Platforms: PC, PS5, PS4, Stadia (Xbox, Switch to follow)
When the original version of Disco Elysium launched back in October 2019, it was perhaps best described as “unusual”. What initially seemed to be a detective noir evolved into a sprawling exploration of the nature of the mind, set in the alternate world of Revachol with a detailed history thousands of years long, similar to – but fundamentally different from – our own. It also delved deeply into political theory, exploring the modes of thought behind communism, moralism, capitalism, fascism, and liberalism (and a few more, besides) providing a unique origin for each ideology within the framework of the game world’s history, challenging players understandings of each by divorcing them of real-world biases. Maybe “complex” is a better descriptor than “unusual”, after all.
Despite all this, the game was a delight – a sharply-written, insightful, and often bitingly funny experience with innovative twists on the traditional RPG experience. Waking up as an amnesiac detective after a days-long booze and drugs bender, half of the challenge was piecing together who you were, as much as solving a murder case that you were ostensibly investigating.
Disco Elysium was, and remains in The Final Cut, an “RPG” in the purest sense though – stat-based, pen-and-paper-but-no-combat style, and played from a fixed, top-down isometric perspective. Every conflict, every divergent point, is resolved not by reflexes or power, but by a dice roll determined by your stats in four familiar – yet slightly genre-divergent – traits: Intellect, Psyche, Physique, and Motorics.
A sharply-written, insightful, and often bitingly funny experience with innovative twists on the traditional RPG experience.
These may seem familiar, but they’re a far cry from the stat categories Dungeons & Dragons players may be used to. There’s a bit of overlap in what each pillar affects here, but the subtle differences prove to be important. Intellect, for instance, is centred on skills and observations related to the physical world – spotting clues, or having knowledge. Psyche is more related to emotional intelligence, personal insight, and how others respond to you. Similarly, Physique is how tough your body is, while Motorics is how well your body moves – hand-eye coordination, for instance. Each contains five distinct talents, such as ‘Inland Empire’, which governs your sense of self, or ‘Esprit de Corps’, which gives you a deeper connection to your fellow cops. Even seasoned players of more “hardcore” RPGs will find themselves weighing the tradeoffs on which stats to upgrade as they progress.
The Final Cut expands on the original in two major ways though. One is performance – every line and character is now fully voice-acted, with some characters that were voiced originally now re-recorded with new actors to better fit the overall tone of the game. Developer ZA/UM says that’s around one million words that are fully acted now, and the difference it makes is substantial. One of the game’s quirks is that a significant amount of time is spent with the detective examining, debating, and arguing with his own subconscious, sections that are now far more immersive thanks to the voice work of actor Lenval Brown. Also serving as narrator, Brown’s dulcet tones make even the most mundane observations or interactions worth listening to, enriching the world around you.
The other is the introduction of Political Vision quests, four optional digressions that open up depending on the political leanings you exhibit during your investigations. As these are ideologically locked, you’ll only be able to encounter one per playthough. Thankfully, they’re not essential to the already-twisted main story, but they do add even more detail to the world, explaining more of its history or exploring the quirky inhabitants in greater depth. Given the world of Disco Elysium is, in essence, the greatest character, these quests make for a great addition to anyone who gets drawn into it.
What The Final Cut doesn’t do though is change the core Disco Elysium experience. It’s still a text-heavy, combat-free game that demands attention and focus from the player. Even if you’re playing the detective as a dumb slab of drug-addled meat for maximum comedic effect, you yourself need to pay close attention to the details of the world and dialogue in order to best progress. Safe to say, it isn’t for everyone’s tastes – but for anyone who’s open to a heady mix of psychology, philosophy, and political theory, with a dash of alternate world history and even the actual elements of pulp noir thrown in on the side, will have a blast with this most unusual of RPGs.