Destiny 2: Accessibility Review

Disclaimer

The copy of the game used for this review was provided by the publisher at no cost to the reviewer.

Introduction

I've heard a fair amount about Destiny 2, mostly how others are enjoying it and finding it quite the adventure. Having never played the original game, I thought it'd be interesting to see just how playable this new iteration would be as a gamer with no sight, especially given that I'd been warned in advance about a couple of accessibility pitfalls discussed later.

First boot

The first boot of the game begins with just the music of the main menu, where you seem to just have to press start then A, at least that's what I did when I tested it without sighted assistance.

From there, I got put into what I thought was either a loading screen or a menu of some kind. It turned out to be an options setup screen, at least according to sighted assistance. This is where it's important to mention those pitfalls I was warned about, or at least one of them. This is namely that the menus in this game are all (or at least mostly) based around the idea of moving a cursor to a given item and clicking it, rather than what would be considered the standard of using the DPad. This is really frustrating given that it is even less accessible than a normal menu which you could memorise, coupled with the fact that it doesn't have Microsoft Speech Synthesis API support, like most games of the current generation with developers who either can't upgrade their engines or haven't got around to testing anything yet (i.e. the standard at the current time).

Once I'd actually managed to get into the game, something struck me. Why can't I hear any footsteps? It's such a shame, I thought, as Halo games all had good quality relatively detailed footsteps. At least the enemies react on hit, grunting with most of the shots that connect. Unfortunately there's not a clear hit marker for enemies or an indication that you should stop firing, which would be pretty easy to add realistically speaking.

Oh. I forgot to mention. Like Halo 5, you can actually die numerous times without getting anywhere. IN the opening sequence, walk forward to what you would think would be progress. You'll eventually hear your guardian scream and apparently plunge into a void of nothingness. It's like Dark Souls. You'll die, die and die again, though unlike the idea of the Souls series where you learn things about the areas, there's no such luck in the current version of Destiny 2.

But the guns sound great, it must be said. It's a shame that a key component like audio for navigation (i.e. footsteps) is very quiet and virtually inaudible, giving the appearance that there aren't actually any in the first place, as I initially thought.

For anyone familiar with trying to play mainstream games without sight, a further long talked about issue comes up here too. Specifically, there's no directional cues to guide you towards your objective, not even a helpful NPC who you can follow as in the opening of Borderland's 2's tutorial.

However, this standard accessibility issue is compounded by the fact that with the music at default levels, there's no real ambience to guide you either. If there were a soft pinging noise that would change based on where you had to go (panning horrizontally for left/right, maybe changing pitch for behind or for height as well, increasing in speed for proximity to your next objective), then it would, I think, greatly improve things. That and no mainstream game, to my knowledge, has integrated anything like this as part of an accessibility patch. Who knows, Bungie could be the first to something really significant in opening up the shooter genre to those without sight.

Co-Op

Normally in this kind of scenario, I might be able to call on a co-op partner to help and guide me through the campaign, as I did with both Gears 4 and Halo 5. However, with Destiny 2, this isn't even possible until further in the game, after the first two missions of the game, at which point you talk to an NPC to unlock the feature. At least, it appears you've unlocked it, but you haven't yet unlocked the ability to see the rest of the guardians, which you gain at the end of the third mission, Spark.

CoPilot really helped with completing these opening missions, but it was still a struggle nonetheless, with guides talking about walking towards markers that my copilot couldn't actually discern on the map.

Given the amount of guns and different types of weapons (i.e. kinetic, energy and power), it's such a shame that a franchise this big hasn't yet added distinct cues for weapon switching either, given that Halo games had all those sound cues figured out as far as I can recall. Small quality of life audio cues like those can also help with imersion, not just knowing what weapon you're currently holding but giving a sense of scale to the item you're using and alerting you to what gun you're using when you respawn or load into a new area.

Such was the frustration of this last issue that myself and my copilot had a couple of moments where the incorrect weapon was in use because nehither of us were able to figure out what gun we were using, or had time to check in the latter's case.

As much as I don't like using them unless they're deemed absolutely necessary, I did end up using guides from Polygon to assist myself and my copilot to help us figure out what to do.

It's probably reasonable to say if we hadn't, we'd still be stuck in the opening level. Having information from the developers about how their UI works in a clear and easy to understand format would help not only those with disabilities, but those who are new to the series or who have been away from it for a while, in the case of this particular franchise. However, it applies to new IPs as well, not just those that are already in existence.

Unlocking co-op, whilst it was a great relief, did raise more questions, like what I'd have to do on my end and how interacting with the game in terms of friends, clans and fireteams would work.

More on the destiny menus

It turns out, as I'd guessed, that even Destiny 2's options menus are cursor driven, making adjusting or enabling any accessibility options, including autocentre, impossible without sighted assistance.

Moreover, as far as myself and my CoPilot discovered, it only seems possible to mute the music, not turn it up or down. Why this is the case, I must say, I have no idea.

Navigation, not just of the menus, but of the in-game world proved to be a massive hurdle to overcome, in spite of the fact that my copilot had more than enough vision to navigate it. It seemed to be mostly down to the map's inability to be easy to understand, but from a personal perspective the fact that there wasn't at least an arrow outside of the map to tell you which direction to go in was a cause of frustration for both of us, as I couldn't just say follow the arrow.

Eventually, after much trial, error and death, amongst other things, we succeeded in completing the first mission. The opening of the next struck me as possibly being a cutscene, but with a little test or two it was soon discovered to not be the case. After completing that mission and the first obtaininable in the new social space, entitled Spark, my warlock was ready to take on the rest of the campaign with the help of fellow guardians.

In terms of co-op after the first couple of missions, it turns out that inviting friends without sight isn't accessible at all as the game, as you might expect, uses cursor driven menus as part of a custom interface.

Getting an invite is ok, as you just accept it. However, that doesn't mean the stress levels don't stop increasing, as cursor driven menus again make an appearance in confirming fireteam members, promotions to fireteam leader, or where you want to go. Such was my abject frustration with the almost inaudible cursor movement sounds I discovered whilst testing this that once I'd accidentally managed to travel to a destination with a fair amount of encouragement from my fellow tester that we called it a day right then and there.

Conclusion

Whilst Destiny 2 isn't accessible for those without sight at the moment, I have high hopes that Bungie will do what they can to make this massive online shooter playable by as many people as possible.

The level of detail with the enemies is considerably high, which I'm pleased with, though the Cabal enemies I've faced so far appear very similar sound-wise at times, making it difficult to tell specific enemies apart (to, for instance, prioritise named targets over unnamed ones.

With its reliance on cursor driven menus as a means for navigation, coupled with the fact that there's no DPad support for them and the real lack of UI sounds, I cannot recommend this title with any kind of confidence to players without sight wishing to take back the light for themselves. Though again, I will state my optimism for the future of accessibility in this franchise and hope that Bungie work to address all of the highlighted issues, in addition to any that currently haven't been pointed out or discussed.

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