Disco Elysium

A po­lice pro­ce­dural RPG in which you speak with your skills

PC GAMER (UK) - - CONTENTS - Alex Wilt­shire

skills are char­ac­ters in them­selves, speak­ing up dur­ing dia­logue

To be a cool po­lice of­fi­cer, you need Com­po­sure, the abil­ity to walk into any sit­u­a­tion and not be­tray your in­ner fears (and also dance re­ally well). But maybe you want to be a dif­fer­ent kind of cop. A cold Logic-driven one, per­haps? One filled with Em­pa­thy? Or how about Au­thor­ity?

That’s all for you to choose as you be­gin Dis­coEly­sium as a pot-bel­lied blowout ly­ing on the floor of a trashed ho­tel room in an un­known city. Wak­ing from an un­holy binge that has wiped your mem­ory, you’ve no idea that you’re a de­tec­tive, or that you’re meant to be in­ves­ti­gat­ing a pu­tre­fy­ing body hang­ing from a tree nearby.

Yes, Dis­coEly­sium hinges on an am­ne­sia-pow­ered plot, but don’t let that put you off, be­cause it’s the fresh­est and most fas­ci­nat­ing RPG I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced in years, per­haps ever; one which plays right into the best as­pects of pen-and-pa­per role­play­ing. The first whis­per of its prom­ise came even be­fore my char­ac­ter opened his eyes as sev­eral of my skills started dis­cussing the na­ture of obliv­ion and my im­pend­ing con­scious­ness. These skills, you see, are Dis­coEly­sium’s equiv­a­lent of agility, strength and charisma rat­ings, and they are wild. There are 24 of the things, ar­ranged into four key types: In­tel­lect skills af­fect my ca­pac­ity to rea­son, Psy­che skills al­lows me to in­flu­ence NPCs and also my­self, Fysique skills are body skills, and Mo­torics are about how well I move.

Here’s the thing: skills are char­ac­ters in them­selves, speak­ing up dur­ing dia­logue and of­fer­ing in­sights on the world as I ex­plore, if I’ve in­vested enough points in them and the be­hind the scenes dice rolls go my way. So Per­cep­tion will tell me it’s no­ticed foot­prints be­neath the hang­ing corpse while Vis­ual Cal­cu­lus will al­low me to ex­am­ine them closely.

Elec­tro­chem­istry, which just wants to smoke, drink and have sex, con­stantly pipes up with new con­ver­sa­tional op­tions for chat­ting up NPCs and cadg­ing drinks (it even opens a quest called Find Smokes). In­ter­fac­ing, mean­while, man­ages my abil­ity to work with machines, open­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to use ra­dios and an­other para­pher­na­lia.

In­ter­nal mono­logue

Skills, there­fore, guide you around the world, and they af­fect ev­ery­thing you do. But the rev­o­lu­tion­ary thing is that they also pro­vide a stream of con­scious­ness from deep within your char­ac­ter as his im­pulses try to push him one way or an­other. As you put more points into skills they’ll be­come more dom­i­nant, and most come with neg­a­tive ef­fects. Au­thor­ity, for ex­am­ple, gets off on hav­ing power over oth­ers, which is handy when you’re get­ting in­tel out of sus­pects. But find your­self in a sit­u­a­tion where you’re beg­ging an old woman for money, it might get en­raged that you’re look­ing so des­per­ate and make you say some­thing you’ll re­gret.

And if that wasn’t enough, many skills, such as En­cy­clopae­dia and Em­pa­thy, ex­plain details of the world, from the sub­tleties of an NPC’s re­ac­tion to the rich history be­hind the set­ting. Dis­coEly­sium takes place in a fan­tasy ’70s, a world sep­a­rate from ours but at the same kind of level of tech­no­log­i­cal, so­cial and po­lit­i­cal de­vel­op­ment, plus with a dose of magic and weird­ness. Get­ting to ex­plore its mix of the fa­mil­iar and fan­tas­ti­cal is a plea­sure, espe­cially when it’s drawn in such a strik­ing art style, which blends a tra­di­tional iso­met­ric view­point with 3D light­ing and shadow ef­fects.

If ZA/UM can sus­tain the prom­ise of Dis­coEly­sium’s open­ing across the fin­ished game, we could have a new RPG clas­sic on our hands.

Enig­matic NPCs re­quire all your skills to ne­go­ti­ate.

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