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Disco Elysium (Gaming)

by Cody Miller @, Music of the Spheres - Never Forgot, Thursday, March 23, 2023, 09:13 (396 days ago)

Disco Elysium is the closest I have come to having a game mimic a human Dungeon Master. It's nowhere close, but it is surprisingly flexible in what the game tracks, what you can do, and how you can do it.

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The game's an adventure RPG hybrid. You wake up in a hotel room, naked and hung over. You have no memory. You're in Martinaise, a district of the city of Revachol, gripped by poverty and corruption after a failed communist rebellion years ago. There's a dead guy hanging from a tree out back and you were supposed to find out who did it.

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The skill system is legitimately cool. Skills are aspects of your brain and psyche. You have typical ones like hand eye coordination, but more interesting ones like Visual Calculus - which allows you to reconstruct events by piecing together visual clues, Electrochemistry - which determines your response to drugs and sex hormones, and Inland Empire - which is your imagination and intuition. The most interesting aspect is that pumping large amounts of skill points into a skill can have unusual effects. While it will make it easier to pass checks, if you put lots of points into say, Perception, you will start noticing every little thing and become paranoid. Lots of Authority might make you able to intimidate others, but you'll crave obedience and crack at the slightest display of disrespect. High Shivers gives you an impeccable Spidey Sense™, but you'll appear crazy to others as you listen to the city instead of other people.

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Since the skills are part of your mind, they will talk to you. They will guide you through exploration and dialogue. There's soft checks that can activate skill dialogue at various times. Sometimes the skills might conflict, fighting each other for your attention. It's all quite cool.

The game also has hard skill checks, where a dice roll happens and your skill bonuses are applied, as well as any actions you've taken that might affect the outcome. The genius here is that failed checks don't usually block you. Sometimes they open up a NEW path for you. I never reloaded a game after a failed check - the game makes it so you can keep going regardless, just differently… To me this is the game's biggest innovation. Failure is not FAILURE, and it encourages you to go with whatever transpires.

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This makes the experience incredibly interesting and personal. If you spec your character out differently, the entire game feels super different, with different skills guiding you through the world and situations, as well as letting you solve problems in different ways. The first time I was a sober, logical handyman, while my second playthrough I chose to be a drunken, hulking brute and lothario, solving everything through force or seduction. Drugs give you bonuses to stat checks with no downside, essentially creating an addiction mechanic if you decide to constantly take them before attempting actions. The flexibility in the game scenario is pretty amazing. There's an achievement for solving the murder without ever examining the body, which is insane to me since my examination was crucial in uncovering a lead.

But the most impressive aspect is the building of the world, and insane amount of thought and backstory put into all of it. Your story is but a small part of an incredibly complex interaction of governments, factions, and political systems. None of it is necessary, but depending on your chosen build, navigating, understanding, and exploiting it might be beneficial to you.

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The game came out the same year as Death Stranding (2019), and I wish I'd have gotten to playing it sooner.


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