You come to in a hotel room that looks like a tornado passed through it. You are on the floor in just your underwear, with clothes scattered among the wreckage. The ceiling fan spins idly over your head, and cold air rushes in through a shattered window. A tape deck spins silently, the recording itself strewn across the floor. Your head and its thoughts are a mess, with one thought rolling in after the other, trying to put pieces together that do not fit. It’s time to get up, detective.
Disco Elysium – The Final Cut is an updated release of ZA/UM’s groundbreaking 2019 RPG. This version of the game is fully voiced and boasts a number of quality of life improvements from the initial release (which, full disclosure, I have not played). From my experience and the experiences of others, however, this seems to be the definitive version of the game—and to make things even better, it’s now available on PS4 and PS5 as well as still being on PC.
Disco Elysium tells the story of an amnesiac detective, his partner, and a body hanging from a tree behind a hotel. That’s a vague description, but to say anything more than that regarding the plot would be to rob players of discovering it for themselves—an experience that is integral to the game’s brilliance. The world of Disco Elysium is absolutely full of people, places, and ideas to discover, and I cannot overstate how important it is to go into this game with as open a mind as possible.
Once players wake up and leave their hotel room, they are quickly thrown headlong into a murder investigation that they must solve—by pretty much any means necessary. Throughout the investigation, players will encounter politicians, lobbyists, junkies, business owners, laborers, and even inanimate objects that want to have a word with them. For such a modestly sized world, the game packs in plenty of diverse characters and ideologies before leaving players to explore them at their leisure and come to their own conclusions.
That last point is pretty crucial to what makes Disco Elysium such a masterpiece in game design; many RPGs boast “player choice” and its effects on a story, but almost no other title in this genre that I’ve played walks that walk like Disco Elysium does. In this game, players will make choices that alienate other characters, get people killed, make enemies of entire groups, and so much more. Making poor or uninformed choices can and will result in entire potions of the game being closed off to players, and they will have to adjust their approach in order to find success elsewhere. And that’s okay—in fact, it’s brilliant.
Disco Elysium, like many other RPGs, mainly relies on leveling up your character and putting points into a skill tree, unlocking both doors and dialogue options as a result. You see, there is no combat or engaging with the game world (in the familiar sense) in Disco Elysium; instead, players will interact with any object, person, or location available to them and make a series of dialogue-based choices to move the action forward.
The most important actions require skill checks, which are based on the 24 different “skills” that the game features. These skills are broken up into four sections: Intellect, Psyche, Physique, and Motorics. Each of these sections features six different skills that you can level up to increase the detective’s aptitude in that area. Want to charm the people of Revachol? Put points into Charisma and Savoir Faire. Want to play as a brute who muscles his way through interactions? Focus on Physical Instrument and Half Light. The game gives players the freedom to customize their detective in countless ways, and it finds a way to do so without ever punishing players for the choice they make. Leveling up certain skills may not allow you to progress one way, but they very often open up another possibility. This unique skill system is so intricately linked to the narrative and game world that it essentially eliminates failure in the traditional sense.
In many other titles, making the wrong choice results in players restarting an older save or outright failing an objective; in Disco Elysium, failure is rewarded. This is a game where players will not see everything by the end of their first playthrough, or even their second. Failing a skill check may cut short one line of inquiry but leveling up the skill associated with the check or pursuing other options will always get you to the next plot point—just maybe not the way you thought or wanted. This approach to progression is incredibly clever and kept me on my toes, pushing me to explore the city more and investigate places I otherwise might not have.
Speaking of the city, Revachol and its surrounding areas makes for one of the most lived-in worlds I’ve ever experienced. From the grimy streets of Revachol to the snowy wastes of the hinterlands, the world feels both familiar and totally alien. The world is constructed in such a way that it feels just recognizable enough to sell the parts of it that veer towards the fantastical, and it works like a charm. Every time I sat down to play, I was excited by the prospect of what I could discover next—and by how it would change the next time I visited.
I could go on and on about all the ways that Disco Elysium shines; it features a moody and beautiful score, a totally unique visual style, and the voice work is routinely brilliant. There are millions (not an exaggeration) of lines of dialogue in this game, and all of them are voiced with flair and nuance—the voice talent seriously cannot be commended enough. And while the game did feature some pretty noticeable bugs and glitches at launch (including one where certain voice lines didn’t play), at time of writing the team at ZA/UM has patched most of the major issues and the game is in very stable shape.
If you are a fan of RPGs, this game is an absolute “must experience.” It completely rewrites the possibilities of what a role-playing game can be mechanically, and does so while also providing a fascinating and twisty narrative and characters who will test your resolve and allegiances. Combine all this with a revolutionary skill system, and you are faced with the best game of the year so far—and one of the greatest RPGs ever made.
So get up, detective—it’s time to dance.