Sunday, March 6, 2022

Disco Elysium: a very short review

Disco Elysium was for quite a while the highest-rated game on the Metacritic PC review aggregator, and justifiably so: it's an excellent game, and I thoroughly enjoyed the 70 hours or so that I spent with the game this winter.

It's a little bit hard to describe Disco Elysium. The overall plot structure is a murder mystery: your character is a police officer, charged with solving the murder of a man who is found dead in the alley outside the local pub. The game is set in a small physical realm, but the gamespace is rich with interactivity: objects, characters, events, etc.

As a Role Playing Game, you find a lot of choice in how you play the game. Initially, you must go through the typical character design step, where you choose some basic characteristics of your character which will establish how the game behaves.

But there are several dozen characteristics!

Some of them are quite obvious, such as Intellect, Endurance, Reaction Speed, etc. Others are uncommon but fairly obvious, such as Perception, Suggestion, Empathy, and Rhetoric. Others still are quite unusual, with names like Inland Empire, Shivers, Savoir Faire, and Half Light.

Given that, over the range of the game, your character might come to have a level anywhere between 1 and 10 for each of these 24 characteristics, the span of possible states is enormous.

In practice, what this means is that each encounter in the game plays out in a very different way depending on how you chose your initial characteristics, and on how you chose to develop your character during the game.

And, of course, depending on how you chose to respond during each encounter. Particularly since the results of earlier encounters and decisions change the odds and outcomes of later ones.

And just to expand the variability still more, there is the traditional RPG element of chance, as the game nearly always throws the dice as part of each particular event.

It's a truly immense pallette of possibilities.

Faced with this, rather than designing my character intricately bit-by-bit, I chose one of the "presets" that the game offered at the start. The preset I picked was "sensitive", which was basically an arbitrary choice on my part. I suspect that the game designers intended this to take me down a particular play style, in which my decisions were emotional, dramatic, perhaps even impulsive.

As the game went on, though, I found myself choosing dialog selections that were perhaps at odds with my character's attributes, as the game kept bestowing honors on me such as "Unbelievably Boring", and "The World's Most Laughable Centrist", and "Literally The Sorriest Cop On Earth".

It's that kind of a game, snarky and yet incisive all at once.

The game was enjoyable from start to finish, and I really enjoyed the conclusion, as it indeed seemed to result in the outcome that my character deserved. Many people talk about the immense replayability of Disco Elysium, and it clearly would reward various replays with completely different approaches that would reveal various other aspects of the game world.

But time is short and I had a very satisfying first play, so I suspect I'm unlikely to find another 70 hours anytime soon, as there are too many other demands on my time.

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