Disco Elysium is brilliant. Despite having poured less than a dozen hours into this apparently 90+ hour game, I can already tell that I am playing something a little bit special.
Pinpointing exactly what makes Disco Elysium so good is difficult. It gets so much right.
The writing is exemplary, with branching dialogue options, many with completely unforeseen outcomes. This is a game that really empowers you to roleplay how you want, with a plethora of opportunities to put your stamp on your amnesiac character. I literally laughed out loud when a conversation about money owed came to an abrupt end with me running away, getting most of the way across the room before leaping into the air, flying backwards Mad Max-style but with two middle fingers aimed at my target. That this moment was spoiled by a dice roll that resulted in me coming crashing down on a woman in a wheelchair only made it even more hilarious.
That Disco Elysium is reliant upon dice rolls gives a real sense of unpredictability to moments. I have “failed” in conversations where I had 92% chance of getting what I wanted, then succeeded when I had only 7% chance. The dice roll mechanic seems to be completely authentic, as I reloaded a few saves to see what the opposite outcome would have been had I had more luck. (Whether I chose to proceed with my favourite outcome is my own dirty secret.)
One aspect of Disco Elysium that made me quite nervous was the point-and-click-esque elements. I’ve lost track of the number of classic games that I’ve never completed because they’ve required me to pixel hunt for hidden objectives to complete tasks. Fortunately, Disco Elysium clearly highlights items of interest, and holding down the tab button reveals additional objects that can be interacted with. The system works perfectly and ensures that you’ll never miss an item of importance because you missed a pixel with your cursor.
Disco Elysium isn’t flawless. Some of the voice acting lets down well-written moments, and I’ve come across a few bugs that forced me to reload and lose half an hour or progress at a time. Fortunately, instances of both of these blemishes are few and far between. The overall experience is one with expertly cast characters, gorgeously hand-drawn locations and immersive sound design.
I’m still early enough into Disco Elysium that I cannot comment on the overall quality of the story. There is an overarching mystery to solve, but all of the smaller cases to resolve and branching sidequests have me going down rabbit holes that can take mere minutes or several hours to see through. These side cases are interesting and extremely rewarding to complete, so if the overall story can live up to that high standard, ZA/UM could have a hit on their hands.
It will be difficult for Disco Elysium to be a Game of the Year contender considering that games like Control, Fire Emblem: Three Houses and Death Stranding will be jostling for position come the end of the year. That aside, if Disco Elysium lives up to its early impressions, I can see this being a title that sits on many gamers ‘favourite games of all time’ lists when 2019 draws to a close.