Disco Elysium is a point-and-click, Isometric RPG set in a strange world. At first, I thought it felt like the story was set in France. Instead, it takes place in Revachol, a fragment of a war-torn world like our own. This indie game puts you in the shoes (if you happen to find them) of a drunken amnesiac as he tries to piece together the political powder keg of a setting before him and equally, how he fits in it.
The game takes RPG elements from the 90’s era, strips back to the combat-centric mechanics of typical RPGs of this nature and then rewards players for using cunning, deduction and genuine detective work to progress the story.
This game is one of the most unique IP’s I have ever had the joy of playing. It is a testament to what good writing can do for an indie game and it looks incredible to boot. However, you may be wondering how good this game really is. Well, we hope we can shine a light on that in our Disco Elysium Review. Check it out below.
Story of Disco Elysium
The world this game takes place in feels broken. It takes place in an orphan district of a city. It means the police have no presence there because neither precinct wants it. You also see the scars of a failed revolution that took place forty years in this game’s past. Everyone you meet seems to have been affected by it. It’s like the ghosts of the revolution hang on this city like a thick fog.
The buildings are in ruins, corruption is rampant, and things feel helpless. All of this is being shown to you through an alcoholic police officer. At least he seems like he’s a police officer. Your character has forgotten his name, lost his badge, pawned his gun, has no money, and is dying of liver failure. Assuming the thoughts in his head can be believed.
I never knew if I should trust my character. He would have conversations with his tie, a corpse, and the voices in his head. The game even opens that way. You’re blackout drunk and talk to the different parts of your brain. Throughout the game, your character gets lost in his thoughts. It makes the game feel like you’re trying to solve a murder, while simultaneously trying to put your mind back together.
The characters in this game are fascinating. They all seem to know something about the murder, but they either don’t want to tell you, or they seem indifferent to the murder altogether. The more you talk with them, the more you learn about the game’s world, the characters themselves, and the people involved with the murder.
The further you get into this investigation, the more you realize nothing is how it seems. As you interview more people and build up your skills, you find the stories don’t match up. It’s a wild ride! I came up with a few theories on what was going on along the way. I went from thinking my character killed him, to thinking it was an act of vengeance, to feeling a crime was reported as an excuse. I wasn’t sure who was lying who was telling the truth. Part of the fun in this game was thinking about who did it and how my character might screw this up.
You end up in some tense situations near the end of the game, and if you are anything like me, everything that could go wrong will go wrong. That was how I felt after several of the scenarios in Disco Elysium. There are many “I think I did that right” and “Maybe I can do better next time” as you play through the game. Making it such a naturally replayable game and one of the most cohesively written narratives in gaming history.
Interesting read: Comprehensive Guide to Best Skills in Disco Elysium
Disco Elysium’s Visuals Mirror its Story
Disco Elysium has one of the most unique art styles you are likely to find within the entire medium of gaming. The whole affair feels like you are guiding your character through a live-action Renaissance painting and we are absolutely here for it, as the kids say. The art style reflects the dark and gritty nature of the source material.
It showcases all of the dingy and rundown locales with fine detail, it shines a light on the political struggles within the region and the effect it has on certain areas, most notably the fishing village which most players will encounter on the third day. Plus, it does all this while still retaining a vibrant colour palette and a very eye-catching aesthetic. Truly, its like nothing else out there in this regard.
Also, we have to praise the score for this title as well. The soundtrack is sublime, offering a backing track for your adventure. Each track depicts the themes and setting you inhabit perfectly. When the game wants you to feel melancholy, it nails this. Then when it wants to express neutrality to allow you the freedom to explore, the soundtrack provides. In terms of presentation, the game rarely sets a foot wrong throughout the entire campaign and for that, this game deserves a lot of praise.
Playing with Harry’s Thoughts
When it comes to the core mechanics of Disco Elysium, those that were present during the Black Isles and Interplay era in the 1990’s will feel right at home here. The game is essentially a point and click adventure with a lot of RPG elements from the isometric era, which through games like Pillars of Eternity and Wasteland, has admittedly made a comeback.
However, how Disco Elysium sets itself apart is genuinely a stroke of genius. The game instead of offering a wealth of weapons and RTS combat, instead asks the player to explore, draw conclusions, persuade, influence, negotiate, charm and occasionally throw a punch, all in the aid of uncovering more about the riveting plotline.
The game does this not only through excellent writing and social interactions within the game governed by the typical RPG mechanic, the dice roll. The game also offers one of the most intelligently crafted and diverse skill trees I’ve ever encountered. Allowing the player to create any type of detective they like, as Harry’s amnesia serves as the perfect blank canvas. You can be an idiot savant, a cold clinical detective, a cynical layabout, or you can be the brains of the operation, it’s up to you.
Then to supplement this, the player can also learn more about the world through books and thought processes, which essentially act as perks you can equip. It’s refreshing to see that each mechanic is meticulously crafted, every mechanic is contextual and has a purpose and overall, this is why the game allows for complete player freedom.
Some of the quests come in cases, while others are simple fetch quests. You’ll find other dead bodies, missing people, and dealing with the drug trade in the city. There are some optional cases you can take on. This gives you a few options when you want to replay the game. I tried to focus on the main game and just one build. It would be fun to do things differently, do all the quests, and tinker with the different builds. The other cases let you know more about the townsfolk, which is the part of the game I enjoyed the most.
A few of the quests stand out for me. The first is a quest to find a cryptozoologist, someone who looks for mythic animals, and the second is where you try to gain the trust of the union. Both bring you to a fishing village to the south of the town. This is where the feeling of hopelessness and crushed dreams stood out.
- The cryptozoologist quest seems straightforward. You have to find this lovely lady’s husband. The game makes you wait a bit because, like other quests, this can only be done on a specific day. You’re given a few other tasks once you get over to the fishing village and find him.
- Gaining the trust of the Union also sees you traveling to the fishing village. I generally felt bad about this part. You convince the two residents of the village to let the Union build a youth centre, thereby giving up their land.
Read Also: All Disco Elysium Side Quests Ranked.
The Character Sheet, Inventory, Journal, and Thought Cabinet are accessed from the same menu. They are all easy to use once you get going.
The Character Sheet is what the game calls your skill tree. This is where you assign your skill points and level-up skills. This helps to unlock more dialogue options and improve your chances of unlocking options.
The Inventory menu is divided into four parts.
- Tools- Items your character carries in his hands.
- Clothes – It’s all the clothes your character picks up during his journey. I can imagine what this guy’s closet looks like.
- Items – You can pawn these, which help you in the investigation.
- Interact – These are items you can examine which can help you in your investigation.
The Journal is where your quests are tracked, and the map is located, assuming that you bought it. I didn’t buy the map right away and didn’t have any trouble finding things.
The Thought Cabinet is a strange one. Throughout the game, your character will daydream about stuff. There isn’t any other way to put it. He will ponder things, and if you want, he can think about them in greater detail. This happens while you’re playing the game. These will sometimes help you during the game.
Pros and Cons
- Having the main character lose his memory was an inspired way to allow for player projection and a freedom to create any character they choose
- The supporting characters were entertaining. Some got annoying from time to time, but overall, they were fun
- Having most of their side quests tie into the primary investigation also worked quite well
- The overall presentation is sublime
- The writing is humorous, dark and interesting in equal measure
- This isn’t an action game. You don’t do much aside from running around the city. If you’re looking for something with some action or fighting, you’ll be disappointed.
- The content can be dense at times, like a Steig Larsson novel with big names, complex ideas and reems and reams of text. So for all you gamers with a short attention span, you have been warned
You may be coming to the end of this incredible game and be wondering, what other games would make for an excellent ship to jump to next. Well, here is a quick list of some great Disco Elysium alternatives:
- Pillars of Eternity
- Fallout New Vegas
- Divinity II: The Original Sin
- Dragon Age
- Pathologic II
Question: Does the Story have a time limit In Disco Elysium?
Answer: The main story doesn’t have a time limit. The player can discover things and progress at their own pace. However, some of the side quests only happen on specific days.
Question: Is there a map in Disco Elysium?
Answer: Yes, you have to buy it from the bookstore or steal it if you pass a skill check. It costs 90 cents.
Question: What is a skill check in Disco Elysium, and can they be repeated if I fail?
Answer: A skill check, or white check as the game calls it, is a dialogue choice in a white box. You’ll have a percentage chance to pass these options. If you fail, you will have to increase your skill in an area to try again. This will also improve your chances of passing the check.
Score: 9/10 – A must-play title for isometric RPG fans, new and old. A riveting story, a visually stunning game and one that will live long in the memory.
The game left me wanting more in a good way. I wanted more of the story, more characters, and a conclusion to some of the quests I didn’t finish. The graphics were impeccable, the score was brilliant, and the atmosphere was great throughout. However, the story was what stuck with me, and what most of the success of this game rests upon.
Disco Elysium is a game that bravely goes against the conventions of modern gaming and reaps the rewards for doing so. It’s a truly unique project, an essential game for any RPG lover and in my personal opinion, one of the most complete games of the modern era.