PAX West 2018: Disco Elysium

Sunday, September 9th, 2018

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I was expecting something totally different when I saw the title Disco Elysium. To be fair, I don’t know exactly what it was that I expected, but it certainly wasn’t what I got. It’s the first game from ZA/UM Studio, and due to a breakdown in communication when I was trying to schedule appointments for PAX I didn’t get a chance to talk to them about the game, but I at least got a relatively lengthy session playing it to get a sense for what it’s like.

Disco Elysium | Tribunal scene

Disco Elysium is an isometric RPG where you play as a detective working through an apparently huge, open-ended case. It lets you approach the case any way you want, or just wander and explore the city of Revachol. I believe the demo I played covered the start of the game, with the detective waking up in his hotel after heavy drinking with no memory of who he is, where he is, or what’s going on, as he starts to stumble his way through a case that seems like it’ll only get more complicated and messy as the game progresses. It starts with investigating a murder scene, but most of what I did was wandering around the starting area trying to figure out where I should be going and what I should be doing, as well as just exploring and talking to people. It’s pretty open-ended right from the start, and presumably the area to explore only gets bigger as the game progresses.

Disco Elysium | Jam scene

It seems like the game is trying to be structured like a tabletop RPG. Your stats seem to be divided into base stats and skills, which determine your likelihood of success on different checks that sometimes get done during dialogue depending on the choices you make. These checks are represented with your skill level plus a dice roll compared to a target value, just like how it would be done in something like Dungeons & Dragons or other TTRPGs, giving you a decent general sense for how likely you are to succeed other than just a vague estimate. Obviously nothing is guaranteed unless your skill is really high or the target value is really low, which I imagine could lead to some really painful failures or miraculous successes. Any system with dice rolls, even digital, opens itself to both types of miracle crits.

Disco Elysium | Garte dialogue

I’m somewhat curious to see where Disco Elysium goes with its plot, since I was not able to get a great sense of it from the demo I played. It seems like one of the most direct conversions of a tabletop RPG system to a video game that isn’t just a D&D game, with a lot of open-endedness to explore or play through it however you see fit. Even if it seems like it might be a bit hardcore for me I’m still interested to see where it goes, but unfortunately we may need to wait a while since there’s no confirmed release window for the game on Steam.

About Chris Melchin

Chris is a computer science student who has been gaming ever since he knew what to do with a Super Nintendo controller. He's a fighting game player, with a focus on BlazBlue and Under Night In-Birth games. His favourite games include Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Persona 5, and Little Busters. He started watching anime in high school, and his favourite series is Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood. He also writes Vocaloid music for his personal YouTube channel, and has a (slight) obsession with Megurine Luka.