Disco Elysium

released on Oct 15, 2019
by ZA/UM

A CRPG in which, waking up in a hotel room a total amnesiac with highly opinionated voices in his head, a middle-aged detective on a murder case inadvertently ends up playing a part in the political dispute between a local labour union and a larger international body, all while struggling to piece together his past, diagnose the nature of the reality around him and come to terms with said reality.

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Spoke to some friends about this game right after I'd just wrapped up my first playthrough. I don't think this is a game I'll ever stop thinking about.
It's dense. It casts a wide net on what it talks about and all it portrays. Addiction. Paying for poverty. Wounds. Disco. Love.
"I don’t know how to properly put this into words, but the only word I can think of when I think of disco Elysium is just love."
It's an autopsy on love.
Its examination is largely clinical, accompanied with the sterility and blunt precision of a medical professional. There is no tidying things up. No saving face. No euphemisms. It will manage to dig into many different parts of you and tell you what it sees. Your politics, habits, your engagement with others. It will find your mistakes and put them under a magnifying glass for far longer than you think is necessary.
It does all this because it loves you, and it doesn't want you to give up on that.

Every single line of dialogue in this game is written so so well and there’s so so much of it, it truly begins to feel like a real, breathing world and MAN this game can be so funny, so clever, so sad, painful, anger-inducing, mystifying, the game can do anything and it’s brave enough to do all of it.
Throughout the months after beating DE for the first time, I have only loved it more and more, and it has only had more and more of an effect on how I think. This is a powerful game, and I wish that I was so lucky to have gotten to experience more like it.

Incredible. I will return to this game many times just for writing inspiration alone. Great characters, art, story, writing, leftist infighting, etc.

i lied in the other reviews im harry du bois

This review contains spoilers

This game really is something special; it fully deserves its reputation.
The storytelling is great on so many different levels. This is some of the greatest political storytelling I've ever seen, let alone within the medium of video games. In a forgotten slum where power is constantly contested between groups, regardless of who may hold "governmental legitimacy" to exercise that power, playing as a police officer lacking that power and caught between the groups who hold power and are vying for more of it is such a unique and dynamic way to explore the politics of martinaise. The fact that the RCM can’t even agree which precinct martinaise belongs to is just the cherry on top of the fully realized political instability.
Add to that the great characters you find in the city (Kim, Titus, Klassje, Joyce though she doesn’t have an arc, she’s still just fascinating to talk to), and it's impressive how well the character arcs and political narratives are balanced, when so much other fiction has failed that balance. Also, the pacing and climaxes are fantastic. Your confrontation with Ruby, and the tribunal with the mercenaries are thrilling, and each move you make feels extremely consequential. This contrasts with the confrontation you and Kim have with the deserter, where the conversation feels slow, draining, and as worn down as the deserter himself is.
But the thing that really put this over the edge as an all timer for me is the nature of the world you’re in. In a game where you were most likely figuring that the world is just a heavily fictionalized version of the real world with fictional place names, the conversation with Joyce where you finally learn what an Isola is, and she slowly reveals to you the nature of the pale is deeply sobering. The chain link between the silly missions of the haunted commercial district and the dance club giving way to you interacting and discovering things about an emergence of the pale only serves to strengthen this aspect of the story.
Finally, there is the arc of Harry Du Bois himself. While I was initially turned off by how your skills were constantly talking to you (They’re too verbose, to be sure. Plus, I really have to be in the right mood to not want to skip through the ancient reptilian brain-limbic system dialogues). Finding your binder and learning of your past glory as a cop was so nice to hear after constantly being told of your drunken escapades and failures. Still though, you must repeatedly contend with your failures throughout the story, but the opportunities you get to improve outside of the main story do much to alay those feelings of failure (informing the working class woman that her husband has died is a personal favorite). All of this, plus the hauntological elements of the pale and the political history of Insulinde, culminates perfectly in the dream Harry has on the island. Reliving that final conversation with Harry’s ex, as Dolores Dei, is tragic. It disorients the player wonderfully, and it breaks your heart as you try out each dialogue option trying for something that might satisfy Harry. Again, this conversation is the perfect culmination of so many of the themes introduced throughout the game.
An aspect that I especially like about Disco Elysium, is how much the storytelling is elevated by the medium. As a linear novel, so much would be lost. Going down trivial side paths that either end up resulting in a moment of heavy emotional resonance or having dramatic implications for the story at large is rewarding. While I won’t have the full effect of this until I make a second playthrough, it truly felt like the characters, the world, and even the game was truly responding to how you decided to play, and how you made Harry act. This is a masterpiece that truly feels like its unique to videogames (or I guess a tabletop rpg game, since that’s what it is)