- CPU: Intel i5-7500 or AMD 1500 equivalent
- CPU SPEED: Info
- RAM: 4 GB
- OS: Windows 7/8/10
- VIDEO CARD: Integrated Intel HD620 or equivalent
- PIXEL SHADER: 5.0
- VERTEX SHADER: 5.0
- FREE DISK SPACE: 22 GB
- CPU: Intel Core i7 or AMD 1800 equivalent
- CPU SPEED: Info
- RAM: 8 GB
- OS: Windows 7/8/10
- VIDEO CARD: NVIDIA Geforce 1060 or equivalent
- PIXEL SHADER: 5.1
- VERTEX SHADER: 5.1
- FREE DISK SPACE: 22 GB
- DEDICATED VIDEO RAM: 3072 MB
Disco Elysium is a 2019 role-playing video game developed and published by ZA/UM. Inspired by Infinity Engine–era games, particularly Planescape: Torment, the game was written and designed by Estonian novelist Robert Kurvitz and features a distinctive oil painting art style with music by the English band British Sea Power.
Disco Elysium takes place in the seaside district of a fictional city still recovering from the ramifications of a siege decades prior to the game’s start. Players take the role of an amnesiac detective who has been tasked with solving a murder mystery. During the investigation, he comes to recall events about his own past as well as current forces trying to affect the city. Disco Elysium was released for Windows in October 2019 and macOS in April 2020. An expanded version of the game featuring full voice acting and new content, subtitled The Final Cut, was released for consoles in 2021, alongside a free update for the PC and macOS versions.
Disco Elysium is a non-traditional role-playing game featuring no combat. Instead, events are resolved through skill checks and dialogue trees via a system of 24 skills that represents different aspects of the protagonist, such as his perception and pain threshold. In addition, a system called the Thought Cabinet represents his other ideologies and personality traits, with players having the ability to freely support or suppress them. The game is based on a tabletop role-playing game setting that Kurvitz had previously created, later forming ZA/UM in 2016 to adapt it into a video game. Disco Elysium received universal acclaim for its narrative and art, and won a number of awards, including Game of the Year, by several publications. A television series adaptation was announced to be in development in 2020.
Disco Elysium is a role-playing video game that features an open world and dialogue-heavy gameplay mechanics. The game is presented in an isometric perspective in which the player character is controlled. The player takes the role of a detective, who suffers from alcohol and drug-induced amnesia, on a murder case. The player can move the detective about the current screen to interact with non-player characters (NPC) and highlighted objects or move onto other screens. Early in the game they gain a partner, Kim Kitsuragi, another detective who acts as the protagonist’s voice of professionalism and who may be able to offer advice or support in certain dialogue options. Other NPCs may be influenced to become temporary companions that join the group and provide similar support.
The gameplay features no combat in the traditional sense; instead, it is handled through skill checks and dialogue trees. There are four primary abilities in the game: Intellect, Psyche, Physique, and Motorics. Each ability has six distinct secondary skills for a total of 24. The player improves these skills through skill points earned from leveling up. The choice of clothing that the player equips on the player-character can impart both positive and negative effects on certain skills. Upgrading these skills helps the player character pass skill checks, based on a random dice roll, but potentially result in negative effects and character quirks , discouraging minmaxing. For instance, a player character with high Drama may be able to detect and fabricate lies effectively, but may also become prone to hysterics and paranoia. Likewise, high Electrochemistry shields the player character from the negative effects of drugs and provides knowledge on them, but may also lead to substance abuse and other self-destructive behaviors.
Disco Elysium features a secondary inventory system known as the “Thought Cabinet”. Thoughts are unlockable through conversations with other characters, as well as through internal dialogues within the mind of the player character himself. The player is then able to “internalize” a thought through a certain amount of in-game hours, which, once completed, grants the player character permanent benefits but also occasionally negative effects, a concept that ZA/UM compared to the trait system used in the Fallout series. A limited number of slots are available in the Thought Cabinet at the start, though more can be gained with experience levels. For example, an early possible option for the Thought Cabinet is the “Hobocop” thought, in which the character ponders the option of living on the streets to save money, which reduces the character’s composure with other NPCs while the thought is internalized. When the character has completed the Hobocop thought, it allows them to find more junk on the streets that can be sold for money.
The 24 skills also play into the dialogue trees, creating a situation where the player-character may have an internal debate with one aspect of their mind or body, creating the idea that the player is communicating with a fragmented persona. These internal conversations may provide suggestions or additional insight that can guide the player into actions or dialogue with the game’s non-playable characters, depending on the skill points invested into the skill. For example, the Inland Empire, a subskill of the Psyche, is described by ZA/UM as a representation of the intensity of the soul, and may come into situations where the player-character may need to pass themselves off under a fake identity with the conviction behind that stance, should the player accept this suggestion when debating with Inland Empire.
The player character wakes up in a trashed hostel room in Martinaise with a severe hangover and no memory of his own identity. He meets Lieutenant Kim Kitsuragi, who informs him that they have been assigned to investigate the death of a hanged man in an empty lot behind the hostel. The victim’s identity is unclear and initial analysis of the scene indicates that he was lynched by a group of people. The detectives explore the rest of the district, following up on leads while helping residents with a variety of tasks. In the course of the investigation, the player character learns that he is a decorated RCM detective, Lieutenant Double-Yefreitor (meaning he twice declined promotion from his current rank) Harrier “Harry” Du Bois. Harry experienced an event several years ago that began a mid-life crisis, and on the night he was assigned to the hanged man case he finally snapped and embarked on a self-destructive three-day bender around Martinaise.
Harry and Kim discover the hanged man killing is connected to an ongoing strike by the Martinaise dockworkers’ union against the Wild Pines Group, a major logistics corporation. They interview union boss Evrart Claire and Wild Pines negotiator Joyce Messier. Joyce reveals that the hanged man was Colonel Ellis “Lely” Kortenaer, the commander of a squad of mercenaries sent by Wild Pines to break the strike. She warns that the rest of the mercenaries have gone rogue and will likely seek retribution for Lely’s death.
Harry and Kim then uncover that Lely was killed before the hanging, and the Hardie Boys, a group of dockworkers who act as vigilantes, claim responsibility for the murder. They assert that Lely attempted to rape a hostel guest named Klaasje. When questioned, Klaasje reveals that Lely was shot in the mouth while the two were having consensual sex. Unable to figure out the origin of the bullet and fearful of the authorities due to her past as a corporate spy, Klaasje enlisted the help of a truck driver and union sympathizer named Ruby, who staged Lely’s hanging with the rest of the Hardie Boys. The detectives find Ruby hiding in an abandoned building, where she incapacitates them with a radio wave-based device normally used to aid in traversing the Pale. She claims that the cover-up was Klaasje’s idea and has no idea who shot Lely. Harry manages to either resist or disable the Pale device and tries to arrest Ruby, but she believes Harry to be a corrupt cop and either escapes or kills herself.
The detectives then stumble across standoff between the rogue mercenaries and the Hardie Boys. A firefight breaks out and Harry is wounded, leaving him unconscious for several days. Most or all the mercenaries are killed in the incident, and Kim may also be hospitalized, in which case street urchin Cuno offers to take his place as Harry’s partner. The detectives chase down their remaining leads and determine that the shot that killed Lely came from an old fortress on an isle just off of Martinaise’s shoreline.
The detectives explore the ruins and find the shooter, a former commissar of the Revachol communist army named Iosef Lilianovich Dros. Iosef reveals that he shot Lely with his sniper rifle in a fit of anger and jealousy; his motivations were born out of his bitterness towards the capitalist system Lely represented, as well as sexual envy for Klaasje. The detectives arrest him for the murder. At this point, an insectoid cryptid known as the Insulindian Phasmid appears from the reeds. It is revealed the Phasmid indirectly set off the chain of events leading to the murder, as its presence near the fort where the oblivious Iosef lived inadvertently affected the man’s mind for years, stoking his zealotry and resentment. Harry may have a psychic conversation with the Phasmid, who tells him that it is fearful of the notion of his unstable mind, but awed by his ability to continue existing. It comforts Harry, telling him to move on from the wreck of his life.
Harry and his partner are confronted by his old squad upon their return to Martinaise. They reflect on Harry’s actions during the game, particularly whether he solved the case and how he handled the mercenaries. Lieutenant Jean Vicquemare, Harry’s usual partner, confirms that Harry’s emotional breakdown was the result of his fiancé leaving him years ago. In the best possible outcome, the squad expresses hope that Harry’s state will improve in the future, and invites him and either Kim or Cuno to join a special RCM unit.
Disco Elysium was developed by ZA/UM, a company founded in 2016 by Estonian novelist Robert Kurvitz, who served as the game’s lead writer and designer. Kurvitz since 2001 had been part of a band called Ultramelanhool, and in 2005, while in Tallinn, Estonia, with the group struggling for finances, conceived of a fictional world during a drunken evening while listening to Tiësto’s “Adagio for Strings”. Feeling they had a solid idea, the group created a collective of artists and musicians, which included oil painter Aleksander Rostov, to expand upon the work of that night and developed a tabletop RPG based on Dungeons & Dragons on this steampunk-like concept. During this period, Kurvitz met Estonian author Kaur Kender who helped him to write a novel set in this world, Sacred and Terrible Air, which was published in 2013 but only sold about one thousand copies. Kurvitz fell into a period of depression and alcoholism for about three years following the book’s failing.
Kurvitz eventually managed to overcome this period of alcoholism and helped Kender to also overcome his own alcoholism. As a sign of gratitude, Kender suggested to Kurvitz that instead of pursuing a novel, that he try capturing his world as a video game instead as to draw a larger interest. Kurvitz had no experience in video games before, but once he had seen artwork of the game’s setting of Revachol as easily fitting into an isometric format, as well as Rostov’s agreement that they might as well continue taking the risk of failing on a video game together, Kurvitz proceeded with the idea. Kurvitz wrote a concise description of what the game would be: “D&D meets ’70s cop-show, in an original ‘fantastic realist’ setting, with swords, guns and motor-cars. Realised as an isometric CRPG – a modern advancement on the legendary Planescape: Torment and Baldur’s Gate. Massive, reactive story. Exploring a vast, poverty-stricken ghetto. Deep, strategic combat.” Kender was impressed by the strong statement, investing into the game’s development, with additional investment coming from friends and family. The game was announced as an upcoming 2017 game under the title No Truce With the Furies, taken from the poem “Reflections” by R.S. Thomas and published in Thomas’ No Truce with the Furies in 1995.
Kurvitz established the ZA/UM team to create the game, using the name “za um”, a reference to the Zaum constructed language created by Russian avant-garde poets in the early 1900s. Its name can be read in Russian as either “for the mind” or “from the mind”, while the use of all-capitals and the slash to present the team as “something that definitely exists and weighs eight tonnes”. Work on the game started around 2016, with the local team living in a squat in a former gallery in Tallinn. They were able to secure venture capital into the game during that first year which allowed Kurvitz to seek out the English band British Sea Power for their music for the game’s soundtrack. While in Birmingham to speak to the band, Kurvitz realised England was a better location for the main development team as there were more local resources for both development and for voice-overs. During development, some of the staff relocated from Estonia to London and Brighton, with other designers working out of Poland, Romania, and China. Overall, by the time of the game’s release, ZA/UM had about 20 outside consultants and 35 in-house developers, with a team of eight writers assisting Kurvitz in the game’s dialogue. The majority of the game’s funding was provided by Estonian businessman Margus Linnamäe. The game uses the Unity engine.
As originally planned, the game was to focus on action in a single city location to make the 2017 release. However, as ZA/UM had indicated to investors that this was to be a game that spanned a larger world, they found the need to spread beyond that single location, forcing them to delay the game’s release, along with the name change to Disco Elysium. This title plays on a few double meanings related to the word “disco”; in one sense, it refers to ideas that briefly gain the spotlight before burning out similar to the fad of disco music, and reflected in the protagonist’s clothing style, while in a more literal sense, “disco” is Latin for “I learn”, thus reflecting on the protagonist’s overcoming his amnesia to learn about the world of Elysium. Kurvitz had always anticipated the No Truce title to be more of a working title and wanted to reserve it for when they had bundled Disco Elysium with a second planned game. Though ZA/UM had initially planned to publish the game through Humble Bundle, they ultimately chose to self-publish it.
Disco Elysium was first released for Windows on 15 October 2019. The macOS version was released on 27 April 2020. One of the first translations that ZA/UM published was the Chinese version, which was released in March 2020. Its release had to bypass the typical approval process needed to release games in China, since Disco Elysium’s content, which included themes of communism, did not meet the Chinese governmental standards. After its release, reviews left by Chinese players indicated that they were drawn to the game, as its story reflected their own experiences with communism. In May 2020, ZA/UM released an update that improved some of the game’s performance on lower-end hardware, as well as adding support for additional language translations, which are being developed by the community and by the localization firm Testronic Labs.
After its original release, Kurvitz announced plans for an expansion for the game as well a full sequel. In addition, a tabletop RPG based on the systems the game used, tentatively titled You Are Vapor, was also announced, with Kurvitz also announcing plans to translate his novel Sacred and Terrible Air in English, which narratively takes place 20 years after the events of Disco Elysium. ZA/UM launched a limited edition clothing and artwork line, Atelier, in March 2021, featuring pieces based on the game.
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