Disco Elysium is one of those games that you think about even when you're not playing it. Even just a few hours in, you'll find that this strange and at times absurd role-playing title has claimed a space in your mind. In truth, it's like nothing else on the market — and reviews like this one don't really do it justice. But, this is our job, and so we're going to try and explain what makes Disco Elysium: The Final Cut a modern classic.
Before we begin, it should be noted that Disco Elysium won't be for everyone. It can be a very slow paced game, and no matter how you approach it, you're going to be doing an awful lot of reading — or listening, since the PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4 versions of the title feature full voice acting. It's a game that's filled with reams and reams of text; it's full-on CRPG, but if you happen to get hooked, you're in for one hell of a ride.
The premise is simple but brilliant: you're a detective on a murder case, but you drank yourself into oblivion last night, and you've given yourself severe amnesia. You wake up surrounded by bottles in your trashed hotel room, and you're left to pick up the pieces. What follows is a largely two-pronged story: the search for a mystery killer, and the search for your own identity.
To be clear, you don't play as a custom character in Disco Elysium. You're always put in the shoes of a middle aged, mutton-chopped cop — but his personality is yours to decide. Stat distribution and countless dialogue options ensure that you're able to inject the dirty detective with your own thoughts and feelings. It's exceptional role-playing from start to finish, and the sheer amount of player choice is mind-blowing at times.
Your primary goal is to find leads on the murder, and this task takes you all across the game's dilapidated urban setting. The map itself isn't massive, but it's dense and packed with secrets. Interesting characters are dotted all over the place, and it's your duty to question them, and work out how they fit into the puzzle. At its best, Disco Elysium is utterly engrossing — and that's partly thanks to just how good the dialogue is. It's seriously some of the best, most engaging writing that you'll find in modern gaming.
But the real innovation of Disco Elysium is how your aforementioned stats work. At the start of the game, you decide on your detective's specialities with four key stats: Intellect, Psyche, Physique, and Motorics. In turn, these core values influence lesser traits, like Logic, Suggestion, Endurance, and Reaction Speed, respectively. Put all of this together and you have a main character who very much feels like your own creation.
High stat values allow you to perform certain actions correctly, carving out a specific route through the story. For example, if you specialise in Physique, your drink-soaked detective might be able to smash through an otherwise inaccessible door, taking you to a new area that houses new clues. Or perhaps a more empathetic cop can better understand a suspect, leading to more branching dialogue options and additional information.
The beauty of this stat-based system is that it's easy to understand — you're never drowning in screens full of numbers. Instead, stat checks will simply pop up in dialogue boxes, and they'll tell you the percentage chance that you have to succeed. However, you don't necessarily have to succeed in Disco Elysium; failing a stat check is an integral part of the experience. As one avenue of the investigation gets closed off, another opens — and it's up to you to find it. Indeed, there are even some moments where a statistical stumble leads to a completely different (and often ridiculous) scenario, and again, it makes for some outstanding storytelling.
The end result is that your playthrough of Disco Elysium will probably be very different to someone else's. By the time the credits roll, you'll feel like you've been on your own personalised trip through the broken mind of this deadbeat detective. Of course, this also means that the game holds immense replay value. At around 30 hours in length, playing through Disco Elysium multiple times doesn't seem too demanding, and it's worth it just to see how different each run can be.
Our only real complaint with ZA/UM's captivating adventure is that sometimes, it can feel like you've hit a brick wall. More commonplace in the early hours of the game as opposed to the gripping latter half, leads can dry up quite quickly depending on your actions, leaving you to aimlessly wander around town in search of anything that might help you progress. Disco Elysium runs on an in-game calendar, taking place over the course of several days. The in-game clock moves slowly, only ticking along at any noticeable speed when you're either questioning people or reading a book.
Some areas and events only present themselves days into the investigation, meaning that it's possible to exhaust your options if you either A) know what you're doing, or B) fail on such a catastrophic level that you're left with nothing to go on. If you do happen to box yourself in, trying to find that next, precious lead can be tedious. You might find yourself doublechecking every dialogue branch and every interactable object just to make sure that you haven't missed anything. An easy-to-read journal does keep track of what needs doing, but with no objective markers to follow, it can feel like your time isn't being respected.
Of course, you could argue that these cold leads make the eventual revelations all the sweeter — and that's certainly true. When you do hit upon a confession or information that shines a whole new light on an otherwise inexplicable scenario, there's extreme satisfaction to be had.
Speaking of satisfaction, we should mention that Disco Elysium: The Final Cut is now in a much better state than it was at launch. Developer ZA/UM has delivered a number of updates since the game's release, each of them doing away with some nasty progress-related bugs. Needless to say, this would have been a very different review had the patches not cleared things up, although a number of minor problems still arise every now and then — like slightly buggy interactions and odd control quirks.
Last but not least, we have to remark on the game's presentation. If Disco Elysium was just text on a screen, it'd make for a damn good read, but as a video game, the experience owes so much to its visuals and music. Its painted art aesthetic is superb — the character portraits in particular are a joy to examine. Meanwhile, the soundtrack is mostly ambient and subtle, but it does an amazing job of tying the atmosphere together. It really is an audio-visual experience that lives long in the mind.
Disco Elysium: The Final Cut is an exceptional achievement in role-playing. Expertly written, it's an utterly engrossing detective drama at its best, and a fantastic sense of humour keeps the whole thing grounded. Its deliberately slow and methodical pacing won't be for everyone, but once you're invested, it's incredibly hard to put down. A haunting video game, for all the right reasons.
If anyone's got any questions about the game, let me know and I'll try to answer them if I can.
It really is a special game. I’m glad ZA/UM have fixed up the PS5 version in record time too, it’s a game that fully delivers on what it promises from a gameplay standpoint. I’ll probably play another file in a couple of months and send my poor cop off the deep end and make him a total junkie.
@ShogunRok Which build did you end up with? The game can honestly be vastly different depending on which stats were increased, which sidequests were completed and your cop’s political affiliations.
Gonna wait for the physical release. Great review and can't wait to play it, looks fantastic!
@nessisonett On my main save I ended up doing a mostly physical build. I played a very hardline cop who didn't take any nonsense and kept off the drugs, but was prone to some severe lapses in judgement. It was brilliant.
I’m going through this right now and it really is brilliantly written. Quite an achievement, indeed.
Weird that no reviews of this game ever seem to mention that the main character espouses incel idioms. The misogyny came out of nowhere and I can see it being very offensive for some gamers. Especially after everyone lost their minds with the sex stuff in Cyberpunk 2077, I figured that it'd at least be mentioned.
@The_New_Butler Can I ask what caused your self-enforced ban from buying digital PlayStation games?
@ShogunRok Wow, my main stats were the logical side so I probably had a completely different playthrough. Encyclopaedia kept chiming in with background information about Revachol and the wider world.
@awakenist My main character had the thought Inexplicable Feminist Agenda and espoused the literal opposite to what you’re describing. That’s the thing with this game, you can espouse completely different views across other playthroughs. You can even be racist to Kim, which I couldn’t imagine anybody doing.
[“articulated writing“ lol]
Seems like an interesting game. It has a lot to say that might not always appeal, but at least it has something to say.
@nessisonett Yeah, my 'Physical Instrument' kept telling me how I was in such good shape, despite the face. My 'Electrochemistry' also never shut up about how substances make everything better, and how everyone around me was secretly a sexual deviant. What a game!
Bought it Day 1 on PC. Great game. Must play.
I feel like I want this game just for the art style. And it's got great reviews too. I'll definitely pick it up one day.
@ShogunRok What’s really interesting about Physical Instrument is that the revelations about your cop’s real identity at the very end of the game make that stat in particular’s dialogue make a lot more sense. And interactions like that barbell which killed me a few times.
"Tiny, tiny text in some menus"
This has been an ever-increasing problem since the start of the previous gen's era, I find. Developers all assume that gamers are running things on 100-inch 4K projection screens and have perfect sight, I'm sure.
Well done for waiting for the patches to be out before releasing the review.
Me, still working out how to get the body down.
That Cuno needs a good slap imho.
It's a brilliant game and one of my all time favorites. Glad the technical side has gotten better so people can truly enjoy it.
@nessisonett That's my plan too. I played the boring/sorry cop for this first playthrough. I want to play him as a blissed-out, crazy copy for the second playthrough. It's such an addictive game once you start.
@ShogunRok How dare you write a review of the game and not mention Kim!? I would do anything for that man and it pains me when my character upsets him.
That is one hell of a set of political thoughts in your cabinet you goddamn Commie-Nazi! I haven't even seen the "Les Adventures" thought on some guides I've browsed.
My build has been like @nessisonett with mostly logic but high on perception, composure too. I'm on day 7 now and my one criticism is that I've gained so much XP that I have a full thought cabinet and reasonable stats across the board that it doesn't feel like such a niche character any more.
Can't wait to get another session and crack on!
@Thrillho I have just realised that @ShogunRok has an indefensible mix of hardline Communism, literal fascism, centrism and capitalism. What in the world 😂
@nessisonett 10XP for every conversation option!
@Thrillho God I love Kim. What a hero. Didn't mention him in the review because he belongs to me. Best friends.
@nessisonett I'm literally all of these things in real life now. This game made me see the truth, comrade.
Good review, thanks. Will be getting this very shortly to tide me over until resident evil.
The tiny text does worry me though, seen it mentioned a lot on twitter. I've heard you can enlarge some of the text but not all of it? Hopefully something the devs may improve in future updates.
If only there was a disc version I would buy it right now.
@MatthewJP Yeah you can enlarge the dialogue text (which is the vast majority of text in the game), but you can't enlarge the text in menus, which is generally very small.
Another point to mention is the price of the game - I don't have ps+ so missed the initial discount, but even so I don't mind paying £33 for a game with decent reviews even if it's not something I'd usually go for. Had this been £50-70, no chance
About 15 hours in and as much as I tried to stay on the saner side of things, my Elelectro-Chemistry and Inland Empire personalities just kept pushing their way into the forefront of my thoughts; now I'm a self-absorbed, relapsed substance abuser who has frequent two-way interactions with inanimate objects.
Agree on the bug fixes; their swiftness is welcome. Though I would put long loading times between rooms in the negative box - they're still a pain - and really should be instantaneous on PS5.
A special shoutout to British Sea Power for the score - exquisite.
@The_New_Butler Wow. That sucks. It's amazing what passes for customer service these days.
@ShogunRok Looking at your character’s skill tree, I’m surprised he figured out how to open the door to his room at the beginning. He probably just walked straight through it.
I have to get this. Can't really afford it... Have some CEX credit. Can I wait that long for a physical release....?
It's really the kind of game I'd like to own.
@nessisonett @Thrillho I've only just realised you two are referencing the screenshots! Unfortunately they're not mine — these are official pictures. Sorry to disappoint...
@ShogunRok Someone at the PR place is trolling us or treats their politics like Mambo No 5 😂
First playthroughI tried my best to solve the case and get along with my partner. Second I'm playing the worst cop I possibly can.... drug addicted lecherous communist... and it's hilarious and sad all at once.
Sounds a little like the premise to The Hangover.
@ShogunRok does it still have the ridiculous soft lock at 2am day 2 where you can’t sleep? Stopped me playing I refused to use an earlier save because of bad design
Have you tested this on a base PS4? The game sounds brilliant but it would be useful to know how it runs on the lower spec hardware.
@ShogunRok Ha, that certainly makes more sense! There is a forum thread for the game if you want to do more spoilery chat;
@Pro_V_Gone No problems for me with that and my guy has stayed up until 2am each day.
@Starkei I’m planning on similar; a thorough “thinker” style play through first time, then a physical build superstar addict, and finally a paranormal run.
Did it not get a 10 because of Cuno?
One of my favourite games of all time. So much thought was put into this, and I’m really curious to see how they expand this universe, as I believe this was adapted from the creator’s book or something. The world is certainly interesting and there is a good setup for a kind of sequel
Well, having read the review and all the comments here, I'm sold. Just need to finish Procession to Calvary.
@zekepliskin im an older gamer, and it blows that I run on my 32 inch tv in the bedroom, because I try and keep my gaming separate from my news, and streaming... I at times, have a little trouble reading some of the stuff... I know I am missing a lot..
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