Disco Elysium

Disco Elysium is a work of existential nihilism told through a million words of tedious dialogue[1], a narrative that goes nowhere, and lame political jokes. It looks and sounds nice, but the substance of a game like this lies in its writing and gameplay and that's where it all goes wrong.

The most annoying aspect of the writing is the protagonist's heavy-handed characterization. Harry Du Bois is a middle-aged, burned-out detective with a drinking problem, amnesia and the personality of a manic-depressive college kid who listens to a lot of podcasts. You lead him through a series of social encounters selecting from a set of dialogue options that range from stupid to stupider in his quest to remember his name, address, place of employment, and the meaning of money. These conversations are frequently interrupted by the voices in Harry's head, each representing a different cognitive ability. The voices you hear depend on Harry's stats presumably allowing for a deeper role-playing experience, however they contributed nothing to my understanding of the story, characters or setting and the quality of the writing is even worse than the quality of the dialogue. This is considered by many to be one of the game's strong points and a bold new turn for the role-playing genre. I simply found it tedious and wished I could, with the right medication, turn the voices off. As you can see, it's impossible to separate the poor quality of the writing from the gameplay. Unfortunately, this isn't Disco Elysium's only "revolutionary" role-playing mechanic.

Meandering about town you will occasionally be required to pass a skill check which is analogous to a dice roll in table top role-playing games. These determine the success of mundane actions such as reaching for a piece of clothing, jumping on a short wall, prying open a trash can, and sitting in a chair. The odds of success depend on the stats you choose at the point of character creation, those you choose while leveling up, and Harry's outfit. These skill checks control the course of the narrative and are the most excitement to be had. Failure results in lost health or forces the player to either wait a period of time before attemping it again or take another path. It's possible to accumulate enough damage this way to kill Harry triggering a game over. I'm sure I'm not the only person who found this more irritating than amusing. Did I mention that the plot of the story revolves around a murder case? It really doesn't matter. Despite being tasked with solving the case, Harry isn't too interested either, preferring instead to whine about how hard his job is. So what's the game really about? Some will say it's the deep political or philosophical content.

Unfortunately, Disco Elysium has nothing original or insightful to say on any subject. I hope you enjoy painfully unfunny political jokes because there's not much else. Its success can be explained not by its substance, but its subject matter. The writers were not afraid to touch on controversial political topics and this alone appears to excite everyone across the political spectrum from hipster socialists on twitter to alt-right racists on 4chan. It's a game for the internet age of social media activism and meme warfare. What Disco Elysium ultimately amounts to is a survey about one's political leanings, the lowest form of pandering I've encountered in any video game.

  1. Disco Elysium: Bringing a Million Words to Life for The Final Cut. IGN. 9 Feb 2021.