and affecting every quest you take up.
If you are used to exhausting all of the conversation options in order not to miss a beat, you are out of luck. Trouble can arise swiftly, and characters will remember what you say or do at the most inconvenient of times. Then again, the freedom to be as heedless as possible opens up a world of different possibilities that only this game can offer.
Disco Elysium wants you to be accountable for every action or word, cementing your role in this distraught world, and reflecting how your mind is shaping your detective, and vice versa. Talking to the many denizens of Martinaise can often reveal facts about yourself, acknowledging or downright denying them are choices, and never has a game felt more liberating when it comes to moulding one’s psyche.
These thoughts can also be fitted into your brain, developing with time and eventually revealing intriguing bits of story and stat buffs to boot. Not of all of them are major, but some do carry certain implications for your state of mind. The complexity of your character is within your control with skills points eventually unlocking room for more than just three thoughts for layers of complexity.
Disco Elysium has 24 skills that can make or break you as well. Staples such as logic, perception, or endurance are accompanied by the more abstruse skills of conceptualisation and inland empire, the latter which allows you to gather inspiration from dreams and converse with objects.
The skills work as advertised, of course, with high logic granting better analysis of situations or a low endurance making even the easiest of tasks a herculean effort. Once more, it is the prerogative of the player to build your detective the way you deem fit. These skills can then be improved over time, building from a foundational base stats of intellect, psyche, physique, and motorics, which gives you a leg up or down for certain actions.
It is through this extremely pliable character that the world of Disco Elysium comes alive. Existing in a perfect blend of beautifully drawn characters and painted environments, with enough filth bubbling just beneath the surface, Revachol and Martinaise are perfect representations of poverty, crime, corruption, and violence.
The many characters you will meet are not spared that treatment either, often spewing gloriously disgusting things that make perfect sense in this context, evoking true bleakness and at times, nausea, and is quite unlike anything that came before it.
Yet, the rare sparks of hope and life shine through even brighter as a result. Much like reality, sometimes people are doing what they can to get by as the world marches on without a care, while all you can do is watch and accept the way things are. The breathtaking lighting, coupled with the wonderfully realised atmospheric and ambient sound design makes for a delightful trip into this world. It is hard to find another interactive medium that sends across that message as effectively as Disco Elysium.
The amazing writing often hits hard with humour, catches you by surprise, and is perfect for almost every encounter. The touch of flair that adorns even the most basic of conversations makes for a fun time throughout the entirety of the game. The addition of voice-acting for certain characters only serves to enhance the entertaining theatrics.
However, all this would be for nought if the meat of the game is not up to snuff. Thankfully, the detective part of Disco Elysium is as strong as the other aspects. Being open-ended in structure, players can choose to jump straight into solving the murder, or more likely, pursue the many different tasks that pop up as you explore.
What is great is that everything you do, in whichever order, everything is linked. Completing a certain task can open up new paths of investigation in others, and the multiple layers at play here are simply staggering to fathom. Every playstyle you can think of, whether it be the all-action detective or the cunning and observant sleuth, there is always a solution to the many problems in the game. Disco Elysium caters to every moment of madness you can think of, and that is downright satisfying.
With all the options available to the player, be it how you build out your character and how you choose to interact with the world and its denizens, no one playthrough of Disco Elysium is the same. The depth of its systems, the freedom to change the world, and the immense storytelling that lies in every conversation makes Disco Elysium one of the best RPGs of all time.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
A truly outstanding piece of art, Disco Elysium is an RPG that warrants playing over and over again.
Gameplay - 9.5/10
Story - 10/10
Presentation - 9/10
Value - 10/10