Esoteric Ebb seemed like a game tailor-made for me, and that left me nervous. An irreverent, dialogue-focused RPG proudly announcing its Disco Elysium inspirations—my mind jumped to all those soulslike games I’ve gotten my hopes up for that just don’t quite have the FromSoft magic.
After trying the game’s second draft demo, I’m happy to report that my fears were unfounded: Esoteric Ebb has that spark—not merely an imitation of our 2019 game of the year, but using that familiar format to go on its own RPG adventure.
You play as the world’s worst cleric, already maybe the dumpiest of Dungeons & Dragons’ classes. Sorry, cleric fans, but the ecclesiastical fantasy just doesn’t do it for me, though their healing magic is always welcome. As Obsidian design director Josh Sawyer once quipped, echoing the great Ronnie Coleman, “everybody wants a cleric in the party, but ain’t nobody want to main one.”
All of which is to say I kind of appreciate being forced into that role by the game, building out and reconstructing this archetype in a new way. Even though your class is set, you still have freedom to choose the cleric’s stats and play them any which way, maybe leaning into that “world’s worst cleric” bit by giving them booboo Wisdom and cranked up Strength to be a bully-priest, or maxing Dexterity and Charisma for a more flashy, self-involved man of the cloth.
Esoteric Ebb adapts 5th edition D&D to Disco Elysium’s style of exploratory, dialogue-focused RPG, and the retrofit works. Your attributes talk to you in the manner of Disco’s skills, but you’re rolling D20s now instead of Disco Elysium’s bespoke system of 2d6 rolls. Even with the changes, Esoteric Ebb nails the slapstick, jittery feeling of your first run through Disco, with failed checks and ill-advised decisions leading to situations you just don’t see in other RPGs.
Taking a break from a Baldur’s Gate 3 where I’m playing a bard who’s good at everything, it felt invigorating to be a useless dope who gave himself a tummy ache trying to tunnel through a massive pile of apples by eating them. One memorably embarrassing faux pas saw my guy reflexively bite his tongue so hard he drew blood, spewing the red stuff out of his unremovable helmet the next time he opened up his mouth to speak.
Instead of waking up to a lynching investigation with a legendary hangover, Esoteric Ebb’s hapless cleric finds himself in a morgue, resurrected after having been fished out of the river. A tea shop has exploded on the eve of this fantasy city’s first election, and you’re charged with assisting the local goblin tribe in an investigation as to the cause.
I’m interested to see how the political angle will pan out in this vastly different setting, but Esoteric Ebb’s already showing off a sense for worldbuilding that impressed me. It has that sense of “as you already know” constructed history I really loved in Disco, and this fantasy world seems like it might be a little bit grimmer and weirder than it first appears. Esoteric Ebb combines that sensibility with a cheeky, Shrek-like banality in its treatment of magic and the fantastic.
One of my favorite characters in the demo is a little imp who’s taken his innate tendency toward Evil of the Lawful variety in stride by offering legal advice, including a delightful aside on the case history of resurrection magic: What does the law say about reviving someone executed for murder? If you kill someone and they’re resurrected, is it murder or assault?
This small section of city in the demo already feels grungy and tactile, and the cel-shaded art style has really won me over as well—its bright pastel colors and uncluttered textures remind me of 2021’s Sable. Esoteric Ebb is very much a Disco Elysium-like, but it feels like it’s got something cooking, and I’m excited to see more of it. Esoteric Ebb currently has no set release date, but you can check out the demo for yourself and wishlist it on Steam.
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