Disco Elysium: a lurid urban fantasy detective rpg with an open approach to the narrative experience

I‘ve seen this game pop up here and there. The premise, and features – are all intriguing. But it felt too lurid for me and vulgar so I was afraid to try it. I was partly right, it’s not really a game I would wax euphoric about because it speaks to my soul, but it is a game I can wax euphoric about because it is detailed and pulls you into its world with detailed lore and unprecedented freedom of approach to how you solve quests. It’s definitely a unique game that’s worth a try, and worthwhile addition to a library of expansive, story-rich rpgs. This one is just more grungy than some of my favourite stories. But it’s really well done.

You wake up, naked in a room that has clearly been through a storm. Some voices are calling to you…You don’t know your name, who or where you are (or what is money!) but you have a case to solve, alongside a stoic and patient partner. There’s been a murder committed in the decaying world of Revachol. And you have to solve it, surprise, surprise, when all you really wanna do is roll up and die. That’s going to be…problematic!

  • Urban fantasy with an anti-hero for a protagonist.
  • Immersion: The character doesn’t remember anything, even basic concepts, we learn the world along with him and his suffering partner and piece together his story from bits here and there. There are many questions he asks himself and we piece his story together with him
  • The unique class system and abilities allow the character to interact with the world in slightly different ways. It also guarantees replayability because you want to try the different angles and how they may alter the narrative experience.
  • Thought Cabinet system to internalise some thoughts and add bonuses to stats
  • Unique tools and clothing with stats bonuses
  • Very good worldbuilding: rich lore, the maps are nice with secret, eerie areas. Vulgar but nonetheless unique NPCs with good backstories.
  • a good plot that keeps you interested, most of it is wanting to see how the character will cope with characters and situations, how his skills will solve the problems and what it changes but the murder investigation with a fleshed-out conflict is excellent too.
  • understated, rather lyrical ending.
Detailed top-down maps, lots of objects and characters to interact with, some more hidden than others. REALLY look everywhere.

The world of Revachol is unique. It is lurid and dirty, there’s nothing sublime about it, and there’s absolutely nothing likeable about it, either. It’s hard-boiled but rich, big and interesting, it has a lot of stories waiting for you at every turn, and it pulls you in. It’s richly detailed and there are surprises around every corner. The lore is deep and combines detailed history, politics, beliefs, superstitions, and the supernatural. It focused a lot on political ideologies, though, which made things tedious at times as characters engaged in discussions that, while well-informed, were just a tad boring. But it’s needed and it contributes to making the world credible. And it’s fascinating how much of it we explore, and how much of it becomes clearer as we progress. The murder plot investigation is very good, keeps you on your toes as there are many question marks and many sides and secrets to consider, eventually tying into a grand arc with a surprisingly subtle, quiet ending. I have a lot more interest in the supernatural elements that add a touch of something more mysterious to the city that’s otherwise steeped in class conflicts.

It really helps the immersion that the character does not know who he is. He’s really the antonym of a hero. He stumbles, is crude, makes many mistakes and is flawed. We explore parts of his psyche, trying to discover what exactly is he, and why he’s drinking himself to oblivion.. We piece it together along the investigation. He can be kinder, he can be more violent, he can be a drunk or he can sober up. There’s even a tiny friendship theme as he learns to work with his unexpected partner. We discover the world with him and shape him and his responses to it along the way. There’s a sizeable cast of characters that are just as detailed and further flesh out this world that, while unlikeable and harsh, becomes immersive through its sheer storytelling detail and you have a sense you begin to inhabit it along with the Harry you shape with the skillset you build and his choices. You ponder his choices as you are pushed to, say, doom a quiet fishing community to certain destruction at the hand of a certain guy. It’s a game of merciless choices, you often have to take sides and do stuff that might be questionable – or do you? Are you sure there’s no other approach? The fun lies in trying to find it.

The character I liked the most must have been Lena and her husband but it was also enjoyable to see Titus, a local leader, change his mind about helping Harry..and there are a few other minor characters who have more of a mysterious appeal and are more like visions or spirits, like a huge, mysterious insectoid, or a revered divine-like woman, Innocent. Anything can really happen in Revachol, every corner has its story. And the fishing village has a sort of lonely appeal that I really liked. And there’s the mysterious bookstore!

Because the hardboiled world does not really speak to my sensibilities, it’s not bound to become my favourite game ever, but it is a unique game that I have to include on a list of 100 games to try because it’s story rich and allows you to experiment with the narrative in different ways, by making different versions of Harry, by having him approach things differently and because it’s so detailed in its lurid but refreshing worldbuilding. There do not seem to be wrong builds here, all builds offer a unique experience, making the game highly replayable and a good addition to any library, whether or not you like the world itself.

Build your unique experience by investing in different skills, see how it helps or prevents you from doing things. There are fun guides dedicated to the builds alone.

I don’t have a favourite build yet but the strongest appeal of the game lies for me in the eerie and the supernatural and as such I am inclined to build a Loremaster build for my next run – i.e a character with high intellect who has knowledge about things and gains awareness of the city’s past through a mental connection with it, a sensitivity to it.

The political speak that’s part of the world building may seem dense at first, some of it tedious, but the more time you spend in this world, the more it clears up and you see how appealingly rich it is. It’s an ugly world, but a vivid one, and with time you see some charm in it. There’s really a lot this game offers by way of the gameplay experience and it’s really worth a try.

A really unique, original game with tons of replayability, and secrets to find, immersion fuelled not just by the game’s features but a well-crafted and well-paced mystery whose reception can alter slightly based on the builds and decisions you make. It’s like playing a slightly different story each time, with a slightly different tone and flavour depending on what stats you train, where you go first etc.

And honestly, it feels like there could be more games in this universe. It’s already created and established, there could be thousands more stories to be had here.

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