When fledgling developer ZA/UM set out to make what would become Disco Elysium, to some degree, they didn’t know what they were getting into. The game as it was released is set in a single district of the fictional city of Revachol, called Martinaise, but in its original conception, the game would have spanned five. Scaling back became a necessity for the relatively small team at ZA/UM if they ever wanted to get their RPG out the door–but after a successful launch and more than a year of additional development time, Disco Elysium is about to become much closer to what its creators originally intended.
Disco Elysium – The Final Cut is set for release on March 30, and it significantly expands the game ZA/UM released in October 2019. Along with releasing on PlayStation 4, PS5, and Stadia (ZA/UM says it plans for Switch and Xbox One and Series X|S versions in the future), the Final Cut adds new quests, new characters, and myriad small changes throughout the game that will allow players to solve problems in new ways. ZA/UM gave GameSpot a look at the Final Cut during an online preview event ahead of its release, which gave a sense of some of the tweaks, while showing off the real crown jewel of the enhanced version of the game: full voice acting.
“I would even go so far as to say that it’s sort of like having seen a film in black and white, and hopefully having liked the film, and then coming back to that film after the director has sort of reworked it and created his dream version of the film and seeing it in full color, all of a sudden,” voice over director Jim Ashilevi said during the event. “I would say the difference is that vast and dramatic.”
It was no small feat–as Ashilevi explained, Disco Elysium contains about 1 million words that had to be voiced, about the same amount as is contained in all the Harry Potter novels, or twice as much as is contained in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. The Final Cut features about 59 actors from countries around the world, he said.
“Revachol really is sort of like the capital of the world. It is a gigantic melting pot of different cultures, different languages, different political views,” Ashilevi said. “It’s a huge melting pot for all of those things. And we really needed the voiceover to emphasize that aspect of Disco Elysium. Because you do get a sense of it without the voiceover, when you go through the game as if you’re reading a novel. But the voiceover read, it does have to be a game-changer in that regard. So I would say that having brought all these different languages and accents into the game and giving you the opportunity to actually hear that symphony of accents really does make a huge difference in the way you experienced Disco Elysium.”
While the fact that Disco Elysium – The Final Cut is fully voiced should drastically change how the game feels to play, it’s not the only addition to the game. The Final Cut also adds four new quests that expand on the characterization of the protagonist through the political alignment players bring to him.
These additions are called political vision quests, which allow you to further expand on Disco Elysium’s Thought Cabinet mechanics. Depending on the choices you make through the game, the Thought Cabinet elements you focus on, and the way you interact with other characters, you’ll get access to one of those four quests.
Picking one quest excludes you from the others, and not all the quests are the same length or have quite the same impact–but all of them will have effects on the later game. According to lead artist Kaspar Tamsalu, the aim for the political vision quests is “culmination and catharsis.”
“For some players, these political vision quests will indeed offer self-expression, role-play, an act, while for others, it offers a way for true introspection,” Tamsalu explained. “Unlike in real life, the video game allows one to reload a save game and try to resolve a complex situation in a different way entirely, and through this process, the player will undoubtedly open themselves up to different and sometimes opposing points of view. This opens the way toward empathy. Sure, we’re getting a bit deeper into the political side of the game with these political vision quests. We’re also getting a bit deeper into the mind of (the protagonist), and poke a bit deeper into the tapestry that is the history of the world of Elysium.”
“I can say that by completing each of these quests the player will undoubtedly meet new people, learn something new about people they’ve already met previously in the game, learn something new about themselves, uncover–let’s call them secrets–about the world of Elysium,” Tamsalu said.
Other changes to Disco Elysium in The Final Cut bring a variety of improvements. The game’s frame rate has been increased, Tamsalu said, and The Final Cut includes fast travel to make getting around Martinaise a little easier. There’s new art and music in the game to go with the additional content. And ZA/UM has worked to make The Final Cut easier and more interesting for streamers, with a mode that replaces copyrighted music. Twitch integration means fans watching streamers play Disco Elysium can vote on actions and dialogue choices. There’s also a feature that will allow stream viewers to vote to either increase or decrease the player’s stats, altering how key moments in the game might play out.
Taken together, the improvements and additions to Disco Elysium in The Final Cut bring the game in line with ZA/UM’s original vision–not the pie-in-the-sky conception with a sprawling city and real-time tactical combat, but the involved, novelistic version it spawned, and which Disco Elysium came close to hitting in 2019.
That’s why ZA/UM poured so many resources into fully voicing the game, Ashilevi said: The developer wanted to create the best version of Disco Elysium it could, and make it as approachable as possible for players, especially if they were playing it on their couch.
“We wanted the existing game to shine in its full glory, rather than rush off and go wild with expansions,” he said. “Disco Elysium was already complete, all that was missing was the political quests branch, which is now added to the story. Thus it made complete sense for us to pour most of our resources into the aspect of the game that still had the greatest amount of untapped potential–voice over. Up until now the game mainly stood on the shoulders of two giants: the writing and the art direction. Now we finally have that third pillar built in the form of full voice-over, which not only complements but also elevates the strongest features of the writing and artistic style of the game. With those three pillars supporting the experience of moving through the story the player finally gets fully immersed in the game the way we wanted them to be immersed in it in the first place.”