Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order: Accessibility Review

Disclaimer

The copy of the game used in this review was provided as part of my participation in an Electronic Arts (EA) research study, at no cost to the reviewer.

Introduction

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...

As a gamer without sight, Star Wars games have never really been accessible without sighted assistance, unless you count entries that include multiplayer modes or boss fights that didn't have quick time events (QTE's). It's unfortunate that this is the case given how large a cultural phenomenon Star Wars is.

However, when I heard that 2019 would see the release of a single player Star Wars title in the form of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (hereafter abbreviated to JFO), I was, to say the least, cautiously optimistic.

My First Experience With JFO

Prior to playing the game as part of this review, I attended Microsoft's X019 event in London. The representative who was at the demo station at the time was extremely helpful and interested in just how much I would be able to achieve as a gamer without sight, but given what I'd already heard about the game beforehand (specifically that it would be similar to Uncharted and God Of War in terms of navigation and exploration), I knew that I probably wouldn't be able to get anywhere without additional accessibility features that probably didn't exist in-game.

Unfortunately, I was completely correct in my estimation, as I needed sighted assistance to even progress past the opening area (more on this later). With at least the first half an hour plus of the game playable at the event being comprised of climbing and platforming-style gameplay, I only had one thing left to look forward to, namely the combat.

I'd heard the combat was very much a tactically oriented part of the game and, with For Honour being my reference point for how that kind of thing may work, I wasn't sure what to think. However, with the representative giving brief instructions from the tutorial prompts on screen before they appeared (thus giving me time to prepare), within mere moments I'd figured out how to reflect blaster bolts back at my enemies and even counter melee-focused troopers who'd decided to take on a Jedi.

This version was, from what I could ascertain, very close to, if not identical to the version that had launched that very same day at retail.

The Actual Game Itself

After downloading my review copy of JFO on Xbox One X, I was curious to see if any of the setup screens were narrated as you might find in The Division 2, Gears 5 or Crackdown 3, with varying results in the aforementioned Xbox Game Studios Titles.

On first boot, the game decided, somewhat oddly, to try and sync progress. This was unexpected as I'd never actually played the game outside of X019. After that comes the User Agreement, none of which is readable without sight in any way shape or form other than via Optical Character Recognition (OCR). On the plus side, even though you can't read any of it whatsoever, you can easily accept it by pressing A.

Then you have to adjust brightness, which can be confirmed by pressing A. Once again, this set up screen isn't narrated at all.

Next comes audio output adjustment and turning on/off subtitles, seemingly all under the one screen if OCR is anything to go by.

I could figure out how to adjust the speaker/headphone selection, but even though the subtitle selection was visible to OCR, it turns out it wasn't on screen at that point to adjust in the first place. That is on the next screen after pressing A to confirm your audio output selection and can again be changed with the left/right DPad and selected by pressing A. These split screen highlighting configurations are actually seen at various points through the game, including during tutorials. Needless to say, being able to see options that you can't actually adjust with OCR that are on a screen that isn't even present yet is frustrating and can confuse players.

The Main Menu

Once you're through that initial set up screen, the main menu, thankfully, doesn't wrap. However, there are only two options, "start new journey" and "options". Even though we're now in the main menu, there's still no narrated UI present, which is true for the entire rest of the game, in fact.

Going into options I can already see some interesting features, including the ability to switch targets on enemy death automatically, as well as being able to auto-lock on a target during combat, both of which, at least on paper, sound like they could be really helpful to anyone, regardless of their level of vision. However, the target switching on enemy death only has two options, visible enemies only and off, potentially hindering its usefulness when, for instance, you don't have line of sight to your target whilst they have a line of sight to you.

I did tweak some of the sound settings as well, though the dynamic range options didn't actually explain how the audio would be impacted by my choices. Also, when setting your speaker selection, you have to press A to confirm otherwise you won't hear the game with the intended setup (i.e. it will stay in stereo even if you think you've selected 5.1 surround sound).

Getting into the game

A Note On Spoilers

I will attempt to keep this section of the review as spoiler-free as possible, removing character names etc where needed, but if you'd like to go in blind, pun definitely intended, then do skip this section.

The first section of the game doesn't really feel like Star Wars at all, feeling closer to Uncharted 4. Why, you might ask? Because you're climbing through, around, up and over objects and areas of scenery to progress. As such, this means that you'll need sighted assistance to even get started with the game.

Given there are several cinematic moments, even throughout the opening segment of the game, having audio description as an additional option would be fantastic and enhance the experience even for gamers who are fully sighted. The value of such a feature in a game like this, even just for cutscenes, cannot be underestimated as I know numerous people who watch films and TV programs with AD on just so they don't miss important or small relevant details.

The noticeable omission from any of these sequences is that not only do the tutorial prompts not read, but there are also no cues for when you can interact with even the simplest of doors with a press in on the right stick. With games like Doom 2016 getting this right and allowing me to press these without instruction from a CoPilot, thus speeding up the gameplay, it's frustrating to see an old problem resurface in a new way.

The first boss fight also showed an interesting crack in the fluid combat system from my perspective, in that you can't always tell if you're successfully parrying attacks from things that aren't blasters. The feedback for a successful parry needs to be clearer, as well as when attacks are unblockable, for instance. These could all be added as part of toggles for accessibility.

The open world

Once you complete the opening segment of the game and are introduced to your droid companion BD1, the open world becomes unlocked, at least to a degree. This is where the game becomes less of an amazing series of action set pieces and more of an exploration-focused endeavour. The problem here is that, not only do (again) tutorial prompts not read, but the map is so overly complex that even my sighted CoPilot grew impatient with it after a short duration. This is such a shame as, with the right care and attention to detail, even this aspect could be accessible enough to allow for waypoint setting so that you could at least go through the main story as a gamer without sight.

This brings me back to the point about traversal. With so much of the game relying not on your skill in combat but your ability to navigate, even though some reviewers commented that you could use audio cues to tell where to go next, I didn't find this to be the case at all and instead, once again, had to rely on my CoPilot to know where we were supposed to go.

In fact, another accessibility option set that is lacking from the current build of the game is colour-blind options. Since my CoPilot is colour-blind, it means that sometimes neither of us know where to go, me because of a lack of audio-based or haptic cues and them because of being unable to easily pick out the colour-only changes in the environment indicating how or where to proceed.

Even the databank, something which I'd read would allow me to discover the weaknesses of my enemies, was hard to find and arguably had too much miscellaneous text for my sighted CoPilot to bother combing through to find out how to deal with our various foes. Not only that, but it doesn't have narration, which would speed up the process for sighted users and save them having to take in so much information visually on top of the complex map and other elements.

Planets

After completing the aforementioned first unlocked location, at least to a partial degree, I returned to the ship and was then able to choose, out of two planets, where to head next. Whilst this, again, wasn't accessible, credit goes to the audio team and the cast for making these travel sequences both atmospheric and engaging, much like those seen in God Of War.

An interesting point of slight confusion is that even though we saved our game inside the ship (via a meditation point), on loading it again we found ourselves outside on the surface of the planet we'd chosen. This meant that we had to turn around and head back inside the ship, as we wanted to actually go to a different destination.

Wall-Running

One mechanic I've enjoyed working with throughout the game is wall-running, something seen much in Titanfall 2. As myself and my CoPilot had beaten Titanfall 2 previously as a team, I was looking forward to seeing if wall-running had been improved in this game.

It turns out that a major improvement is present, though most probably would think nothing of the haptic feedback that is given off as you run towards the end of the wall. Once I realised that these particular haptics existed, I was able to hit jumps from wall-to-wall without needing any additional instruction.

BD1's small beeps, boops and chirps can also turn out to be extremely helpful, especially when it comes to scanning defeated foes. Knowing that you can scan objects as well, just via the audio cues of your companion, makes it far less stressful to complete this mini-objective and earning skill points.

The Downsides Of Combat

In terms of earning achievements, some require you to kill or dismember enemies in a certain fashion, which is extremely difficult when the cues (for the Ogdo's on Bogano for instance) aren't as clear as they could be. Why do I point this enemy out in particular if others have the same problem? Because the attacks you need to look for involve the creature's tongue and slicing it off to earn the achievement.

If I can hear a particular cue in combat, there is a chance that I can work from it to learn the patterns of the enemies, much like the aforementioned stormtroopers. If an Ogdo has a cue that indicates it's about to use its tongue, for example, I can react, slow the enemy down and attack its tongue directly.

In the current game this isn't possible, but I hope that in future I can fight enemies without needing any instruction at all as to how to deal with them and how their attacks work in practice.

One thing that would facilitate this, given that narrated menus and UI are patched in at a later time of course, is an encounter select and custom combat mode. The former would take cues from Uncharted 4, where you can pick particular battle scenes and combat-specific moments to replay again with any modifiers you'd like as well (infinite ammo, slow motion, any weapon, etc).

The latter might be similar to Gears 5's Horde or Halo's Firefight modes, where you'd take on waves of enemies with the ability to choose variants. If I just wanted to fight blaster troopers to practice deflection, for instance, I could just select blaster troopers as my enemies. If I just wanted to practice the timing for force pushing rockets back at rocket troopers, I could select only rocket troopers to battle.

Having difficulty that scales, regardless of the mode, is also a useful accessibility option and the aforementioned ideas actually figure into this quite well. As an accessibility option, I'd like to see the ability to select how many enemies face me at a time, their health and damage, etc. If you want an example of this system in an already released game, Way Of The Passive Fist is a great example.

I look forward to seeing if there are any other areas of the game that are accessible in the future, particularly once I gain new force abilities and skills.

I will update the above sections of the review with further elements of interest as I play through the game.

Summary

Pros

Cons

Conclusions

Whilst Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order definitely has the sound design and scoring to rival a Star Wars movie, in addition to set pieces worthy of a full-blown cinema experience, its current accessibility leaves it as yet another example of where single player games are falling far short of their multiplayer counterparts. This holds true to the most basic of levels, including in areas like menu and UI narration, in addition to first boot setup experiences, all of which have been handled well by differing titles in the multiplayer space. Fallen Order as of the time of writing is not a game I can recommend at all to gamers without sight, save to all but the most dedicated players who have constant and willing sighted assistance.

Why is this such a big issue and on top of that, such a shame? On a personal level, I've wanted an accessible Star Wars title for as long as I can remember. Seeing an opportunity like this, where no microtransactions or multiplayer-focused elements mean that things would, at least in theory, be easier to balance, I hoped that time would've been spent adding in the options that would allow as many people to play as possible. Whether that's colour-blind-centric options to allow players who can't work with certain colours well to actually be able to tell where to go, options to more fully customise the difficulty (to tackle as many enemies as you want, without over-the-top aggression being an additional factor for instance), or additional audio cues to assist in both combat and open world aspects amongst others, any and all of these could help someone who wants to experience this game do so without needing additional assistance.

I do not intend any of what I've said in this review to come across as damning, far from it. I want this game to be the best it can possibly be and the accessibility issues I've listed here aren't just specific to this game. I can think of numerous high-profile and popular titles in the past several years that, whilst they could've been accessible as a gamer without sight, weren't for one reason or another.

With the success of Microsoft's Super Bowl ad and the interest in accessibility across the industry, I long for a day that I can play a single player mainstream videogame without any sighted assistance, start to finish, on the hardest difficulty. I still have hope that Fallen Order could turn into that game, though I know it will be a large-scale undertaking.

Though it's not just accessibility settings that I'd like to see added to Fallen Order, Respawn I feel can take a quote from Yoda as motivation to continue progressing with work on accessibility for gamers without sight or otherwise, to make all their titles accessible to everyone:

Much to learn, you still have.

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