Recently I Finished Disco Elysium
Ever since its release mid-October 2019, I’ve had a keen interest in playing Disco Elysium, a cop-drama, RPG with a focus on philosophical and political quandaries. Recently, however, it got a big (FREE) update and the timing finally felt right; so I played it! You play a man with amnesia, he can’t even remember he’s a cop! And yet, you are tasked with solving an increasingly perplexing case in a town with a rich history and many secrets of its own. You are free to mold yourself how you will, approach every situation however you’d like, and hopefully, solve the mysteries the game has to offer with as few casualties as possible. So here I am, a reviewer of sorts, to tell you just what I think of Disco Elysium.
Wander the town, look at things, pick dialog options, and roll dice. Ultimately, that’s what the game boils down to, it’s also a lot of waiting. However, the payoff for all of this is generally quite worth it, especially when you stray the course of your investigation. The store page does quite a good job on selling you on everything, so let’s just go with that:
Disco Elysium – The Final Cut is the definitive edition of the groundbreaking role playing game. You’re a detective with a unique skill system at your disposal and a whole city block to carve your path across. Interrogate unforgettable characters, crack murders, or take bribes. Become a hero or an absolute disaster of a human being.
Full voice acting. All of the city’s beautiful people are brought to life with full English voiceover. Play characters against each other, try to help them, or fall hopelessly in love as each word is spoken to you with the appropriate accent and emotion.
New political vision quests. Face the reality of your worldview as your political compass leads you down new paths. Discover more citizens, a whole extra area, and monumental sights as you leave an even bigger mark on the world by chasing your dreams.
Unprecedented freedom of choice. Intimidate, sweet-talk, resort to violence, write poetry, sing karaoke, dance like a beast, or solve the meaning of life. Disco Elysium – The Final Cut is the most faithful representation of desktop role playing ever attempted in video games.
Countless tools for role playing. Mix and match from 24 wildly different skills. Develop a personal style with over 80 clothing items. Wield 14 tools from guns to flashlights to a boombox, or pour yourself a cocktail of 6 different psychoactive substances. Develop your character even further with 60 wild thoughts to think – with the detective’s Thought Cabinet.
A revolutionary dialogue system with unforgettable characters. The world is alive with real people, not extras. Ask probing questions, make insightful observations, or express your wildest desires as you play cop or something completely different. Disco Elysium’s revolutionary dialogue system lets you do almost anything.
Carve your unique path across the city. Explore, manipulate, collect tare, or become a millionaire in an open world unlike anything you’ve seen before. The city of Revachol is yours for the taking, one small piece at a time. From the streets to the beaches – and beyond.
Hard boiled, hard core. Death, sex, taxes, and disco – nothing is off the table. Revachol is a real place with real challenges. Solve a massive murder investigation, or relax and kick back with sprawling side-cases. The detective decides, the citizens abide.
We’ve all been that guy. You know the one. Sorry, I suppose I shouldn’t just assume you know what I mean, the kind of reviewer who has big ideas but isn’t always able to deliver. “Sorry, I have to cancel this project”, or falling over oneself to justify why they did or didn’t like something, you know how it is. Well, I’m sorry to say but the game has several issues in spite of my best efforts to say that I did genuinely enjoy the game overall.
If I had to pinpoint my exact issues, I would say these are the worst offenders:
- Failure/Check System
- Direction/Time Gates
- The Game’s Insistence That You Have Opinions
- The Ending
Let’s go over each of those in turn. As for failing, it’s actually pretty fun most of the time. There are two types of checks in the game, white checks, and red checks. The first kind of check you can retry as long as you meet certain conditions, while red checks give you only one shot. You might think I’m going to complain about the red checks, but I’m sorry to disappoint, it’s actually the white checks that I took issue with.
You can get locked out of whole parts of the game if you fail these too often and don’t have the ability to put more points in the necessary skills to unlock the check again. In fact, I missed a WHOLE QUARTER of the game because I failed out of some checks. Sucks, because it’s content I wanted to experience. Now I understand that you aren’t meant to see everything in a single play, but it was so obvious that I was missing a big chunk of story that it hardly felt good…
Furthermore, it got frustrating to know what I needed to do only to be unable to progress due to these checks. Once you are unable to unlock the check again, that’s it. Not to mention the fact that sometimes failing a white check would have a ripple effect, making other things more difficult later. In that sense, the game kind of feels like it gets in its own way, which I almost feel like I have to apologize for, because when things are going smoothly it’s great, but when it’s not…
This certainly isn’t how most of the game is though, but it does feed into my next point. When it comes to direction, the game either gives you way too much, or almost none at all. It’s a detective game, so it shouldn’t hold your hand, but at a few points I tried practically everything, even when I had like a 1% chance of success on some checks, just because I couldn’t find a way to progress in the story. It wasn’t fun when those rare moments happened.
I’m sorry, but how am I to know what will trigger meaningful progress when all the leads seem to dry up? When I hit a wall like this it felt almost arbitrary and absolutely killed the pacing of the game the two times it happened. Took me entirely out of the experience. A lot of the time, the reason I couldn’t progress was because of an arbitrary time gate on something.
These became increasingly more obvious and egregious as the game went on. We don’t want you to do X, but we’ll pretend like you can by putting a check on it. We don’t want you exploring too much, so you just can’t go to these places until we say the time is right. I mean, I get it, some events need to happen at the right time and in the right order for the story, but giving the illusion that implies otherwise felt kind of insulting to me as a player.
Circling back to things that took me out of the experience though, the game’s absolute insistence that you formulate an opinion on everything gets kind of exhausting. Are you a racist? A communist? An [insert here]? The list goes on and on…. When you opt out of having a thought on something like this, the game gets extremely mad at you and just insults you for several minutes. That’s not fun. Sometimes the game presents you with two very bad takes, and wants you to commit to one, and often if you don’t, you are locked out of a chance to progress via certain means.
The example that comes to mind is when the game wanted me to become a racist so I could do the portion of the game I missed out on. I didn’t really want to do that, so I said no. The catch 22 here that I needed to say yes to progress, to agree to being racist. If you don’t see the problem there, then I’m sorry, but…
Finally, the ending of the game was a disappointment for me. When I say “ending”, I mean solving the case, not literally the entire ending. I figured it out before all the characters did (again), and when my suspicions regarding the true culprit became reality I couldn’t help but let out a heavy sigh. I’m sorry to say once again, but a good mystery shouldn’t be written like this, it feels lazy and wasn’t particularly rewarding in that regard. The rest of the ending surrounding that, on the other hand, need not apologize, it was good.
Alright, no more apologizing. You know why? That’s right, because I’m a motherf***ing bad***. I know my shit, and I’m not afraid to let you know it. I know you all want, no need my opinion on this and so I’m doing you all a favor by letting you catch a mere glimpse of my genius. Just look at what I said earlier, I solved another mystery ahead of schedule, still managed to get the true ending and most the secrets in spite of being locked out of a whole section of the game, AND then share my experience with you… well, let’s just say there’s no need to thank me.
That last guy’s a bit of a prick. There’s no accounting for taste, to say the least. He’s ugly, just like a lot of the art in this game. Well, ugly isn’t exactly the right word when it comes to the game at least. All of the art fits rather well, there’s a sense of cohesion there, but I wouldn’t call any of it attractive. From a thematic standpoint it makes the narrative hit all the better thanks to being relatively simplistic with the models, detailed with its backgrounds, and somewhat abstract with the various portraits for skills and characters alike. Your understanding of the world is fuzzy despite the clarity of what you can easily observe, and the amnesia obscures things that should otherwise be familiar. In that sense, the game really delivers a unique experience with a visual flair all its own.
A sample of what the game looks like, it really does look quite good
But art, my friend, is more than just what one can see. What one can hear also plays a part, and I must say that Disco Elysium truly exceeds all expectations. There’s a sense of moody dread that lingers with the soft notes that drift through the fairly empty town of Revachol. One of the more impressive moments of the game was a melancholic karaoke performance I took a small detour to do, just as a small example. Not once did the game’s atmosphere suffer, nay, I’d say it was fairly enhanced as a result of the various aspects of sound design at practically every turn.
In this way, Disco Elysium is a work of art unto itself, worthy of your time. The experience is wholly unique and unlike anything I’ve experienced in my lifetime when it comes to a video game experience. Plus, as the others have mentioned, the game is genuinely good a vast majority of the time. A feast for the senses and mind.
None of this really sounds like something Jon Spencer would write. Can any of us say with any real degree of confidence that these thoughts are truly his? Rather, wouldn’t it be more correct to assert that each of these statements are only a manifestation of some persona, all sides to the same proverbial coin. Rarely are one’s thoughts wholly representative of just a solitary aspect, but rather instead pull on the totality of a lifetime of experience influenced by not only one’s environment but the individual’s own mood at the time of expression.
What I’m trying to say, is that a static mask, front, persona, or whatever term you deem most applicable in this situation is over simplistic a view. This writing, obviously performative in nature, is a living, breathing entity that pulls on more than an unyielding position. In short, this is Jon Spencer. All of it. The thoughts herein are his in their totality, or rather, the potential for all of these summations are capable of being manifest at any time.
This is a reflection of the topic of our discussion today, of Disco Elysium. You choose to mold yourself there as you choose to do so in reality. All of the potential outcomes and paths lay before you, asking only for you to simply choose. A more optimistic individual would perhaps say that limitless opportunity awaits as a result of this potential, but a more practical and learned person would be less inclined to indulge such a thought. In truth, many rarely deviate from their path in life, and so true is that the case here, but that is exactly what is being questioned. Why?
Do not get hung up on trivial details. Explore your world, and truly experience it. For a life without risk and deviation is not a life worth living, sometimes the risk is one’s reward into and of itself.
That’s all well and good, but as you can see none of this pointless mussing really brings home the bacon, I’m not getting the bread, or to put it bluntly, paying the bills here. What’s the point in this creativity if it yields yet another baron crop? Tirelessly toiling away, like some machine who’s sole purpose is the mass production of this creativity, but for what?
Money spent to review this game, to bring this creativity to you. A consumer, always unsatisfied, demanding more and more until there is nothing left. A hulking mass, spent beyond measure, shriveled and dead. Only one thing sustains such an entity, the promise of recognition, and in turn, reward. Yes, spend money to make money.
Does this please my merciless overlords of the capitalistic society? What say you, oh great consumer? And so I go through with yet another hollow ritual. I ask that you like this writing, follow for more, and most importantly, beg for you to toss a solitary penny in my direction, to land in the metaphorical can I use to house the currency dolled out by the passersby here-and-there in hopes of one day reaching that which always seems in reach but remains ever unattainable.
The sound of a coin rattles in my previously empty can, the sound bringing temporary jubilation to my being. Perhaps tonight I need not riffle through the garbage, and can pretend myself a fellow human alongside my fellow pretenders. I fall over myself with profuse “thank-you’s” and other platitudes of gratitude, fishing the cold and uncaring coin from it’s container as if it were more precious than my own life. Validation. An inescapable cycle.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to return once again to the grind of the day-to-day. Sitting here with my can and signs, hoping to hear the “clink!” of some wayward coin once more. To receive the high that exceeds that which drugs and other pleasures promise to provide, riding its waves for those temporary moments of respite in this tumultuous world. Yes, I’m very busy indeed.
What are your thoughts on Disco Elysium? I’d love to hear them in the comments below as well as how you enjoyed this more experimental review. I won’t claim this game is for everybody, it has about every trigger warning under the sun, but still, I think it’s one of those titles you won’t regret experiencing given the chance. Thanks for reading, please consider those aforementioned likes and follows, along with a donation via the buttons below. Until next time, enjoy yourself.