One Hour Impressions – Disco Elysium

Disco's Never Looked So Good


Hi everyone and welcome back to the third edition of One Hour Impressions, where I read/play/watch an hour's worth of the chosen work and give you my first impressions.

This week we have the 2019 hit detective point and click RPG Disco Elysium, developed and published by ZA/UM Studio.


Now before we begin a bit of disclosure. These impressions are not sponsored by ZA/UM. I bought Disco Elysium with my own money and am not receiving any compensation for talking about the game or from linking to the publisher’s website.


I did contact the publisher to ensure I had their permission to use screenshots from the game and received an email from the studio’s community lead confirming I was able to before I wrote this impressions post.


With that out of the way, onto the first impressions.


First up, the title screen and start up artwork is absolutely beautiful. The team of artists should be commended as it is simply stunning, even the pause menu is stylish. The animation and presentation of the game uses a classic isometric view mixed with the LucasArts 90’s style of point and click adventure games like your Monkey Islands or Day of The Tentacles.


The art style drips with character and charm as we start a new game and are dropped into a lonely and disheveled room. The various objects you can interact with and background filler meld and flows into each other at first glance but they also ensure you can still tell the difference between background dressing and what you can interact with. Working in tandem with the art style is the game’s animation. It’s fluid and matches the atmosphere and character projected by the art style. In my hour I haven’t seen any glitches or animation stuff-ups at the time of writing.


Being an RPG, Disco Elysium pushes character customisation of your detective character right from the get-go. Booting up a new game brings us to the first instance of character customisation; allocating skill points. So far so typical D&D, however, the game offers preset templates for you to be able to dive right on into the game if you don’t want to fiddle around with that. If you do choose to forego the templates, the range of skills are daunting at first as you have skills like ‘Esprit De Corps’ and ‘Visual Calculus’ to contend with. The game has descriptions for each skill that makes it pretty clear just what you’re sinking points into. You’re also given the option to choose a skill as your “Signature Skill” that is fancy talk for just adding an additional point to one skill.


There’s other customisation in the game, mainly through the “Thought Cabinet” feature that lets you add “thoughts” to build up your base level stats over specific skills but at the moment I haven’t delved too deep into this feature. Overall, the customisation in this game is extensive yet refreshingly easy to follow. You earn enough experience to earn a skill point and you cash it in to build your stats. No crafting, no converting experience points into meters. Just get experience, get skills.



Moving onto the gameplay itself now and the design team have to be applauded in this regard. The way it works is that when you encounter objects or events that you can delve deeper into, one or multiple circles will appear, each colour coded for being either your internal senses or physical actions. The colours are distinct so that you aren’t confused which type of circle you’re clicking. In terms of movement you can use either your keyboard and mouse or your mouse only. I would recommend using the keyboard alongside the mouse as using the mouse by itself lead to some annoying instances where I kept moving past the item I wanted to interact with. The game does a pretty good job of slowly teaching you all the interconnected systems the game has, how they’re implemented and how to use them.

The systems of checks and dice rolls in the game clearly convey the chance of failing or succeeding for specific actions. However, even when you succeed with your chosen option, you might not always get the expected result. My favourite example of this is a moment where you come across two old men playing a game of bocce in a bombed-out crater. When talking to them, there was an option to throw one of the balls. Being the crazy eccentric that I am, I decided to throw the ball. I watched as the virtual dice rolled and my heart leapt as the I succeeded in my check. This adulation quickly deflated as my character tossed the ball into the sea, thinking it was shot put. Turns out I had to ask what the game was because my character didn’t know that.


That’s the real beauty of the writing in this game. The interplay between the characters is excellent, with each character and even the voices and senses inside the main character’s head having their own unique voice. However, the real meaty writing comes from the sheer amount of options you can select when talking to people, examining crime scenes or just examining your own thoughts. Each line or optional conversation is given the proper care by the writing team with none of the conversations I’ve undertaken in my hour’s gameplay slouching and always giving me something to laugh at. There’s a fun part with a two way radio call to your police precinct but I won’t spoil that for you.



In regards to the soundtrack, it’s minimal yet perfectly suited to the game’s tone and themes with ambient sounds melding into the background. This isn’t a knock on the music, it’s easy to have music that detracts from games just by being too in the player's face so I applaud ZA/UM studio for having the confidence in their music to keep it in the background and not push it to the forefront. The voice acting is in a similar category as it’s not outstanding on either end of the scale, which considering the game doesn’t rely on their voice acting, is all it really needs to be in this case.

I’ll definitely be continuing to play Disco Elysium for a while yet. If you’re interested you can check out ZA/UM’s website, which has links to storefronts where you can buy the game (currently $56.95 AUD on Steam at time of writing), view devblogs and take a deeper dive into the game’s features.


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My latest short story The Apprentice is now available to read alongside my other short stories for free right here on the website. Just click to pick a story and start reading. I hope you enjoy reading these as much as I did writing them.


Have a great day,

-Rohan

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