Ahead of the release of Disco Elysium next week, developer Studio Za/um shared some insight into the sheer size of its game: playthroughs should average 60 hours, with completionists looking at 90 hours. It consists of a million words. Impressive stuff, especially as a first project for a small indie developer, and even more impressive is that, after roughly seven hours with the preview build, I've seen much of quality in all that quantity.
Disco Elysium is a top-down RPG inspired by pen and paper roleplaying games, but instead of a high fantasy setting, you find yourself as a detective in a grimy, downtrodden harbour district in the city of Revachol, sometime in the 50s. It begins in classic noir fashion: you find yourself in the skin of a man who's lost all of his memories, fighting your way back to the world of the living after a likely alcohol-induced heart attack. A whole gaggle of voices try to convince you to just not bother with it all, and it takes a short while to figure out that it's my own brain talking to me, all the different parts of my personality chiming in.
It's overwhelming, but it's this approach that gives Disco Elysium its flair. You're basically in charge of your character's entire brain. Almost all actions require a stat check, powered by a dice throw. Where other games only have checks for rudimentary skill categories such as perception and strength, here you dig deeper - your fashion-forwardness is as much of a skill as your endurance, logic and empathy. There's 24 skills in total across four categories describing your physical and mental state. I failed my first check when I tried to get the detective to accept the ruined crater he once called his face in the mirror.
I still haven't found out the detective's name, but I've reunited him with his highly unenthusiastic partner on the case, Lieutenant Kim Kitsuragi. I've also chatted to a lot of racists, lost a boule ball and hit a fourteen year-old in the face, all in trying to get a corpse down from a tree. The conversations I have with characters are deep, and often downright ridiculous. They make me forget what questions I'm supposed to ask. You can tell I'm nowhere near actually solving the case, and that's as much due to Disco Elysium's sheer density as it this due to my digital brain chiming in on conversations unasked. Hey, it goes, hey, how do you feel about becoming a fascist? After shooting that thought down, my character starts pondering free-market socialism.
The problem is that with so much going on it becomes very difficult to focus on the things you should be doing. Every task has several different ways to solve them, but currently I'm stuck with about 15 open tasks and no clear idea how to proceed. Talking to more people has so far only turned up more stuff I don't want to do. Please, I want to tell my invisible DM, your players are getting bogged down and frustrated. The inhabitants of Revachol are also as kind as my low-empathy detective with the elephant memory is - I've been called a pig, an idiot and much much worse, and the atmosphere is getting to me. There's so much more to see of Disco Elysium, but as fascinating as that amount of interconnected content is, I'm starting to think there might be something like too much of a good thing. Better boost my endurance stat before I continue playing.