Disco Elysium, our 2019 Game of the Year, is poised to take its final form this month. More quests, a new location and full voice acting—over a million words—makes it a hefty free update. The response from players, says lead writer Helen Hindpere, is a big part of why the team is returning to Revachol and its amnesiac detective. They embraced the way it dove into challenging subjects, and ZA/UM wants to give them even more.
"It seems that, oddly enough, people do like politics in their games—especially when it’s offered as a way to shape your character in a RPG."
Politics seeps into every part of Disco Elysium, and your journey through Revachol's ideologies is just as meaningful as the main story, but it doesn't really get its own conclusion. Political vision quests will cap that journey by exploring these ideologies even further, while also putting your dedication to your chosen ideology to the test.
"Each vision quest comes to a point where players are encouraged to stop and reflect on where the quest is leading them," says Hindpere. "Are the solutions offered by your fellow ideological companions tangible enough? What is the best way to leave your mark on the world?"
Disco Elysium's biggest puzzle is your forgetful detective's identity, so ending your political quest with a final moment of self-reflection feels appropriate. The mark you leave on the city is tangible, too. The map will physically change, explains Hindpere, "as a sort of direct metaphor of the way politics has the power to shape the world." You'll be able to customise the statue looming over the traffic jam, for instance. Along with the world, you'll also be able to tweak yourself, finding new clothes and ways to earn XP.
This has also been an opportunity for the team to address a criticism some players had: that political dialogue options often took things to comical extremes. It's fitting for a game with such an eccentric protagonist, but ZA/UM decided to give the vision quests more "heartfelt and serious" moments, and more nuance. There's room for the detective to grow and mature by the end of them. But there will still be laughs, Hindpere promises.
What's also reassuring is that these quests aren't being forced into the same mould, even if they have some common themes. The ultraliberal path lets you build a personal brand, for instance, while the communist track inspires you to begin a movement. They have different lengths, though, and some are chatty, some are more visual, and one of them will take you to a new hidden location. It's an urban area, which Hindpere says reminds her of Berlin. She doesn't give away much more about it, but adds that it's accompanied by a new track from British Sea Power, which she describes as "hopeful and strong, like the mammoths of history marching through time". That will be a new experience for my ears.
Every quest will have unique elements like characters you won't be able to chat to otherwise, so your choices will lead to an even more distinct journey—you'll have yet another reason to return and try a different ideology on for size. And like most of Disco Elysium's cast, these new characters will reveal more facets of your personality, making things bubble to the surface that can potentially change how other conversations play out. This way, their impact lingers even once you return to the original story.
Kim Kitsuragi will join you on these new quests and will of course have plenty to say about your misadventures. It wouldn't be right if we couldn't bring our BFF. He's not the only character who's been expanded, either, and the new conversations aren't exclusively related to just ideologies.
"I've described these new bits as political vision quests, but in a very Disco Elysium fashion the conversations won't revolve around a single topic," says Hindpere. "You'll be talking about love, sexuality, hope, ambition, and even about certain geological features specific to our worldbuilding. There's an opportunity to get close and intimate with characters who have thus far seemed unapproachable. Let's say that once you share the same ideology many barriers disappear, allowing you see a different side of many important characters."
Every character, new and old, has been given a voice. Every line is spoken, even when it's just your subconscious, which serves as the game's narrator and constant companion.
"Anything that needs to be narrated went to an actor called Lenval Brown," says voice director Jim Ashilevi, "and Lenval Brown is sort of the backbone of Disco Elysium: The Final Cut. His voice is going to carry you through the whole journey. His voice is the voice you're going to hear in your sleep, as you play Disco Elysium."
Speak your mind
Brown's contribution took eight months to record, amounting to a whopping 350,000 words. On his own, he's responsible for about a third of the entire game. Your subconscious has a lot to say. And from what ZA/UM has shown off, his performance is spot on. Deep and gravelly, it's slightly menacing, but also authoritative, because your subconscious knows what's going on even if you don't.
"Recording one million words during a pandemic hasn’t been easy—there’s been countless last minute rescheduling emergencies, plus the added strain of working over a distance," says Hindpere. "But I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved. The outcome feels lush and colourful—it’s a pleasure to walk around in this babel of voices and discover what the actors have added to the script."
Revanchol is an interesting city to listen to. It's a city full of cultures coming together and occasionally clashing, and the accents of the characters reflect this. ZA/UM uses those accents to bring out certain traits. Hindpere mentions that John Steinbeck's influence on the character is why Titus Hardie had to be American, and loud-mouthed Cuno just wouldn't be the same without his Scouse accent. You might be happy to know the abrasive urchin no longer sounds like he's talking inside a steel drum, but he still sounds like Cuno.
There are 284 characters with voice lines in Disco Elysium, though Ashilevi notes that not all of them are human. There's your "horrific necktie", for instance, which the director adds "will have some things to say from time to time." The horrific necktie is voiced by the same person as the reptilian brain and limbic system, Mikee Goodman, which chatter away while you sleep. In the original version, they ended up being two of the most memorable voices, so I've got high hopes for the necktie. Like Ashilevi, Goodman also serves as a voice director. The team don't all give performances, but many of them do work in other creative disciplines beyond their role at ZA/UM.
"We're not a classical videogame studio," says Ashilevi. "ZA/UM is an art collective. I would say we maybe have more in common with the Wu-Tang Clan than your average videogame studio. Meaning, much like the Wu-Tang Clan, all of the members of ZA/UM have their own creative careers going. And then, when we come together under the umbrella of ZA/UM, that's when we create the best works of our lives."
You'll be able to take a trip to updated Revachol from March 30, when Disco Elysium: The Final Cut launches. If, however, you fear change, you can pick your VO mode, choosing to play with only the original voice acting, the new stuff except for the narrator, or the whole lot. And then that's it for Disco Elysium—it'll be complete. I'm looking forward to my revisit, but I'm even more excited about what ZA/UM's planning next.