Revachol is a dangerous place. That's not because there's been a body hanging from a tree behind a hostel for an entire week. It's because most interactions might hurt you, or worse, kill you. Even grabbing your tie from a ceiling fan.
In Disco Elysium, this is due to "checks." Checks are interactions that are soft-gated by your skills. If you have high hand-eye coordination, for instance, then you have a higher percentage of successfully getting past a check that uses that skill. A lower percentage, and your chances sink. You can boost yourself for checks by putting skill points into the required skill, or in wearing clothing that boosts certain traits. Really though, it all comes down to the dice roll when you select the check. Heck, I failed one at a 92% chance once. Nothing in Revachol is guaranteed.
Checks are divided by white checks, which you can retry at any point, and red checks, which you only get one shot with. Red checks are an easy deterrent; I would often leave a conversation and come back to it later when I knew I was better prepared. Sometimes, not even that was enough. But it's fine: I never felt too locked out of opportunities. Disco Elysium is the sort of game that feels molded to how you're playing it and how you've personally tailored your amnesiac cop's skills and personality. And because of that, every playthrough is "different" in that way—and it really is; I'm playing through a second time with a lean toward Motorics (motor skills) and Physique, and the dialogue is already different.
In my new playthrough, I am big and dumb and I welcome the end of the world with open arms. I have no qualms about punching a child who spews slurs. I'm bad to the bone. In my first, I was the opposite. A Sorry Cop and Art Cop, as the game told me; critical of art, a stalwart supporter of the working class, and anti-establishment, despite working for the establishment. Needless to say, I died and almost died in many, many stupid ways.
That time I kicked a mailbox
Early on while wandering around Revachol, you stumble upon a mailbox. There's a quest you can take on later that actually requires you to use it, but otherwise you just have two options: kick the mailbox, or pet the mailbox. Petting it heals your morality a touch, because it's just a nice thing to do. Alternatively, you can kick it, and if you're a weak man with paper skin and glass bones like me, it hurts you bad.
I kicked the mailbox before I learned the logistics of how health and morality works in Disco Elysium. I took damage, laughed while it was happening, not realizing my single-bar health was depleting in a timely fashion. Before I knew it, the protagonist clutched his chest, the screen faded to black. He died because of my stupidity of not knowing to click my health bar to use up a health item and save myself from ruin. Instead I died, losing about a half hour of progress thanks to not saving immediately before.
It's all good though. The mailbox was a learning experience. It taught me a lesson: Don't be rude to mailboxes. Also learn how to use health, you dumb dumb.
That time I nodded too much
Off the boardwalk, there's a wall littered with bullet holes. By your partner Kim Kitsuragi's estimation, it's from an automatic weapon—something rare there nowadays. That's when I got the option: instead of adding to his note of the people slaughtered lined up against this wall, you can just solemnly nod. And then Kim nods. And then you have the option to stop nodding, or keep going. Soon, Kim is even sweating from nodding so much.
If you refuse to stop, you take damage, as if you nearly nodded your head off. Foolish.
All the times Volition misled me
My first playthrough had high Volition and Intellect. So fittingly, my Volition misled me all the time. It fueled me with confidence, making me think that yes, I can do these things. No self-deprecation can hurt me. Low-percentage white checks be damned: I have the potential to do anything. In most cases, I did not. I flubbed it, even when Volition baited me otherwise. I found myself cursing Volition's name by the end of my run.
That time I tried to punch a kid
One of my favorite characters in Disco Elysium is Cuno, a foul-mouthed kid who passes the time throwing rocks at the dead body hanging behind Whirling in Rags. If you get to know him, Cuno has more going on than just an adolescent drug problem. You can even learn the true nature behind the other kid that yells at him from behind the fence, and his home life—that is, if you're able to connect with him on a deeper level.
When you first meet Cuno though, he's a little shit. He shouts homophobic slurs at you. He insults you and your partner lieutenant Kim. He's the worst, basically. I hated Cuno, and not just because the sound mixing for his voice actor was weirdly loud compared to the rest of the game. In one of your first interactions with Cuno, he gets on your nerves enough that you get the option to punch him. My character, in his embarrassing hangover slob state, pulls his fist back, wheels it around, and misses. He collapses onto the ground, with Cuno laughing and pointing at him, and then he suffers a heart attack and dies. It's brutal. When I reloaded my save, I opted not to make a damned fool of myself, and honestly, I don't regret it. Later on, Cuno and I became—dare I say it—friends.
That time a racist basically broke my arm
Early on, you're tasked with getting past Measurehead: a man guarding a button to open a door. You can convince him the long way, through adopting his twisted racist ideology to humor his tangents, or through pushing him out of the way. I tried the talking way, and after getting fed up, I resorted to throwing a fist his direction. Measurehead grabs my character's arm and basically crumples the poor, drunk detective as he writhes in pain. The screen goes dark, and you're dead. In my new playthrough, I have full intent to build up my Physique to take the bastard out with one hit. Wish me luck.
That time I tried to arrest someone who is obviously much more swole than me
One death that set me back unexpectedly came also close to the start, before I figured out the inner machinations of Disco Elysium's systems. During a long conversation with Titus, leader of the unionized Hardie boys who essentially police the town, I can eventually end on a point where I arrest Titus for his alleged misdeeds. Thinking I had enough to lock him up, I made the arrest attempt.
But it didn't work. The screen went black, and then a newspaper headline comically read "More Dead Cops," with no explanation of how or what led to my death. Lesson learned.
That time I nearly died after reminiscing about my lost love
Death can come in many ways, and it's not just in slapstick physical tasks. No, if your morale gets low enough, your in-game character gives up the will to live. It's a fail state all of its own.
With such high Volition, I had far more morale meters than health, so I never came close to dying with my constant self-deprecating jokes—and when they did take a notch off, I'd heal my morality bars right away. There was one moment though, toward the start of my adventure, where my mind drifted to thinking about my protagonist's lost love he had forgotten about. It damaged my morale severely because, contrary to my inner thought's suggestions to not dwell on it, I ignored them. I ruminated on his lost past, hoping to grab some semblance of it. But the past proved to be too painful. So it goes.