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[Review] Disco's Back, Baby!

A Disco Elysium Review

  1. Keneth
    Have you ever woken up after a long night of drinking and couldn't remember what you did last night? What if you got so drunk that you couldn't remember anything anymore? ZA/UM proudly presents: Lonely middle-aged cop with a serious drinking problem simulator! :beer:


    You take on the role of a middle-aged detective assigned to investigate a murder in the coastal town of Martinaise. Unfortunately, you seemed to have gotten so wasted the previous night that you can no longer remember anything, not even your own name. As you stumble through the world, you slowly learn more and more about yourself, the case, and the world around you.

    Your actions also define what kind of cop you are (your "copotype"), as well as what your political alignment is. There is no moral alignment, though you can accumulate good/bad cop points and honor points, which doesn't necessarily make you good or honorable.

    The story and the world around it are very captivating. The murder mystery has quite a few twists and the well-timed exposition, both from your internal voices and the characters around you, never fails to make you feel like you're part of a much bigger world.

    In your investigation, you are joined by Kim Kitsuragi, a fellow detective from a different precinct. Kim is a no-nonsense standup kind of guy that will always stand by your side and support you on your journey of finding both yourself and the killer. Although he is the only companion that most people will have with them (it's possible for him to be replaced in the endgame in case he gets injured), he is an interesting and likable character that no one should mind having along for the ride.

    Overall, it's been a long time since a story and setting (especially modern setting) have hooked me quite so successfully and held my interest to the end, so I have to give props to the writers.


    The game is heavily inspired by Planescape: Torment, so if you're not a fan of games where you do a lot of talking, you're not gonna like this game. All actions in the game are performed through dialogue or through passive skill checks. The developers even went so far as to not include any kind of combat system at all, which I think was a good decision.

    The player character, let's call him Costeau, can choose from 3 different pre-made character archetypes, that determine his starting attributes, or you can assign him a completely custom set of attributes if you want. The attribute values determine the starting bonuses to each of the six skills that fall under that attribute, as well as the number of times that attribute can be increased. Dumping a stat can mean that you won't be able to reach a high enough value in a skill for certain actions later in the game (which doesn't mean that it's impossible to succeed on that particular task).

    Each of the 24 skills can be invested into as the game progresses and the game leans heavily into the use of skills, with every conversation or action featuring several skill checks. Unlike the more familiar d20, the player rolls 2d6 for every active skill check, with ⚅⚅ resulting in a critical success, and snake eyes in a critical failure. That means that it's possible to succeed on almost every active check if you're lucky enough to hit that ~3% chance.

    There are no levels, but for every 100 XP, Costeau will get an additional skill point to spend. Besides skills, Costeau will also get various "thoughts" as you venture through the game. Each of these thoughts can be "internalized" to get bonuses (or penalties) to certain skills, as well as other perks. There is a maximum number of internalized thoughts that you can have at any given time, but you can spend skill points to unlock extra slots or to discard thoughts that have already been internalized (some are not worth keeping).

    Costeau's skills can also be affected by the various articles of clothing that he's wearing, as well as drugs, so you'll usually walk around dressed like a hobo or a clown to pass certain skill checks. Certain characters will also comment on your choice of clothing, which makes it all the more funny.

    Failing checks usually carries some consequences, but the game makes sure that you can keep playing without having to worry about it. Sometimes failing the check results in an even better outcome than a success would. Many of the checks (called "white checks") can also be repeated if you fail them, either by investing more points into that particular skill, getting a modifier from performing other actions in the game, or by internalizing certain thoughts. There are also "red checks" that are not repeatable, usually during one-time events or cases where failing the check results in major changes.


    The game features a distinctive oil painting art style that is absolutely gorgeous. Much of the backgrounds, as well as all of the portraits, are hand-painted, but cleverly rendered in the 3D engine to make the animations and lighting work. They did an amazing job of making the war-torn run-down town at the same time feel depressing and look absolutely stunning.

    The music is performed by the English band British Sea Power and fits in perfectly. It's unobtrusive during most of the game and impactful when it needs to be. The game does not feature a whole lot of sound effects, so you never feel like any of them outstay their welcome. Almost every single line of dialogue in the Final Cut is also voice acted by very competent voice actors.

    Play Time and Replayability

    It took me about 40-ish hours to complete all quests and tie up loose ends. Realistically, if you're not that much of a completionist, it'll probably take you somewhere between 25-30 hours to finish the game. Although there are a few quests that you'll likely miss or are mutually exclusive, the game doesn't really block off major parts of it based on your decisions, so you'll likely see most of it on the first go. That said, you'll want to do at least one more run to see what the game is like if you invest into different attributes and pick different choices. That should net around 50-60 hours of fun if you plan to see just about everything the game has to offer.


    The game nails just about every aspect of it and makes you wish you could be like the detective, completely forgetting his entire life and enjoying the story again and again. Since there's nothing I can really fault it for in its Final incarnation, it gets a 10/10 from me.
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