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Disco Elysium beginner’s guide

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How to make sense of this trippy adventure

A man in his underwear stands in a messy hotel room in Disco Elysium Image: ZA/UM

Disco Elysium is a hazy murder mystery that takes a few hours to develop into a clear picture. The obscurity of its introduction can leave some players scratching their head at the start as they make sense of the the game’s systems and plot.

In this beginner’s guide, we’ll bring some clarity to this confusing adventure so you can spend more time regaining your memory, and deciding whether or not you’re an Apocalypse Cop or rock star.

Below we’ll detail the most important things to know in the opening hours of Disco Elysium.

Abilities and skills

Disco Elysium puts you into the role of a man who has lost his memory. As he pieces together who he is, he also has to solve a murder. To do that, you’ll need to make use of four sets of abilities that govern how the main character interacts with the world.

A screenshot of all the character builds in Disco Elysium Image: ZA/UM via Polygon

At the start of Disco Elysium, you can choose between three builds — Thinker, Sensitive, and Physical — that divvy up 12 points among the following four abilities:

  • Intellect dictates how smart you are. Its level determines how well you make sense of the world around you.
  • Psyche is a measure of your sensitivity and emotional intelligence. It governs your ability to influence yourself and others.
  • Physique is a definition of your strength and fortitude. This determines how well your entire body is built, inside and out.
  • Motorics describes your senses. This trait also controls your mental and physical agility.

Create your own build

You can also make your own build, pouring up to six points into any trait (but still limited to 12 points total).

Once you create your own build, you then have to choose a Signature Skill. Each of your four abilities impacts six skills. The level of each ability determines the starting level of each of these 24 skills. Choosing a signature skill will add an additional level to that skill and raises the learning cap for each skill in that class. As you level up, you can add more points to these skills.

A screenshot of all the skills in Disco Elysium Image: ZA/UM via Polygon

Read about what each skill does because they act as an influencing force in your dialogue options within the game. Think of all 24 skills as members of your party. The higher their levels, the more likely they will be to help you out in conversations, discover the secrets of your identity, and learn the cause of the murder.

Be sure to review the Overview and Info tabs for each skill so you know what they do. While you’re selecting your signature skill, you can also respec your character’s base abilities on this screen in case you have second thoughts.

Save right at the beginning

This is a quick and simple bit of advice: Save right when you gain control of your character. You can do so by hitting Escape, and then selecting “Save Game.”

Without spoiling how, you can actually die right at the beginning of the game if you make a wrong choice in your disheveled hotel room. Especially if you invested time into creating your own build, you may not want to redo it all over again because you managed to kill yourself in the first five minutes.

Hold tab to highlight objects

Disco Elysium feels just like like those classic point-and-click adventure games, with important items of interest scattered throughout each screen. Instead of wildly clicking around to see what you can interact with, hold the Tab key on your keyboard to highlight objects that you can manipulate or people you can talk to.

Standing in a bar with several people in Disco Elysium Image: ZA/UM via Polygon

People and objects alike will glow green if you can interact with them. As you can see in the screenshot above, you can’t speak to everyone. The highlighting makes it clear who is a person of interest and who isn’t.

Holding Tab is also a great way to make sure you don’t miss any subtle clues or hard-to-spot items.

How to heal

Unlike other role-playing games where you might take damage in physical fights, most of what hurts you in Disco Elysium is verbal. There is no traditional combat in the game. Instead, intense encounters take place in an exchange of thoughts, questions, insults, and more. Discussions can hurt your mind and body.

While you can still lose health by kicking trash cans or sitting on uncomfortable seats, your Morale can also take damage. Depending on how your character is built, you may have more Health than Morale points (or vice versa). Having more health means you can take more risks by trying to slam doors open or use your physical strength to overcome more difficult conversations. Morale gives you more fortitude to withstand verbal barbs or an embarrassing gaffe in a conversation.

A screenshot showing a purchase menu in Disco Elysium Image: ZA/UM via Polygon

To heal, you need to buy certain drugs at Frittte, the oddly named drugstore next to the hotel where you start the game.

There’s no traditional inventory screen to use those items. Instead, the UI displays how many healing items you have for either stat on the bottom left of your screen. The bars represent the capacity of each form of health, both physical and mental, and the numbers represent how many healing items you have for each. Click on the numbers to regain any missing bars.

Redoing white checks

Like a traditional RPG, Disco Elysium makes use of checks for certain scenarios based on your 24 skills.

Dialogue options or ways to interact with the world sometimes rely on your skills to determine whether or not you can do something. The level of your skills, discoveries you’ve made, or even things you’ve said previously have an effect on checks. You’ll see your likelihood of succeeding and the skill used when you hover over the appropriate dialogue option.

When you’re asked to make a check, the game will do an invisible dice roll and use your skill levels and other modifiers to try and beat an unseen number. If you pass the check, you’ll get the opportunity to say or do something that you wouldn’t normally be able to do. This system adds some fluidity to the story, as your unique skill levels and what you’ve done so far can affect what you can do throughout the story.

A screenshot showing off a White Check in Disco Elysium
To have this question answered, I need to pass an Encyclopedia check, which has a +1 modifier on it.
Image: ZA/UM via Polygon

If the game says a check is a White Check, that means you can retry it later in the game if you fail it. Checks will have a higher likelihood of succeeding if you have a high level in its required skill or you’ve uncovered other factors that would increase its success.

You can only do Red Checks once, so be careful when trying them. If the success rate is low, try leveling up the skill it requires or try to discover other things that might increase the likelihood of beating it.

How to use the Thought Cabinet

Whenever you level up, you get the option to add another point to a skill. However, that’s not the only way to increase your stats.

Since your character has lost all sense of who they are, certain ideas in conversation might conjure up an idea in their mind. Those new thoughts go into the Thought Cabinet. Ideas in the Thought Cabinet do nothing on their own. However if you unlock a slot in the Thought Cabinet using a skill point, you can begin ruminating on new thoughts.

A screenshot showing off the Thought Cabinet in Disco Elysium Image: ZA/UM via Polygon

Each new thought first begins as a problem. When a thought is still a Problem, you can put it into a free slot to internalize it. Once that process begins, each thought will start its unique countdown while offering a different, temporary buff or debuff to one of your skills.

The countdown uses the game’s timer to show you how long it will take to internalize it, usually taking a few in-game hours to complete. After you internalize a thought, you gain its solution. Those solutions offer a permanent buff to one or more skills across the four ability categories.

Internalized ideas in the Thought Cabinet eventually create the unique version of the main character’s inner self that you build. Those thoughts may influence some of the things the character might say in dialogue, and buffs further improve the skills the character has, which also influence what they can say or know.

No, you didn’t soft lock the game

Debuffs gained from the Thought Cabinet or items you wear can lower certain stats. Surprisingly, one effect that’s never fully explained is that you can actually lower stats to zero. One of the biggest impacts this has is on a particular stat: Perception.

If your Perception skill drops to zero either because of an idea in the Thought Cabinet or piece of clothing you’re wearing, your character can’t recognize objects they can interact with.

In fact, if your Perception drops to zero, you may find yourself being able to enter into a room through a door, but unable to recognize that same door as a way to get back out of a room — leaving you stuck. If you hold down Tab to highlight interactive objects, some doors or other key items won’t get highlighted anymore because your Perception is so low.

If you notice this happening, you may just need to put on a new article of clothing or choose to forget a thought that lowered your Perception. Keep in mind that forgetting a thought costs a skill point.

Take on side quests

Depending on how you distributed your skill points for your character, you might find that it’s impossible at first to investigate the dead body that’s central to the game’s story. Thankfully, Disco Elysium has dozens of side quests to take on, many of which will help you level up, gain new ideas for your Thought Cabinet, and may get you closer to figuring out what’s going on.

Don’t shy away from side quests as they are all opportunities to travel across the entire map, learn more about the world around you, and discover crucial clues about the case. Thankfully your victim isn’t going anywhere and you have several days of in-game time to get to the bottom of the mysterious murder.

While it’s not clear which side quests are ultimately relevant to the murder, many of them provide much needed context to solve what seems like a simple case. Talk to everyone about everything. Once you’ve learned more about the case, go back to people you’ve spoken to before to see if any of the knowledge that you’ve acquired opens up new dialogue options.