Disco Elysium

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Hello and welcome! My name is Katosepe and I’ll be your host for today’s Video Game of the Day.

Player choice in video games has been a common element for decades now, stretching back to the mid-80’s. Especially for the RPG, allowing players to choose dialogue options and truly interact with the game world was always an important design goal. Many games have attempted this idea of giving a player real, impactful decisions but few have succeeded. Today’s game is a modern title that is likely one of the closest we have ever gotten to true player freedom. Today’s game is Disco Elysium, developed by ZA/UM Studio and released on PC in 2019.

Disco Elysium is an RPG entirely without a combat system but that doesn’t mean this game has a lack of depth. Character building and stats are all based around your player character’s ability to talk with people in the world, interpret information, and a few skills for physical capabilities. You play as an amnesiac detective who wakes up in an old hotel room surrounded by drugs and booze. You soon find out that you have been put in charge of a murder investigation but you do not remember any details about the crime. So, off you go to solve the mystery and determine who you are.

Unlike most amnesiac stories, Disco Elysium doesn’t just feed you plot bits throughout the story. Instead, the burden for determining who you are is placed on the player and the amount of freedom the game gives you is staggering. Through a system called the thought cabinet, the player can internalize ideas about themselves based on dialogue choices they have chosen. For example, an early dialogue tree allows the player to pass themselves off as a rockstar. This puts an idea into the thought cabinet that the player may be a rockstar moonlighting as a detective. By choosing to internalize this idea or not, you can decide if that dialogue choice was just your character lying or if they truly believe they may be a celebrity and simply forgot. Internalizing thoughts gives modifiers to your stats, sometimes positive and sometimes negative. This is just one small example in a sea of choices you can make.

Other than the Thought Cabinet, Disco Elysium has a stat system made up of 24 skills. Each skill is categorized into one of four primary abilities: Intellect, Psyche, Physique, and Motorics. By leveling up and gaining points, you can improve your character’s skills which opens up new options when talking to people or investigating. Certain options present challenges to your character which use dice rolls supported by your character’s skills. If you fail a challenge, you may suffer damage and can even die.

Disco Elysium received critical acclaim when it was released, with significant praise going towards the expansive dialogue system. Several critics compared in favorably to the acclaimed Planescape: Torment in its freedom of dialogue and the impact of player choice. Disco Elysium received a number of Game of the Year awards, including those by US Gamer and PC Gamer. The game has since been ported to MacOS and is set to release on Xbox One, Playstation 4, and Switch sometime in 2020. ZA/UM has said they are currently working on possible expansions, sequels, and even a full tabletop RPG system based on Disco Elysium.

Thank you so much for listening! If you want to keep up to date on all the projects I’m working on such as The Gaming Observer Podcast and Twitch streams, go follow me on Twitter @vg_oftheday where I always let followers know what’s coming up soon. I’m hoping to start streaming some of the games we talk about on the show in the near future so keep on eye on Twitter for that. As always, transcripts and archives of every episode are available on videogameoftheday.com. Don’t forget to check back here tomorrow for another Video Game of the Day!

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Devin "Katosepe" Sloane is a long time gamer and host of the show Video Game of the Day. He firmly believes Darklands is the pinnacle of gaming achievement and this is a hill he will die upon. Where his nickname came from is a secret to everybody.