When I'd heard that there would be greater levels of accessibility in the sequel, hereafter referred to simply as Ragnarok, I was elated as I'd hoped it might mean that I could play the entire game without needing any sighted assistance whatsoever, something that would not only reduce strain on whoever would've needed to assist me, but also give me the freedom to choose how I play the game completely in terms of builds, approaches and even difficulty level, without making it a chore for anyone else.
Hope is one thing, but actuality is another, especially when it comes to accessibility. However, now that I have my hands on a review copy thanks to the kind folks at PlayStation UK, just how accessible is this much anticipated PS5 and PS4 title as a gamer without sight?
Once enabled, the TTS narration (whose speed and language cannot be changed) will guide you straightforwardly through the setup process either through quick start or a more fully featured series of customisation screens.
Going through the latter, you'll see that there are a huge number of options here, ranging from camera shake to extension of puzzle timing to traversal-based and auto- pickup options, which already set the game above the 2018 game of the year winner.
Getting to the main menu, you can access the full range of settings, as well as a God Of War recap (though this does not have audio description, much like the main game). You can also, of course, start a new game from here, with the difficulty settings of Give Me Story, Grace, Balance, No Mercy and, the hardest mode of all from the prior game, God Of War.
Once you hit confirm on a difficulty, you are thrown almost straight into the action, which I won't spoil.
As a quick note, menu narration sadly was not present for one of the biggest aspects of the game, namely what might loosely be termed as character management. This includes things like skill trees, weapon attachments and equipping new runics. It was frustrating to realise this was the case when that was one thing I'd looked forward to for so long, but hopefully this is implemented in the final build of the game.
I and so many others had wondered at whether this would cause any issues in terms of people switching games from The Last Of Us to God Of War, specifically because the latter utilises circle for interact whereas the former uses triangle. I had proposed that it would be an issue and low and behold, when I dived in, with the very first sequence where you're required to use interact, even though I knew what the cue was meant to be assigned to on a conscious level, my instinctual reflexes honed from hours in The Last Of Us as a franchise kicked in and I died because I hit the wrong button out of habit.
Once I'd adjusted though, hitting circle became second nature, but be wary those of you who are new to the Norse way of working with things, it might not be the smooth adjustment you were expecting, at least not for a little while. It certainly does get easier over time though.
As previously mentioned, there is a complete lack of audio description, meaning that for certain sequences you won't have as much understanding of what's going on as would be desired for a title that hinges so heavily on its emotional storytelling. With how much time you spend in cinematics in the early game though, the dialogue and audio design, as well as the haptics, do a brilliant job of translating the action on screen into somewhat comprehensible narrative beats.
The tutorials, though mostly narrated in the build of the game I played, suffer from control-related problems as well since, without looking at the button assignments prior even to starting a new game, you wouldn't know what "interact button" or "block button" refer to, meaning you then have to look over everything before you even start, thus potentially spoiling some mechanics etc beforehand instead of having them dynamically tutorialised as they would be for a sighted player looking at on-screen icons.
Combat feels fluid and snappy, but as a gamer without sight who played alongside a sighted CoPilot for the entirety of the previous game, whether locally or online, it's strange getting used to simultaneously moving and locking on as that was previously partly delegated to the second player. After a while though, managing the combined elements of locking on, attacking and dynamically rolling away to avoid incoming hits, as well as realising where the edges of my shield were to catch glancing blows that may otherwise have been fatal became very much engrained in my strategy.
The combat audio cues for blockable and unblockable attacks, as well as weapon swapping and stun grabs, are easy to learn once tutorialised and fit relatively well into the game's soundscape, though adjusting the volumes of the game to accommodate (by turning things other than screen reader and audio cues down to 7 or 8 instead of 10) helped.
You'll likely end up returning to the audio glossary every so often to double check what the various cues mean throughout the game, as I did, but once you've learnt how things work, it'll all begin to click into place.
That being said though, there were a few instances playing for this piece where cues that I would hope play did not, such as attack cues for basic enemies. Hopefully these can be resolved prior to launch if they are indeed absent in the first place.
Given there's no listen mode in the series however, it seems as though you'd have to rely on hearing audio cues for items on the ground rather than being able to path to them directly. In the build I played for these first impressions, this wasn't a viable strategy unfortunately, as the cues blended into the background a little too well.
In addition, there were a couple of points where, though I got lucky on some runs of the game and managed to pathfind my way through to the next objective without issue, at other times I did need assistance as the camera tried to lead me along routes through geometry instead of around it for example.
That being said, when the assistance worked as intended, I was able to sprint through areas without issue. Hopefully any aforementioned issues with the system can be rectified before launch by a team who are clearly working hard to make sure as many people can play as possible.
By way of an example, auto pickup has "essentials" which allows you to automatically grab health and rage stones, but the plus variant adds hacksilver and loot drops to the mix, making for less time spent pressing interact and more time focusing on the gameplay itself.
There were still some navigation issues in this build as well, but the gameplay experience is pretty much the same, aside from differing loading times, particularly noticeable when loading into a game.
That being said, other than the navigation and audio cue issues above, it was a fantastic feeling being able to finally push my combat abilities to their relative limits, something I could've only dreamed of doing before.
That being said, if you can't get or afford a PS5, you will still enjoy the ability to experience well-crafted narrative and gameplay on PS4, with the same accessibility settings regardless of where you choose to play.
As much as my early experience was not bug free, I am an optimist. I always hope for the best in terms of accessibility, even if I do keep my expectations lower at some times than others. That being said, What I was able to play during the early impressions period was a great experience and a fantastic step in the right direction as a fan of this series who previously needed assistance to get anywhere or do anything in-game outside of combat-related tasks/challenges which even then still did not leave me with full agency in the prior entry in the franchise.
I have high hopes that any and all bugs I discovered during my time with the game will be resolved by the team in the run up to launch, as they continue crafting and curating this intriguing continuation in Kratos and Atreus' respective journeys. Sony Santa Monica have taken "do not be sorry, be better" to heart and have shown love and care not only for the characters and the world, but also to the hardcore fans and anyone else who wants to join figures of myth, legend and gaming history, irrespective of how they want or need to play.
All in all, this is, irrefutably, the most accessible God Of War game to date. Even from this early section, I'm so excited that accessibility has been taken this far by yet another Triple-A studio, proving once again that the more accessibility, for more players, the better.
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