Disco Elysium’s launch back in 2019 may not have been preceded by an awful lot of fanfare, but it didn’t take long after it released for everyone to realize what a special game it was. Widespread acclaim, truckloads of awards and accolades, and excellent word of mouth combined to make the industry sit up and take notice, and those who played the unique, off-beat RPG realized that this was the sort of game that would be recognized as an instant classic and a giant of the genre for years to come. Now, with Disco Elysium – The Final Cut, developer ZA/UM has brought the seminal RPG to wider audiences outside the PC ecosystem, and made several improvements to the game in the process. The result is an excellent achievement that improves upon what was clearly already a great game.
Disco Elysium’s biggest strength is its setting, and the fantastic world-building that breathes life into that setting. On the surface, it tells the story of a detective with a tragic past who is recovering from complete amnesia, but finds himself leading an investigation into a violent and mysterious murder. Thanks to that setup and the way it unfolds and progresses, the story is enjoyable even on that surface level. Discovering new pieces of the puzzle and then putting them together as you attempt to get to the heart of the mystery is captivating, and made even more so by the excellent characters that serve as the main players in the story. Even so, that initial narrative drive ends up taking a backseat to the larger stories Disco Elysium tells in and through its world.
"Disco Elysium’s biggest strength is its setting, and the fantastic world-building that breathes life into that setting."
The game takes place in Martinaise, a district in the city of Revachol, which has a long and violent history of revolutions, failed governments, and violence, and currently teeters on the edge of chaos under the control of a coalition of governments. Disco Elysium leverages its setting in incredible ways to tackle complex themes, and keeps asking players fascinating questions in ways that feel organically tied to the story and to its world. Revachol has a rich and fascinating history, the people of Martinaise that you meet throughout the game are all delightfully bizarre and full of personality, and it feels like no matter where you’re going or what you’re doing, you’re constantly uncovering new details to deepen your understanding of Disco Elysium’s world.
What helps, of course, is the consistently excellent writing- which is a good thing, because Disco Elysium is heavy on text, and reading through it is how you’re going to spend the bulk of your time while playing the game. The game constantly strikes the perfect balance between showing and telling, between being subtle and being explicit, between being funny and being gruesomely dark. In The Final Cut, every single written line is also fully voiced. That in and of itself is an impressive accomplishment, given the fact that there’s over a million written words in the game- but that achievement is made that much more worthy of praise thanks to the excellent quality of voice work. Every character has a unique voice that seems to suit their words and their personality perfectly, with the narrator in particular being the star of the show here.
But, of course, Disco Elysium doesn’t just succeed in terms of storytelling, writing, and world-building- it is an excellent role playing game as well. It’s incredibly unique, and goes about doing familiar things in very off-beat ways, and executes those ideas perfectly. The game is completely lacking in combat, and is instead centered first and foremost around skill checks. There are two dozen different skills that you can invest in, and depending on how you choose to build your character throughout the course of the game, you can be anything from a walking repository of endless knowledge to a brute who solves problems with his fist, from someone who seeks to understand the pain of people to a detective with a keen eye and a brilliant mind who never misses any detail.
"Revachol has a rich and fascinating history, the people of Martinaise that you meet throughout the game are all delightfully bizarre and full of personality, and it feels like no matter where you’re going or what you’re doing, you’re constantly uncovering new details to deepen your understanding of Disco Elysium’s world."
Add to that more role playing mechanics in the form of things such as the Thought Cabinet – where you internalize new thoughts to earn various boosts and buffs – or even equipping new pieces of clothes to buff up various stats, and what you have is a game with impressive build variety. The sheer variety and breadth of options available in how you want to progress your character and interact with the world is staggering. Granted, it’s no Divinity: Original Sin 2 in that regard, but in relation to the game’s size and scope, it’s enough for more than just a few replays, each wildly different from the other.
How your detective behaves, responds to people, and reacts to situations also helps define their character, a big part of which is what political ideology they subscribe to. You can choose to someone who is seeking to incite a revolution, someone who just wants to keep the status quo going, someone who wants to keep the corporations and those in power in charge, or even someone who’d rather just watch it all play out from the sidelines. These choices not only further enrich the excellent world of Disco Elysium, they also contribute significantly to the aforementioned variety.
Disco Elysium – The Final Cut, however, does have a few issues- and many of these are exclusive to The Final Cut. Most are strictly technical. For instance, often, the audio for lines doesn’t play, and every once in a while I’d go through bits and pieces of conversations or internal monologues where the voice acting would completely disappear. Meanwhile, during my time playing the game on a PS5, I also encounter a couple of crashes. Granted, a couple isn’t too many, but both of them did cost me a decent amount of progress since my last autosave, so they were definitely a source of frustration.
"But, of course, Disco Elysium doesn’t just succeed in terms of storytelling, writing, and world-building- it is an excellent role playing game as well."
The user interface in Disco Elysium – The Final Cut is also far from perfect. Scrolling through all the interactable objects with the right stick feels unintuitive and inaccurate. Often, I would try interacting with highlighted elements, but the game wouldn’t read that I’d pressed the X button until I moves around a little and did it again. Walking around can also be a bit of a hassle at times, specifically when you’re navigating around confined and claustrophobic areas. There are a few other issues as well, such as the readability of a few elements in the game’s menu. None of these game-breaking issues by any means, and a few are definitely to be expected when playing a game like this on a controller, but put together, they do lead to moments of annoyance and clunkyness.
Minor issues aside though, this is a game that RPG fans absolutely shouldn’t miss. Disco Elysium was already an excellent game when it first launched, and with The Final Cut, it’s been made even better. The new changes and improvements breathe even more life into a world that was already brimming with personality, and though the flaws are not non-existent, they’re easy to forgive. Anyone who hasn’t played this game before needs to experience it for themselves, and anyone who has now has the perfect excuse to jump back in and play through an even better version of it.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.
Fantastic setting and world-building; Engaging narrative; Excellent cast of wonderfully weird characters; Consistently incredible writing; Every single word in the game is voiced, and pretty much all the voice acting is great; Loads of options in gameplay thanks to deep and engaging role playing mechanics.
Some technical issues; Unintuitive user interface.