Originally released in 2019 to rave reviews, Disco Elysium had previously been unavailable on Xbox. This is about to change with the release of an expanded ‘Final Cut’ version. Adding more characters and full dialogue acting this bumper edition of the game is being released almost exactly two years later.
Let’s dive in and see if things are truly ‘Disco’ in the XboxEra review of Disco Elysium – The Final Cut.
What fresh Hell is this?
The game starts with a conversation taking place in the blackness of what soon transpires to be the subconscious of the main character. After the Reptilian brain and the Limbic System have had their say he awakes to find himself wearing nothing but a pair of grubby underpants in a trashed hotel room. Suffering from amnesia and knowing neither who he is, where he is, or what he is doing there our antihero then sets off with nothing to his name but a ‘hangover from hell’ to try and attain some answers. After meeting a policeman downstairs, he discovers to his surprise that he is a detective and that he is here to investigate the death of a man whose body is hanging from a tree in the hotel’s backyard.
From here, the case he is working weaves a complex web involving a lynching, murder, sex, drugs, dock strikes, communism, femme fatales, and all manner of other things. Cracking the case is the main objective at the end of the story (if he manages to make it that far) while also learning about himself and his past. In order not to spoil things I will leave my story description there as I went into my playthrough knowing very little about it and that resulted in the twists and turns of the plot having a far bigger impact.
The game has a graphical style that makes it look like a living oil painting and is presented from an isometric perspective. Even the start menu is striking to look at, with an animated moving skyline. In my opinion, would not look out of place in a frame at an art gallery.
Across a map eventually consisting of three separate areas, gameplay revolves around questioning virtually everyone that you encounter through the use of extremely expansive conversation trees and examining objects and areas of interest for clues. Some puzzles need to be solved but you mainly need to do detective work as well as performing tasks for characters that you come across on your travels. Fulfilling these tasks is rewarded with occasional items and knowledge which adds up to form skill points. These can then be used to upgrade one of 24 distinct secondary skills such as drama, electrochemistry, and logic which feed into the four primary abilities consisting of Intellect, Psyche, Physique, and Motorics.
If this sounds complicated that’s because it is and is probably the result of the game being based on an original tabletop role-playing game. Disco Elysium is much like the Yakuza series in that it explains very little about how to use the leveling up system and leaves the player to work it out for themselves. Do not let this put you off however, having not done it myself I would heartily recommend looking up some beginners’ hints and tips before starting a game to make it much easier to understand.
The Dice man cometh
Because there is no typical combat system within the game, boss battles take the form of dialogue trees that lead to ‘Skill Checks’. These are basically rolls of virtual dice which need to be successful for you to gain from them. Abilities that you choose to upgrade with skill points along with items of clothing that you choose to wear while attempting skill checks can make a bit difference regarding your chances of success when rolling the dice.
White Checks that you fail can be repeated after a certain amount of time or after the level of the required skill is upgraded. You can back out of conversations that contain these and change your clothing or adjust the required ability level before you attempt the check. In the case of Red Checks, you only get one chance and if you fail it that check is gone forever. Luckily not many will end your playthrough, although some will.
In fact, it is pretty easy to die early in the game as you only have two health bars and two Morale bars when you awake in your underpants. I was particularly shocked when I failed one of my first red checks about thirty minutes in and my morale dropped so low that it was game over. Luckily you can save regularly so I ended up saving the game after virtually every long conversation or successful red check so that I would not have to do them again.
In this universe, smoking cigarettes and snorting various hard drugs increases your thinking ability stats for a short period of time but takes its toll on either your health or your morale levels and will kill you or end your game through morale loss if you are not careful.
There is another mechanic based around internalising thoughts to gain or accidentally decrease skill points but I will gloss over that as this mechanics description has been rather dry as it is. It will make sense (kind of) if you choose to play the game.
It is not obvious at first but the investigation also has a time limit so you cannot take too long with your detective work. Time does not work in the usual manner and only really passes when you are engaging in conversation or actually doing something. Certain people can only be interacted with at certain times of the day or night but you are able to advance time by buying a book and reading it or sitting on a park bench thinking.
Are you into Cultural and Political history?
The developer has spent a serious amount of time creating a political and cultural history of the land of Elysium going back thousands of years and this is very admirable but sometimes too apparent. When beginning a game, you are given the option of selecting from three different character builds (archetypes) or making your own. I selected the Intelligent build to allow for a more intelligence based approach to problem solving when in some ways I wish I had selected the physical but dumb build as I ended up with the encyclopaedia part of my psyche constantly bombarding me with long winded facts about the history of the nation. This may have aided my success at manipulating conversations but truth be told I did not really care that much about this stuff even if I am impressed that it exists within the game.
I have read that over a million words of speech have been recorded for this final cut version of the game and the voice acting is superb but as I can read a lot faster than the text can be spoken, I tended to mash my way through most of it anyway and even after doing that I estimate that the game took me around thirty hours to complete and involved carrying out almost one hundred tasks. It is apparently possible to turn off some of the voice acting and have only text displayed if you wish in this version of the game.
Before I start playing a new game, I like to take a look at the controls page to get an idea of how things work and this one looks more complex than most with explainers on the right hand side as well. Controlling the character however is pretty easy once you have played for ten minutes or so although some of the walking routes can be a bit annoying. For example when you are unable to walk straight through a door due to a small step and are required to go out of your way and walk around two or three boxes to get out of the room.
The sound design is as good as you expect these days with the environmental soundscape conveying the mood of the piece very successfully. What I assume to be Brian Eno inspired haunting ambient music used throughout the game turned out to be real earworms that I found myself humming for hours after I stopped playing. On another related note after spending hours in complex conversation trees I found myself dreaming in the same style on two separate nights after long playing sessions
In terms of glitches, I encountered about ten objects throughout the game that would not allow me to examine them but that I believe a launch patch will deal with them.
My biggest bugbear with the game design experience were the numerous loading screens that are presented when you move between location entrances and exits. These are not very long in themselves, possibly 5 seconds each but they are longer than I am used to after being spoilt by the fast loading of my Series X. When you chain three or four of them together over the course of a minutes walk it feels like you are waiting for far too long to get back to the gameplay.
In conclusion, due to its origin and the number of words constantly displayed on screen Disco Elysium – The Final Cut sometimes comes across more as a visual novel than anything else. It is rare for a game to have such historical depth and deeply complex narrative and therefore it is very impressive, although it should be stated this is not a game for the faint hearted or something that non-fans of this genre will probably want to take on. Some of the subject matter is fairly grim and destructive behaviour is contained within the story but it is not glorified as there are penalties to be paid for activities such as drug use. I cannot think of another game quite like this and can see why the game has been lauded since its original release. If this particular style of game appeals to you it is not one to be missed.
Played on Xbox Series X
Disco Elysium$39.99 US
- Has an incredibly deep political and cultural back story.
- Looks like an Isometric animated oil painting.
- Has a novel combat sytem based around virtual dice.
- There is no other game quite like this.
- Not for the faint hearted as a very wordy experience.
- The abilities system is not the easiest thing pick up.
- A pretty long game if you want to experience everything.