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Awards

Rating

  • Graphics
  • Multiplayer
  • Story (Career Mode)
  • Originality

You Might Like

  • Unique, richly detailed world-building
  • Witty and intelligent writing
  • An addictive and compelling story
  • The 'push your luck' element of the Red and White Checks
  • Many possibilities to shape your character

Might Not Like

  • Adult themes
  • Occasional lagging/glitching

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Disco Elysium Review

disco elysium review feature image

To give you the gist up front: I loved this game, and I can't stop talking about it. Disco Elysium is a role-playing game. Right from the start, it gave me warm, fuzzy memories of my tabletop roleplaying days.

It's an intelligent, funny, unusual, and completely addictive story. A story that is unfolding in front of you as you try to step into the shoes of an amnesiac cop... with the most incredible hangover.

In the Deep End

Disco Elysium begins with the main character, a mess of a police officer, waking in a hotel room with no memories. He doesn't know who he is, where he is, or what he is. The game will see him uncovering his identity, piece by piece, assembling some sense of himself from the chaos around him... some of which he caused himself.

This is how I felt as the player. Thrown into the deep end, overwhelmed with noise, with no obvious sense of what to focus on. Disco Elysium moves at top speed and expects you to go along with it. It's confusing but in a kind of compelling way. You just have to go with it and allow yourself to be swept along with the tide.

It's your job to get to the bottom of a murder. Who is the hanged man in the square? How did he get there, and who killed him? Along with your partner, the patient Kim Kitsuragi, you'll be investigating the murder by exploring the area, clicking on items, and striking up conversations with people.

Lucky Rolls

The brilliant thing (or more accurately, one of the many brilliant things) about Disco Elysium is the way it allows you to shape the main character. You don't have a clue about the man whose life you're inhabiting. You can have some control over the way he responds by choosing to spend skill points in different areas.
Along with the usual kind of skills you'd expect if you're familiar with tabletop roleplaying, there are a range of other, more elusive skills to choose from. Esprit De Corps will enable you to understand cop culture. Half Light accelerates your fight-or-flight response. It allows you to question witnesses more effectively. Shivers allows you to tune in to the environment, picking up subtle clues that you might have otherwise missed.

Hit with analysis paralysis, I chose to focus on the skills I didn't understand to start with, just to see what happened. I'm glad I did: my version of the mysterious cop was impulsive, empathetic, but prone to getting lost in a reverie. It felt more natural, then, to inject absurd dialogue into conversations at random intervals (more on that in a moment).

You'll be able to unlock new actions and dialogue options using Red Checks and White Checks. Red Checks can only be done once: if you fail the roll of the dice, it's closed off to you forever. White Checks can be rerolled, but you might have to wait a while. Chances of success are improved by levelling up certain skills and acquiring new information.

Whirling-In-Rags

Eventually, you'll gain enough composure to leave the hotel and start to explore the area. There are riches to be found here the writing and the lore.

As you wander around, you'll collect items, find clues, and talk to people. You will also, frequently, get lost in your own thoughts. Competing ideas clash in your head, vying for your attention. Shivers will encourage you to listen to your surroundings . Drama will encourage you to act, well, dramatically. You can choose which thoughts you decide to pay attention to, gradually shaping your character.

You can also make use of the Thought Cabinet. You can choose to invest time in a train of thought, which will give you bonuses. Once you've internalized 3 thoughts, you'll need to use a skill point to unlock new ones or choose to forget older ones instead.

Disco Elysium has its own internal clock. Some actions (and conversations) take longer than others. Most people head to bed after 21:00, with the town mostly deserted at 2:00. If you're not with Kim, you can while away the time on a bench, which you'll need to do .
Kim will also disapprove of your methods from time to time. To avoid his scorn, you can wait until he's not with you to sneak off and do your own thing, sometimes after he's gone to bed. I missed Kim when he wasn't there, but I did enjoy the feeling of rebellion when I snuck out after dark.

A Million Words

The most astonishing thing about Disco Elysium has to be the writing. It's strong, poetic, and lyrical. Each skill and character has its own distinct voice, helped by the incredible voice acting added in The Final Cut version. Despite the voice acting, it will involve a lot of reading. There are over a million words in Disco Elysium, and I enjoyed every bit I managed to unlock.

I could get completely lost in this world. As well as the main story - the mystery of the hanged man, the mystery of who you actually are - you'll have the option of going down a hundred rabbit holes. Will you choose to get involved in a political movement? To help a woman find her lost husband? Befriend the neighbourhood hooligan? Learn about racism and past conflicts? It's overwhelming, the sheer amount of content, but in the best way.

It's also disarmingly funny. Hilarious moments happen when you least expect them, especially if you choose to inject strange answers into conversations (which can get you either . You'll become attached to your version of the character, and the growing bond with Kim is heartwarming.

One thing to note: this is an 18+ game for good reason. With swearing, references to drugs, drinking, and sex, you'll want to keep this one far away from your kids.

Some Frustrations

I played Disco Elysium on the Switch, and it did come with some problems. Most of the time it ran well, but if I played it docked, it became laggy and frustrating. I usually play handheld, so this wasn't a huge issue for me, but it's definitely something to keep in mind if you prefer the big-screen experience.

Infuriatingly, I lost over an hour's progress by encountering a glitch (at the red chair in the shack, just as a warning). The game is supposed to autosave, but it didn't, and when I found myself trapped in a non-existent area, I had no choice but to quit out and start again. I soon got into the habit of saving every five minutes, but still, it left me feeling a bit paranoid in case it happened again.

These drawbacks sound big, but to me, they weren't. I was so enraptured by the game that I was willing to overlook the occasional lag or glitch (providing I remembered to save my progress).

Really, I think this might be the best game I have played in a long time. It's funny, thought-provoking, unusual, and vulnerable. Most importantly, it has some of the best writing I've encountered in a video game. This for me, far outweighs the occasional performance issues on the Switch.

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Graphics
  • Multiplayer
  • Story (Career Mode)
  • Originality

You might like

  • Unique, richly detailed world-building
  • Witty and intelligent writing
  • An addictive and compelling story
  • The 'push your luck' element of the Red and White Checks
  • Many possibilities to shape your character

Might not like

  • Adult themes
  • Occasional lagging/glitching

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