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Disco Elysium

Developer / Publisher: ZA/UM Studio
15 October 2019
Disco Elysium - cover art
Glitchwave rating
4.54 / 5.0
0.5
5.0
 
 
1,781 Ratings / 14 Reviews
#1 All-time
#1 for 2019
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.
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A man wakes up from a serious bender that wiped his memory clean. He meets a man named Kim Kitsuragi, who informs him that they're both Detectives, he's his partner, and that he was supposed to be solving the murder of The Hanged Man, the very hanged man still rotting in the back of the hostel he's been staying at. He sets out in the city of Revachol with Kim, determined to solve the case of The Hanged Man and piece together his forgotten memories.
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Disco Elysium The Final Cut
2021 ZA/UM Studio  
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Disco Elysium The Final Cut
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The words 'great writing' are writ large right across the discourse surrounding Disco Elysium, but it's worth taking time to examine exactly what we mean when we say that, because 'great writing' could mean a multitude of things in any given context or medium, and I think it's important that we be specific about it when it comes to this game.

Part of that is because, quite simply, Disco Elysium is a game, and when the words 'great writing' appear in a game review, they don't tend to mean the same thing as they do when they appear in a review of anything else. In this realm, 'great writing' has historically tended to refer to dialogue alone, as a natural and obvious consequence of dialogue being the only literal writing that exists in many games. This has changed to some extent recently, but when I see a player talk about a game's writing, I still tend to assume this is what they mean - essentially, that the words the characters speak don't make them cringe. (I'm old enough to remember a time when the bar was very, very low.) But while Disco Elysium has some extremely fine dialog, that is absolutely not what people are talking about when they say it has great writing.

That's no doubt why so many people were so excited by this game - it's very rare that we're able to talk about the strength of a game's writing in the way that a literary critic would talk about the strength of a book's writing. Even when games do try to reach beyond gaming and compete with the best works in other mediums, it's TV and cinema they go for almost by default, but there is no doubt that Disco Elysium's ambitions are specifically literary. 'Great writing' here primarily means rich, detailed worldbuilding, creating a space that the reader/player can feel like they're truly inhabiting and deeply understanding. Plenty of games have done that through visuals, but to do so almost entirely through a character's internal monologue and his conversations with those around him is a very different skill and a very different experience; I do not walk around Revachol thinking 'I want to go to that mountain' or 'I wonder what's inside that forest', I walk around it wanting to know more about its history, religion, economics, culture, and politics. I mean, Hyrule's great, but I've never found myself wanting to know more about the writings of a historical materialist who lived there fifty years earlier and how they inspired a popular revolutionary uprising that was crushed by a coalition of foreign governments, nor wondering how the modern citizens of those foreign governments feel about a political and religious figurehead from three hundreds year prior who may have been the actual messiah or may have been a power-mad war criminal depending on which parts of her mythology you choose to take as real events. They're not comparable.

So it is absolutely correct to talk about the quality of Disco Elysium's writing here; this town feels diseased, dirty, broken, abandoned, but it also feels absolutely alive, truly three-dimensional. Characters get into lengthy arguments about politics and I wish they'd go on longer. Seedy underworlds and shadowy undercurrents of power are exposed and you're given a complete picture not just of how they operate, but of how they came into existence and why they've been allowed to fester and thrive, 'bad guys are bad' replaced with 'the systems that should prevent this are fundamentally broken'. That's thrilling, as any experience is when it feels this good and this truly new. All of which makes Disco Elysium sound like a nailed on five-star masterpiece - and yes, there are absolutely times when it feels like it is.

However.

'Great writing', truly great writing, should also be courageous. It should stand for something, mean something, tell us something, hold the power to change our minds and lives, and it feels like there's a void at the core of this game because it so studiously avoids ever doing any of that. Disco Elysium is a game that will gleefully and mercilessly mock you for believing in anything no matter what it is (and credit where it's due, it's often quite funny with it), but it is also a game that is too cowardly to believe in anything itself, lest it invite any mockery in return. We've all known people like that - most of us have been probably been people like that in our teenage years - and we all know they're absolute chuds, and I can't deny that I find it a little disappointing that Disco Elysium, otherwise so very deeply and carefully constructed, falls into this trap. For something that largely feels so brave in stepping outside the accepted boundaries of games, it's a shame that it doesn't confront and challenge the medium's most crippling boundary of all, and ultimately does politics in a way that won't upset people who think politics is somehow beneath them and that caring about anything at all is a sign of weakness. (We all know the wider world of gaming is positively littered with those people, so the temptation is to consider this as a commercial decision - but how likely was it that any of those people would want to play this anyway?) It jars that the game plays it so safe on this point, having been so adventurous with almost everything else. There are other flaws (the pacing is....not great in the first couple of days, and without a walkthrough you're liable to spend large stretches of time ambling around wondering what you're supposed to be doing, speaking to the same people repeatedly just in the hope it advances the story somehow), but only this one feels critical. It's not fatal, not even a particularly massive deal, but it is enough to put a small asterisk next to its name, to make it feel more like one of the 100 best games ever than one of the top 10.

Yet isn't that just an amazing thing to be able to criticise a game for? It is an unrecognisable line of thought for video game criticism; the framework that supports this kind of conversation simply does not exist in 99% of the things you'll ever play. Disco Elysium feels like a significant breakthrough, one that opens up all manner of doors and possibilities and leaves enough room for improvement to make contemplating those possibilities an exhilarating thought - and if history does not regard it this way, if it is rendered either as a total one-off or as merely the starting point for one single developer to spend their career kicking against the wider industry, then gaming as a medium will be significantly poorer for it.
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Iai 2019-12-27T14:35:23Z
2019-12-27T14:35:23Z
4.4
8
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i couldn't do this justice with just words. i'd probably have to wave my arms around and shout and do a little dance maybe. shake my ass that kinda thing
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vvvvvvvvvv 2022-08-02T07:34:43Z
2022-08-02T07:34:43Z
5.0
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Sure to be relevent conversation at your next dinner party, so get on it.
Recommended for: people who don't realise they live in Eastern Europe yet.

Whether implicit or explicit, the "point" (or whatever could best live up to it) is blunt. Ideology failed, the symbolic/ social order collapsed. As the amnesiac, middle-aged child of the world that has been called post-modern, your task in the "game" (or something that might live up to it) is to find out what exactly went wrong.

You play someone who doesn't remember their name. You are a detective, apparently, and possibly not a very good one either, investigating the brutal murder of a man in The Zone. This mostly involves approaching various movers and shakers of Revachol with the question "what went wrong?" All under the surprisingly patient gaze of a new partner, Kim, who grounds the game in detective-noir, smokes a single cigarette a day, and looks devastatingly cool while he does it.

The first thing you need to know about Disco Elysium is that it is both really good and probably more interesting to people who don't call themselves gamers than to those who do. Talk to your girlfriend about it. Bring it up at breakfast. Don't be ashamed anymore.

Pontificate all you want. Finally we got a game that wasn't written by surburban nerds who create their reality by blurring together the last few years of American TV. A 10000 word essay or 1 hour video on the philosophy of Disco Elysium is completely unnecessary: pontification only happens when income draws from Youtube watch hours. Disco Elysium "works" (for all the sickening adoration), because it's meaningful, applicable, "relevent," not-entirely-escapist and, despite its reputation as a European art-piece, easily understood.

I laboured through Twin Peaks part 3 to the eighth episode and finally started to get it a little bit. Fuck. This is weird. Imagine if TV had grown up like this and I could be flicking on to channel 5 as a kid for a live synthesized Decasia mini-series or to watch atoms jerk out in a nuclear blast for 10 minutes. Beats The Office.

Disco Elysium casts the history of video games in the same light. Planescape: Torment happened, then "gamers" got 1000 versions of "good enough" narrative pulling from half a century of "good enough" cinema.

It gives you the words to say "is that it? Did all of that "limitless potential" of 64-bit games in the early 90s have to culminate in 100 pastiches of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings?"

Often overlooked: the game overcomes savescumming - of rebooting a save until an unwanted randomised event does not occur. It avoids the ancient frustration of failing a dice-rolled skill check with good writing, an intuitive system that allows the player to retake checks if they later level up the associated skill, and by investing the player in commiting to their choices, whatever the consequence.

To this day, high-profile CRPGs fail to acheive this. For all its epic scale, Pathfinder WotR never comes close. Baldurs Gate 3, for all its budget, can't do it either. This is the overdue knife cutting through decades of horrible videogame writing and uninspired design.

Also overlooked: Disco Elysium is easy to read. It's a text-based game designed to mirror Twitter with vertically-oriented text. Easier to read than the horizontal norm, mirroring the way we (on average) read 1000s of words a day without a thought. Shadowrun did it. Did anyone else? "Oh but we've always done it horizontal like this..."

Criminal to overlook: the watercolour am-I-drunk-or-just-an-impressionist art style and (Britist) Sea Power's score. Phenominal.

Disco Elysium will not be remembered for its impact on the video game industry. Its innovations have not been adopted by its genre, even if they are as simple as vertically organised text or a way to redo skill checks. Its writing, too, has not been matched, though perhaps we can point to "Gamedec" as a game that at least tried. There is resistance in the medium: nostalgic conservativism meets market pressure meets lack of ambition and talent and suddenly another Disco Elysium can't happen. Instead we get to look forward to Fallout rip-off number 112, or is that already out?

A certain amount of stars align, a game like Disco Elysium happens. Some miserable Estonian alcoholics say fuck it, give it one last go, and knock it out the park. Unlikely to happen again, but sure to be relevent conversation at your next dinner party, so get on it.
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[spoilers ahead]

Disagree with Iai. There is nothing cowardly about Zone-al dwelling in the conclusion that all ideologies failed. Disco Elysium ends by substituting an encounter with the alien, cryptozoological Other for the Religious Experience: something unbelievable happens that gives the game its (otherwise impossible) narrative end. The "post-ideological" Zone is overcome by truth/love/magic/enlightenment. Kierkegaard Knight-of-Faith style.

The opinion reminds me of the critique of US culture: that having won the Cold War, America is trapped in its winning ideology, never being forced to confront ideology as-such as in post-Soviet and post-Nazi Europe. As a result, it cannot recognise what ideology is and the damage it does. It is convinced the way out is another "bold," "couragious" ideology.
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Apricots and Sorrow
Disco elysium is so good its a hate crime against all other games, especially rpgs.
You can pick any part of this game and it will deserve praise . So let me start from my favourite part : the gameplay or more accurately the flow of the game. I am not the most patient person while playing games, From long ass grinding jrpgs to bland 3A open world games. I get bored a lot. I played Disco after not touching a game for a year . And it shit on every other game I played ever . By making its long texts feel effortless to get through , by making it so that whatever I did in the game or wherever I went made sense or rewarded me . Not only by giving some stupid exp either everything you can do ties up together so natural you dont even think about it while playing. This is what I mean by the game flow.
Let me move on the second best thing about my experience of the game . Its the skill tree and the thoughts part . Its genius how you interact with your skills throught the game ; sometimes they collide ,sometimes they all agree, and sometimes they are wrong . It makes the game so dynamic and gives you the freedom of '' you can do batshit , it will work''. I dont know if this type of "rpg stats" was made before but I dont care. I have never seen something so great.
All the other parts of the game is just spectacular too and to be fair you cant actually seperate any of them. Writing makes the whole game , constructs its world , gives interesting characters that has considerable flaws, creates conflict among them . The voice acting supports all of that , bringing emotion and personality to characters. The soundtrack is extremely beautiful and so powerful at times where only listening to it can make me shed a tear .
I probably have tons of other things to say about this game and probably my review so far sucks so bad but I frankly dont care .


"You're *pursued* by a hunter. Smelling of apricots and sorrow. And the past."
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Even though I wish there were more games like "Disco Elysium", I thought that its execution failed to live up to the compelling premise. Like "Kentucky Route Zero", it's one of those overrated indie games people praise to feel more intelligent than the average videogame nerd.

There's a misconception that fine writing has to be lengthy and convoluted at all costs, while it's quite the opposite. The best storytellers are the ones who can paint vivid sceneries and portray complex characters just with a few carefully chosen words. Instead, the writers behind "Disco Elysium" preferred to distract their readers with endless digressions, shoving an overwhelming amount of information down their throat and flirting with pompous and obsolete vocabulary. The overlong dialogues are not even functional to the plot, as the murder mystery requires no investigation or guessing on the player's end. You just walk along the only path available and talk to people till you bump into the random guy that did it. Your actions hardly have consequences, and your character build can only influence minor dialogue choices.

One might argue that it's not about the case; that's all about the journey and the characters. To me, it just felt like shallow philosophy and old-fashioned political commentary. I'm all in for depressive and self-destructive protagonists, but it hardly felt like the inner monologues were actual streams of consciousness, or the stats I assigned at the beginning actually helped shape his character. You can always be both the smartest and the dumbest guy person around, and even when you mess up, there's hardly any real consequence.

The Dungeons and Dragons-style skill checks are a fascinating addition to the gameplay, even though you can easily get around most of them by using drugs or wearing the outfit that buffs the correct stats. You are also allowed to save at any time and retry skill checks if you fail.

The presentation also needs improvement: even though I liked the oil painting graphics, there are no animations during most dialogues, with most actions only described with text. It's really like going through an interactive book with sound effects and music. The voice acting is also atrocious and way too slow, to the point that it made the dialogues feel even more overwhelming than they originally were.

Despite all the flaws, I still think it was worth the experience. The concept and main dynamics are definitely interesting, and hopefully the developers will work on improving the formula with their next projects.
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manicure 2022-06-06T17:22:43Z
2022-06-06T17:22:43Z
62
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100% complete campaign
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Even though I wish there were more games like "Disco Elysium", I thought that its execution failed to live up to the compelling premise. Like "Kentucky Route Zero", it's one of those overrated indie games people praise to feel more intelligent than the average videogame nerd.

There's a misconception that fine writing has to be lengthy and convoluted at all costs, while it's quite the opposite. The best storytellers are the ones who can paint vivid sceneries and portray complex characters just with a few carefully chosen words. Instead, the writers behind "Disco Elysium" preferred to distract their readers with endless digressions, shoving an overwhelming amount of information down their throat and flirting with pompous and obsolete vocabulary. The overlong dialogues are not even functional to the plot, as the murder mystery requires no investigation or guessing on the player's end. You just walk along the only path available and talk to people till you bump into the random guy that did it. Your actions hardly have consequences, and your character build can only influence minor dialogue choices.

One might argue that it's not about the case; that's all about the journey and the characters. To me, it just felt like shallow philosophy and old-fashioned political commentary. I'm all in for depressive and self-destructive protagonists, but it hardly felt like the inner monologues were actual streams of consciousness, or the stats I assigned at the beginning actually helped shape his character. You can always be both the smartest and the dumbest guy person around, and even when you mess up, there's hardly any real consequence.

The Dungeons and Dragons-style skill checks are a fascinating addition to the gameplay, even though you can easily get around most of them by using drugs or wearing the outfit that buffs the correct stats. You are also allowed to save at any time and retry skill checks if you fail.

The presentation also needs improvement: even though I liked the oil painting graphics, there are no animations during most dialogues, with most actions only described with text. It's really like going through an interactive book with sound effects and music. The voice acting is also atrocious and way too slow, to the point that it made the dialogues feel even more overwhelming than they originally were.

Despite all the flaws, I still think it was worth the experience. The concept and main dynamics are definitely interesting, and hopefully the developers will work on improving the formula with their next projects.
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Catalog

atticus_ Disco Elysium 2022-09-27T22:42:43Z
Xbox One / XSX
2022-09-27T22:42:43Z
5.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
singaboutme Disco Elysium 2022-09-27T22:15:26Z
2022-09-27T22:15:26Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
chserg Disco Elysium 2022-09-27T20:51:01Z
2022-09-27T20:51:01Z
4.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
var_Emreis Disco Elysium 2022-09-27T20:34:50Z
2022-09-27T20:34:50Z
1
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
aisatsana88 Disco Elysium 2022-09-27T14:06:22Z
2022-09-27T14:06:22Z
5.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Jamure Disco Elysium 2022-09-27T12:11:37Z
2022-09-27T12:11:37Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
maddygoes Disco Elysium 2022-09-27T01:09:26Z
Switch • XNA
2022-09-27T01:09:26Z
4.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
aWalkingDisaster Disco Elysium 2022-09-27T00:44:37Z
2022-09-27T00:44:37Z
5.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Userwake Disco Elysium 2022-09-27T00:13:18Z
2022-09-27T00:13:18Z
5.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Monja Disco Elysium 2022-09-26T21:41:06Z
2022-09-26T21:41:06Z
9.8
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Ca_Game Disco Elysium 2022-09-26T20:56:54Z
Windows / Mac
2022-09-26T20:56:54Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Isometric RPG
Robo1662 Disco Elysium 2022-09-26T14:48:17Z
2022-09-26T14:48:17Z
5.0
1
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Player modes
Single-player
Media
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Comments

Rules for comments
  • Be respectful! All the community rules apply here.
  • Keep your comments focused on the game. Don't post randomness/off-topic comments. Jokes are fine, but don't post tactless/inappropriate ones.
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  • Any spoilers should be placed in spoiler tags as such: [spoiler](spoiler goes here)[/spoiler]
Note: Unlike reviews, comments are considered temporary and may be deleted/purged without notice.
  • Previous comments (254) Loading...
  • gresshausu 2022-09-05 19:27:48.275524+00
    It might be because I'm stupid, but I wish there was a heads up saying "Hey you should actually do this before this time otherwise you will get softlocked and have to either go to a prior save or possibly start over".

    But other than that, I agree with this being on the top of the charts.
    reply
    • skylukewalker99 2022-09-22 20:23:32.187038+00
      I'm not sure which part of the game you're specifically referring to, but they warn you every time that there's a point of no return where you can no longer do certain questlines. Not aware of anything related to softlocks though
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  • sunshinerecorder 2022-09-06 14:46:45.133645+00
    Extremely hilarious and life-affirming, although in a wistful kind of way. Would die to have a chance for an informal conversation with Kurvits and the writing team.
    reply
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  • mellors 2022-09-06 17:27:21.772025+00
    So happy this is holding number 1 spot, it's so deserving. The creativity, imagination and atmosphere are truly incredible and backed by excellent writing, design and wonderful wonderful music. This is the game I was dreaming of for the years of loving dialogue heavy RPGs like Planescape, Vampire Bloodlines and FNV, the quality of those games roleplaying minus the jank of their combat.
    reply
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  • mathameticulous 2022-09-07 11:41:07.663163+00
    so so deserving
    reply
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  • TheSaltman 2022-09-14 21:50:32.255994+00
    Deserves number 1 spot. If we could get Outer Wilds and Pathologic 2 in the podium too it'd be great.
    reply
    • dropthesocram 2022-09-17 22:41:19.997803+00
      I wanna play outer wilds more but it single handedly gave me nausea for first person games and even some fast paced third person games
    • AzeXiR 2022-09-18 06:45:27.119948+00
      man 2019 was quite a year
    • TheSaltman 2022-09-19 07:26:06.171773+00
      @dropthesocram have you tried increasing the FOV in the options? Maybe the default setting is too low for you, until the MCC on PC it was impossible for me to play Halo 3 on Xbox 360 because the default fov (55° horizontal) gave me motion sickness.
    • More replies New replies ) Loading...
  • C001 2022-09-20 14:30:37.617245+00
    Absolutely fantastic
    reply
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  • tmohare 2022-09-23 07:54:20.65932+00
    one day I'm gonna be in the mood to play this for more than just the first 20 minutes
    reply
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  • Circuz 2022-09-27 02:08:41.391501+00
    I only played the first 20 mins so far and I can tell why this is #1 on the website, it tries very hard to be artsy. I'm interested in seeing where it goes and how they pull it off.
    reply
    • Vrid 2022-09-27 11:22:44.229461+00
      I wouldn't say it tries to be artsy, it just is. Successfully.
    • More replies New replies ) Loading...
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