Before the November madness comes around, I’ve found that this has been a good time to catch up with smaller games that have released in the past few months. And there have been a lot of them —Afterparty, Link’s Awakening, and The Surge 2 just to name a few. One game in particular has caught my attention, though, and it’s Disco Elysium.
Developed and published by a studio called ZA/UM, Disco Elysium is a CRPG that puts you in control of a detective who’s just woken up from an awful hangover. I’ve only sunk a few hours into the game so far, but it’s already shaping up to be possibly the most immersive RPG of 2019. Even more so than the warmly received The Outer Worlds, developed by Obsidian Entertainment, which released right after Disco Elysium itself.
Think Divinity: Original Sin 2, Pillars of Eternity, or Planescape: Torment. You have dialogue options to choose from in every conversation you participate in, and that’s absolutely crucial in solving the murder mystery that kickstarts the entire game.
On the other side of things, your character is also an amnesiac detective who has no idea who he is or what his background’s like, and you’re kinda just going along with the flow. So that’s where your dialogue options get really important as well, as you’re constantly trying to figure things out about yourself at the same time.
What’s so impressive about Disco Elysium, though, is its unflinching willingness to take choice away from the player when the situation demands it.
During conversations, you might have the opportunity to push for a little more information by selecting a riskier dialogue option. However, to actually pull it off, you’ll need to roll some dice to pass the check and get the answers you want.
Fail it, and that’s your shot gone. No do-overs, you just live with your decisions and consequences. This leads to all sorts of hilarious situations, such as the one I’m about to show you in the screenshots down below.
So let me set the scene: in the opening minutes of Disco Elysium, I’d no idea what kind of game I was in for. I was being a little more gung-ho with my dialogue options, so when I was having this perfectly normal conversation with the first NPC I came across, the game gave me the option of making a pass at her.
Hovering over the option, I saw that I had a 47% chance of passing the check, so I went for it.
I went for it, and I failed the check. The NPC promptly made fun of me, made me repeat the dopey ass line I fumbled up while trying to pick her up, and then walked away snickering, making me feel like a complete dumbass.
It was amazing.
I find it hard not to draw some comparisons to The Outer Worlds, which is also a game that thrives on branching conversations and different dialogue options. The problem with The Outer Worlds (and Fallout, and Elder Scrolls, by extension) is that it’s a game that’s completely by the numbers.
You have a persuasion or intimidation stat, and that’s it. You already know if you’ll pass the check, and there’s no risk or consequence involved in the myriad conversations available in that game.
Even the game’s most interesting dialogue feature –Dumb dialogue options that unlock if your stats are low enough– don’t do much more than provide a tiny bit of inconsequential flavor to your conversations. It’s definitely got to do with the game’s writing as well, an aspect that Disco Elysium really crushes.
Evident from just my first few hours with this game, Disco Elysium is not afraid to laugh at the player and poke fun at their failed checks and missteps, and that’s so wonderfully refreshing.
So I guess that’s all I wanted to say: Disco Elysium’s a really great role-playing experience, and while the onrush of big November games is almost upon us, you probably should keep this on your radar anyway. It also has a really pretty font for its cover title, and that’s always a plus.