The Disco Elysium skills and character creation system, much like the game itself, is big, brilliant, bizarre, and bewildering. With the four primary abilities of Intellect, Psyche, Physique, and Motorics each influencing a set of six distinct secondary skills, there’s an enormous amount to learn and figure out before you even begin to delve into the story itself.
Our Disco Elysium skills guide will walk you through how character creation in Disco Elysium works, before explaining each of the 24 skills at your disposal and how each one can change your story – for better or worse.
Disco Elysium skills – how character creation works
There’s an awful lot of thought that goes into creating a new Disco Elysium character. Here are the main points you need to get your head around regarding abilities and skills:
- When starting a new game of Disco Elysium, the first thing to decide upon is the leaning of your four abilities: Intellect, Psyche, Physique, and Motorics. We’ll go over each of these in more detail in a moment.
- You can start if you prefer by picking one of the three archetypes (Thinker, Sensitive, or Physical), which will automatically set your four abilities to certain levels – or you can assign the points yourself by creating your own custom character.
- If you pick the latter, you can assign a maximum of 12 points across all four abilities, and each ability must have a value between 1 (Terrible) and 6 (Genius).
- These four abilities each influence a set of six skills. As you level up through the game, you can spend skill points on any of these 24 skills – but the value you set your four abilities to will determine the base level of your skills, as well as the learning cap for those skills (that’s how many skill points you can put into that skill in the future to level it up).
- For example: if you set your Intellect to 6 (Genius) then each of your Intellect skills (and their learning caps) will be set to 6.
- You can equip clothing and items (or use the Thought Cabinet system) to adjust certain of these skills on top of the skill points you’ve assigned. For example, a pair of trousers might increase your Electrochemistry but decrease your Savoir Faire.
- The second part of character creation is to set a Signature Skill. This will give that skill a +1 bonus, and it will also raise the learning cap of each skill in that set by 1.
Each of the 24 skills in the game will pop up many, many times throughout your playthrough of Disco Elysium. Therefore, your focus of abilities and skills is probably the most important choice you can make in the entire game. The other thing to note is that while having any skill too low is obviously bad, upgrading any skill too high will also bring various negative effects and character quirks.
Now let’s go through each of the skill sets in turn, so that you have a better, fuller idea of what you might want to focus on for your own Disco Elysium character.
Disco Elysium skills – Intellect
Disco Elysium describes your Intellect ability as your “raw brain power”, “how smart you are”, and “your capacity to reason”. All of which are true – and may encourage you to invest heavily in Intellect, because all of this sounds pretty vital for a detective to have, right? And it’s true that, for the ultimate puzzle-solver – the Sherlock archetype, if you like – Intellect is the way to go. But be sure not to think of this as the “detective skill set”, because all 24 skills will allow you to become a better detective – just in very different ways.
Logic is, well, Logic. It’s one of the most straightforward skills to wrap your head around. Logic enables you to analyse the world, and to steer clear of certain intellectual pitfalls. It’s a very useful and functional skill for a detective to have – but, like all skills in Disco Elysium, Logic has a voice; and this voice is particularly flawed at higher levels. Your pride and vanity will render you vulnerable to flattery.
High levels of Encyclopedia will give you a Mind-Palace every bit as grand as Sherlock’s. You’ll be able to recall tiny bits of trivia, many of which will not be relevant in the least (but some of which of course will). This is a skill that can butt unannounced into almost any situation, from analysing a crime scene to having a conversation about the human condition. For those who (somehow) think the base Disco Elysium doesn’t contain quite enough lore, this is the skill for you.
Rhetoric is your bread-and-butter skill for debates and discourse of all kinds – of which there is plenty in Disco Elysium, believe me. Almost every conversation you have with anyone has the potential to awaken this voice inside you. You’ll be able to pick holes in arguments, and scrutinise extra layers of what is being said. It’s a fun skill, and particularly useful for would-be politicians; but be warned, because it can make enemies out of potential allies.
Drama is your lie detector, and your lie fabricator. With high levels of Drama, you’ll have a fantastic idea of when someone is hiding something from you, and you’ll have an easier time bluffing your way through obstacles – from conversation to combat. But high Drama also turns you into, in the game’s words, “one prone to hysterics and bouts of paranoia”. It’s one of the most characterful skills in the game, in my opinion.
Conceptualization is there after Logic cannot proceed any further. You’ve analysed everything there is to analyse, and you’re at a dead end. Conceptualization gives you the ability to see things from new perspectives and make new associations. But all this comes at a price, and that price is that you may become, well… a pretentious fuck. One whose desire to go big on everything may get in the way of what you actually need to do.
Visual Calculus is the final Intellect-based skill. It represents your aptitude for mathematics, physics, motion… This is one skill that ZA/UM have really focused on in Disco Elysium, giving you countless opportunities to decipher certain technical tidbits throughout the world and the story, all of which display themselves in a really lovely visual, visceral way. It’s also useful in the game’s occasional combat situations, particularly when paired with Perception. But going too far with Visual Calculus may also cause you to sacrifice the big picture in exchange for the tiny details.
Disco Elysium skills – Psyche
Psyche is the basis for Disco Elysium’s Sensitive archetype – a fact which should give you a pretty good idea of its focuses. With powerhouses like Empathy, Inland Empire, and Esprit De Corps, you’ll be able to experience so much more of the world and the story than anyone around you. You’ll be able to pick up on things that you shouldn’t be able to pick up on. And, quite obviously, that’s a good thing and a bad thing.
Volition is your moral compass. It’s the primary skill that checks whether you can resist certain temptations, and maintain your integrity. It’s probably the most starkly altruistic voice out of the 24 clamouring for dominance of your poor ol’ head. It helps get you out of trouble in many situations. But high Volition will also make you pretty dull and predictable. Those willing to compromise on their morals and values at certain junctures may find more paths open to them.
Inland Empire is one hell of a trip. In some ways, it’s your “imagination” skill. It can turn you pretty loopy if you go as far with it as I did. But, as with all skills, that’s a blessing as well as a curse. Many times during conversations Inland Empire will pop up with “bad feelings” about certain things, or pushing you to follow certain threads. It also encourages you to step into more of a para-natural detective role, on the prowl for the strange and spooky things that are going on which only a handful of people (including you) can sense.
In many ways Empathy is even more of a cornerstone skill for Psyche than Volition is. Empathy enables you to feel what others are feeling, and to warn you when something more is going on behind the scenes. You’ll gain a greater understanding of those around you. Which is a great skill to have, for sure – but too much will force you to go through everything that others are going through. All the suffering, all the pain. And that may prove too much for your oh-so-mortal mind to handle.
Combine Authority with Rhetoric and Drama, and you’ll be a veritable prophet. Authority is one of the most aggressive voices in your head, unwaveringly protective of your reputation and surprisingly sensitive to how others perceive you. During battles of willpower, Authority will urge you to assert your dominance – which may not always be the best idea, if you’re a weakling attempting to face down a two-and-a-half metre tall behemoth. But you’re a cop, for goodness sake! Cops in Revachol need all the authority they can get, right?
Esprit De Corps
Esprit De Corps is a surprisingly insightful skill to have on your side. It allows you to forge greater and more meaningful connections with your cop friends – including your partner, Kim Kitsuragi, who you’ll spend much of the game with. It also allows you to have “flash-sideways” of your fellow officers throughout Revachol and what they’re up to at that exact moment. It’s far from a necessary skill to have, but it again allows you to gain a little more out of your time in this immense and lovingly-crafted world.
Suggestion is, essentially, Inception. It’s the planting of ideas in the minds of others with such subtlety that they think it was their idea all along. It’s your primary means of influencing others who might otherwise block paths or options for you (which happens a lot). It’s as subtle and elegant as Authority is not. And it also lets you defend yourself against the same nefariousness from others. But you’d better make sure you succeed every time. And let me be clear: you won’t succeed every time.
Disco Elysium skills – Physique
Physique is probably (and very surprisingly) the most complex skill set to wrap your head around. You’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s “just, like, strength and stuff, right?” But it isn’t just that. There’s a great deal more that your body can do for (and to) you (and others).
Endurance determines your Health – which, along with Morale, make up your two basic resources. Run out of health and you have a heart attack, and too many heart attacks will kill you – but high levels of Endurance makes this much easier to defend against. It allows you to take more hits of all kinds – not just physical but also in terms of how many interesting chemicals and drugs you can bombard yourself with while still remaining functional. But Endurance goes way beyond just your endurance. It’s also the closest you get to a “gut feeling” outside of perhaps Inland Empire. Endurance will butt in when you wouldn’t expect it to, giving you certain unshakeable opinions on the world – some of which may tend a little towards the fascistic…
Pain Threshold is the next-closest-related skill to your character’s Health. It allows you to shake off certain otherwise dangerous things, from pin pricks to full-on cardiac arrest. But it’s not just physical pain, but psychological pain that Pain Threshold associates itself with. High enough levels of this skill may turn you into quite the little masochist, with spurts of self-destruction interfering with your overarching mission.
Physical Instrument is your inner coach and physiotherapist. Levelling up this skill will level up your muscles and skeleton – and your ability to use them. It’s the closest you’ll get to the traditional idea of a “Might” or “Strength” stat in games, giving you the ability to perform feats such as breaking down doors or ripping apart car doors with your bare hands– well, maybe not quite that far. But Physical Instrument also affects your psychology. It often comes up from the gym in the basement of your mind to tell you to pull yourself together and stop being a sissy. It’s probably the least sensitive of all the skills in the game.
Electrochemistry is one of the most dangerous skills in Disco Elysium in terms of sheer potential for self-destructive spirals. It shields you from the negative effects of various drugs (or cocktails of drugs) – and also gives you an amazing amount of knowledge about all the things you’re pumping through your body. But it also governs your libido, and high levels will cause certain unwanted (or perhaps wanted!) thoughts to enter your mind at unexpected moments. And too high an Electrochemistry modifier will start you down a dangerous path of addiction, substance abuse, and all-round hedonism. It’s very fun.
Shivers is Physique’s equivalent to Inland Empire. It heightens your sensitivity to the shiver response – that cold and little-understood sensation that seems very much like a warning of some kind but you’re not sure what for – except you do, if you’ve put enough points into Shivers. This is a skill that opens up an entire layer of Disco Elysium that would otherwise remain invisible. It allows you to hear what the city is saying at all times.
Half Light has a strange name, but it’s actually not that hard to get a handle on. At heart, it’s your fight-or-flight response. It comes in during moments of threat, and gives you the adrenaline you need to get out of the situation with your limbs and sanity intact. It also gives you a decent idea of how far to push someone – but, as with all skills, too much of this good thing is not so good. A very high Half Light skill will result in near-perpetual fear. It’ll be as though you’ve just run out of coffee after your seven-hundredth cup. You’ll expend an enormous amount of energy always being ready for dangers that may never present themselves.
Disco Elysium skills – Motorics
Motorics is the final ability in Disco Elysium, and generally involves the kind of traits you might associate with perception and dexterity in more traditional character creation systems. But ZA/UM are quick to explain that this is not all Motorics does for you; it also controls more nebulous and mental aspects of your character, from street smarts to your “cool” factor.
Hand/Eye Coordination (or H/E) is the closest you get to a Dexterity or Precision stat. It determines whether you can catch that coin just flipped to you, or shoot a gun so that it actually hits what you want it to hit. And, just like Electrochemistry, H/E also gives you a sort of mini-Encyclopedia trait on its specific focus (in this case, firearms – which could prove very useful in a murder investigation!). But be warned: H/E has a voice, and that voice, given enough power and volume, will compel you to take the shot you otherwise wouldn’t take.
If you want to be a true hard-boiled detective, then Perception is your go-to skill out of the 24 on offer. More so even than Visual Calculus or Logic, Perception allows you to take in every little detail on offer in a crime scene, a conversation, or any other manner of situation. If you think there’s a lot to interact with in every square metre of Disco Elysium, just want until you pump some points into Perception. But too many, and you’ll start to realise that the human mind can only take so much information.
Reaction Speed is, well, the speed of your reactions. Revachol is a dangerous place filled with dangerous dangers. The ability to dodge the most lethal physical and verbal attacks is extremely useful – and more than that, it’s damn fun when it works. This is one of your quintessential “street-smarts” skills, as well as the general agility of your physical self. But twitch-reactions often rely on instinct, and instinct, as we all know, doesn’t always turn out to be the best course of action. Your Reaction Speed voice may appear and compel you to take action, even if that action is not necessarily justified.
Savoir Faire is your “cool” stat, for all intents and purposes. It turns you into a stylish, sexy, badass mother-copper. It opens up a wide variety of different paths both in conversation and in the world itself. But it can also, in the devs’ words, turn you into “a bit of a douchebag, to be honest”. Make of that what you will, but a generous smattering of Savoir Faire with a pinch of Rhetoric and some Suggestion to boot – and there’s no better, smoother, faster talker in all of Revachol.
Interfacing is all about your tech-savviness. It determines whether or not you can speak the language of whatever gizmo or mechanism you’re attempting to interface with. It’s another skill that ups the number of interactive elements in the world of Disco Elysium – and in some extreme cases, with a high enough dose of Interfacing, you’ll be able to make deductions about said machines that you really shouldn’t be able to make. But at those levels, you’ll probably also start to feel the alienating effect of always hanging around machines instead of people.
And now, thankfully, we end on another fairly easy to understand skill. Composure is your ability to hide your emotions and maintain a poker face that doesn’t crack no matter what is thrown at it. Which is extremely useful in many social situations throughout the game – but that’s not all. Composure is also the handbook for understanding the body language of those around you. And you never know when one’s body language might give away an important clue in a murder investigation. And – far more fun in my opinion – it’s also your fashion sense. And at high enough levels you’ll start seeing your Composure voicing criticisms at the fashion choices of others.
Whew! That was a lot, I know. But now you’ll hopefully have a better idea of the Disco Elysium skills and character creation system, and how you might want to assign your ability and skill points to create your own weird and wonderful amnesiac detective story.