I began playing pencil-and-paper role-playing games as a kid and didn’t get into computer role-playing games (AKA CRPGs) until Bioware released the first Baldur’s Gate title. That was a little over two decades ago. Nowadays, there aren’t just a small number of developers making CRPGs, there are many. However, most of them are very similar to each other in that they follow the same genre conventions.
Although newcomer to the scene, Disco Elysium, doesn’t have a large world to explore as with many CRPGs, the amount of care and detail that its developers put into its environs is staggering. Another thing that sets this game apart from others is that it is heavily focused on its writing—players are frequently tasked with making various decisions (and die-rolls) from granular text-based menus.
At the start of the game, Disco Elysium allows you to choose from three different architypes. The first “class” you can pick is the “thinker” (brilliant but socially awkward), the “sensitive” type (easy going yet erratic), or a “physical” (tough but not too bright) type. Or, you can create your own character type by dispersing a total of 12 points into four different characteristics.
After choosing what type of character you want to play, the actual game kicks off. I must say, I was a little taken aback by how different Disco Elysium opens itself up—your character wakes up sprawled across the floor of a grubby hotel room. He’s also half-naked with multiple empty bottles of booze laying around.
From there (after putting on some clothes that are scattered throughout the place), you find out that apparently you’re a cop who was sent to solve a murder mystery in the immediate area. However, your mega-bender has robbed you of your memory. Now it’s up to you to not only find out who the culprit that committed the murder is but also your own identity as well.
Disco Elysium’s plot unfolds as gradually as it takes its time with building up its world. That game is actually about a burned-out, middle-aged man who destroyed himself. Now the player (you) has to pick up all of the pieces and place them back together. Therefore, throughout the game, you’re building the character back up into what you want him to be. It’s an unusual way to play a CRPG and I think it’s highly refreshing.
You won’t find any of the standard skills that you normally find in other games of this sort, such as firearm, melee, stealth, lock picking, etc. Instead, you’ll see such attributes as “Authority” and “Savior Faire.” It takes a little getting used to but once you get the hang of things, the game really opens up.
Just about all of your character’s choices are handled through clicking through a vast plethora of text menus, punctuated by die rolls here and there, and some great voice-acted dialogues. You would think that this could begin to feel a little too “gamey” at times, but everything in this game has the feeling of unfolding organically.
One of the things that I really enjoy about Disco Elysium is that you don’t feel as though you’re on a guided tour on rails—the game’s world is a virtual sandbox, wide open for you to explore at your leisure. Along the way, you’ll discover that it’s also a very offbeat world with many strange and zany characters to interact with. As the game’s Steam description page states, it has: “A revolutionary dialogue system with unforgettable characters. The world is alive with real people, not extras. Play them against each other, try to help them, or fall hopelessly in love. Disco Elysium’s revolutionary dialogue system, with partially voiced characters, lets you do almost anything.”
Although Disco Elysium’s funky world is your oyster, eventually it’ll remind you that your character has a murder to solve. Personally, however, I got so caught up with discovering who my character was and going off on little side-missions, that I put the murder mystery off for quite some time. The game is really just that immersive and interesting.
Disco Elysium is a charming digital experience that does a great job at what its developers set out to do: Let players lose themselves in “the most faithful representation of desktop role playing ever attempted in video games.” And from my perspective, they succeeded in doing just that.
Disco Elysium has some pretty good looking graphics that make its CRPG gameplay truly shine. However, you want to have a pretty beefy gaming PC or gaming laptop in order to play it at a decent framerate. So, you may just want to invest in a decent gaming rig:
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