Game of the Year 2019: Disco Elysium

(Image credit: ZA/UM)

Disco Elysium is PC Gamer's Game of the Year for 2019! To see all of the winners, head to our GOTY 2019 hub.

Jody: The drama skill would like to explain that what makes Disco Elysium great is how it coherently draws together influences from outside of videogames, that it combines 1970s cop dramas with David Fincher deconstructions of detective stories and China Mieville city-building. The encyclopedia skill feels obliged to mention that it's also synthesizing the politics of post-Soviet Estonia and, in its glib moments, the hellsite called Twitter. Conceptualization would like to add the importance of its impressionist art style and equally impressionist music, both moody and yet not without color or incident. My electrochemistry skill really needs a drink if I'm going to carry on with this.

Disco Elysium's skill system, which transforms each of your character's abilities into NPC companions who pipe up with their own opinions and commentary more often as you put more points into them, is a revolutionary addition to roleplaying games. It forces you to see even trivial choices as coming to define who you are, and because of that it gets away with only occasionally throwing in a Big Moral Choice while still ensuring you finish it with a strong conception of who you've become.

Just as significant is what it leaves out. I took part in one fight and skipped an optional one and that's all the combat I saw in 30 hours. RPGs use combat as a pacing mechanism (and often as a padding one), so for Disco Elysium to throw that away and not be any lesser for it is huge. It's like someone kicking away a crutch and then running a marathon.

Wes: I was so excited when I started doing some real detective work, finding the notebook I'd lost during one hell of a drunken bender. Within it were clues to my forgotten identity, the backstory I needed to understand who I was. Like any other game, Disco Elysium prodded me to open it and investigate, to solve the riddle. And then, unlike any other game, it made me question whether I really wanted to know my past. Was that really who I was? Or could I be someone new? What a thrill, to deliberately throw away a plotline. What catharsis! And I know my particular makeup of skills changed which inner voices chimed in at that moment, yanking my mind in different directions, making me really choose what I thought. So many RPGs are defined by what you do, but Disco Elysium is truly defined by what you think. I've never played anything like it.

Fraser: Disco Elysium is challenging. Not in the way Dark Souls is challenging, but in its presentation of ideologies, addiction, racism, morality. It's a lot to digest. Your amnesiac detective is built out of personality traits, obsessions and beliefs, so you’re always encouraged to explore who you are and what you make of the society you’re stuck in. I became a communist for the funny dialogue options, but by the end I’d had serious discussions about its merits and flaws and found it informing loads of other choices I made. I’ve never played another RPG that gives so many opportunities to define my character beyond stat bumps, aside from maybe Planescape: Torment.

Andy K: I spend most of my time in Infinity Engine-style RPGs trying to avoid combat and find a smarter way to deal with any given situation, which makes Disco Elysium particularly enjoyable. The sheer number of ways to charm, smarm, or bullshit your way out of trouble makes for an incredibly satisfying RPG, and is proof that you don’t need traditional combat to make a game like this compelling over tens of hours. Disco’s protagonist is one of the most joyously malleable characters in RPG history, from the clothes he wears to the intricacies of his personality. You can truly make your mark on this world through the things you say and do, even if those things are terrible and offensive. It’s your choice.

Jody Macgregor
Weekend/AU Editor

Jody's first computer was a Commodore 64, so he remembers having to use a code wheel to play Pool of Radiance. A former music journalist who interviewed everyone from Giorgio Moroder to Trent Reznor, Jody also co-hosted Australia's first radio show about videogames, Zed Games. He's written for Rock Paper Shotgun, The Big Issue, GamesRadar, Zam, Glixel, Five Out of Ten Magazine, and, whose cheques with the bunny logo made for fun conversations at the bank. Jody's first article for PC Gamer was about the audio of Alien Isolation, published in 2015, and since then he's written about why Silent Hill belongs on PC, why Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale is the best fantasy shopkeeper tycoon game, and how weird Lost Ark can get. Jody edited PC Gamer Indie from 2017 to 2018, and he eventually lived up to his promise to play every Warhammer videogame.