What kind of cop are you? That's the question Disco Elysium asked us via its promotional artwork. It flirts with the notion of endless choice and, unlike many other misleading titles, it manages to deliver on its promises through an intriguing skill system. Want to play as an arrogant know-it-all cop? Then you can. Or how about a drug dependant sociopath? That's also fine. We recently got the chance to sit down with the upcoming detective RPG and we took some time to explore the mysteries that surrounded its fictional city of Revachol.
Before we could sink our teeth into the sprawling open-ended case there was another mystery we had to solve as our character was suffering from a nasty bout of amnesia. We woke up facedown on the floor of a busted up hotel room with our clothes scattered around us and a bottled clutched firmly in hand. This sparked our intrigue and after conversing with a strange lady outside our room it seemed we couldn't recall whether we were a cop or even whether we smoked cigarettes. After staggering down the stairs we met a disgruntled bar manager who sarcastically reminded us that we were indeed a cop and here to investigate a body hanging from a tree outside.
A frail old lady in the hotel lobby pointed us in the direction of another impatient looking officer who stood in the doorway seemingly waiting for us. We then headed out into the frost-covered street and through a gap in the fence to where a man was left hanging from a tree surrounded by two children who are stood laughing and pounding his lifeless body with snowballs. We spoke to the two witnesses and it was clear they didn't have too much respect from the law branding us as "pigs" and refusing to provide us with any useful testimony. The one thing that we did learn about was the suspicious activity of the greenhouse gardener and from here our case began to gain some momentum.
As we gathered clues in order to crack the broader case we also encountered two side-quests with the first stemming from our chat with the woman we met outside our room. When we told her that we were a smoker and this triggered our a craving for our next fix of nicotine. This we found intriguing as it was generated by a simple dialogue choice which at the time we saw as minor. The second side-quest tasked us with raising funds to compensate for our trashed hotel room. After taking to the streets and muttering to a few NPCs, things took a comical turn as a man sat on a building's ledge tossed a penny at us, perhaps pitying our dishevelled appearance.
As we alluded to previously, Disco Elysium's most interesting trait is its pen and paper RPG inspired skill system which shapes your interactions and awareness of your surroundings. Upon levelling up you can choose skills across four categories - intellect, psyche, motoric and physique, which are broken down further into six distinct sub-categories. Each of these skills presents both positive and negative effects giving them a human-like quality. The electrochemistry trait allows you to use substances to temporally bolster your attributes. Drinking alcohol, for example, raises your physique by two additional points. The downside is that you will fall into dependency and we have been told that you will be tasked with non-refusable quests that have you looking to quench your addiction.
Two skills that we could see ourselves using an awful lot are Encyclopaedia and Empathy. Encyclopaedia amplifies your knowledge of smaller lesser known snippets of information which may be telling and slip past those who are less informed. Empathy allows you to read more deeply into the emotions behind the words of those you converse with, adding another layer to their accounts and possibly highlighting deception. With the skill lines shaping dialogue so much, we appreciate how much effort the writers must have poured into the script to ensure that the dialogue fits around all the different combinations of skills.
We were also really impressed by the soundtrack composed by indie rockers British Sea Power. Hello Games employed rock band 65 Days of Static for No Man Sky, a move which worked to great effect for that game, and we feel the fit works just as well here as the ambient sounds and whooshing guitars really fit the gritty atmosphere. The oil painted look is also excellent and the murky setting of Revachol set against the backdrop of the snow made for a contrast that was really easy on the eyes.
No release date is currently pinned down for Disco Elysium but from what we've seen we can safely say that this detective RPG is off to a solid start. We loved the oil paint art style, the gritty tone, and the RPG skill system which really pushed us to think due to the advantages and consequences that it carried with each invested skill. We can't wait to finally get to stuck into this one once it releases on Steam and see how our journey differs from those who have adopted a different play style.