I’ll not lie, I was excited to play Disco Elysium when I got to PAX East this year. The art style had already grabbed me, and it had a certainly grittiness and surrealism to it i was just itching to experience. I tell you this not just so you understand my point of view, but also so you understand what I write next.
After I played no more that 10 minutes of the demo of Disco Elysium, I stopped.
Don’t mistake this as condemnation, it’s the exact opposite: Disco Elysium was so good that I wasn’t going to spoil the experience at a convention setting.
You play a disgraced lieutenant detective in Revachol West, a shore town where corruption’s out of control, murders go unsolved, and the kids just wanna dance. Kick in doors, interrogate suspects, or get lost exploring a gorgeously rendered city and unraveling its mysteries. All the while, tensions rise around you as Revachol threatens to explode.
At it’s core, Disco Elysium (formerly No Truce with the Furies), is a Alternate History, Urban Fantasy Detective RPG. You are a down and out detective in a surreal world that one part steampunk, one part disco, where “bell-bottoms meet muzzle-loaders.” You’re tasked with solving a large, open-ended case that can be approached in a number of ways.
While I didn’t see much of this in my brief look at the demo, I can tell you it’s clear from the very start of the game that you have options. You assaulted with myriad different responses, choices and opportunities to shape this detective into the law man you want him to be, be it purveyor of justice or crooked cop.
This is done with Disco Elysium’s skill points, most interesting aspect, by far in the game and a shinning example of just how unique this game is going to be. Your character has 4 attributes (Intellect, Psyche, Phsyique and Motorics), and each of these attributes governs 6 skills. However, your relationship with the skills is far more personal than any other game you’ve ever played.
You see, your skills represent different aspects of your character, his knowledge, coordination, and senses. And these skills will talk to you. Yes, actually talk to you. They each have names and personalities and goals and desires and are very willing to screw you over or give you specific (a.k.a. less than fully accurate) information as you make your way around the world.
In my time with the demo, I interacted most with Encyclopedia (in charge of raw data and definition, helpful in building the world), Drama (who just seemed like it was looking to make more of itself), Inland Empire (who I have NO clue about) and Visual Calculus (useful in helping me determine that a threw a shoe through a window).
All of these interactions are surreal, theatrical and weird, which are three words that proceed me saying “Sign me the hell up”.
But it gets better: Instead of the typical collecting of apple cores, bits of junk and the occasional randomly spawned weapons, in Disco Elysium you collect thoughts. You’ll be able to use these thoughts to further mold yourself as a character, open new avenues of exploration and investigation, and interact with certain people you wouldn’t be able to otherwise.
I have incredibly high hopes for Disco Elysium. It’s surreal and theatrical, and is absolutely pushing the envelope forward in narrative design for games. Is it weird? You bet it is, and I know that it probably will be a bit too out there for some people, but I for one cannot wait.