After having the opportunity to play the game behind closed doors at the Microsoft Gaming and Disability Boot Camp and then at Gamescom later in the year, then having access to the closed beta on PC in early 2020, I was really interested to see just what this title would have to offer with accessibility come launch.
Now, thanks to Microsoft and Xbox Game Studios, I am pleased to be able to bring you my accessibility review of Minecraft Dungeons.
After choosing mine, The game synced data, though I'm not entirely sure where from given that this was the console version rather than PC and progress from the beta was said not to carry over. Once done, I was dropped into the setup experience.
Then you are prompted to increase brightness, I left mine at the default of 0.
After pressing A on this screen, the first cutscene, the intro to the game, is presented, with no audio description unfortunately. However, most of it is pretty easy to follow. You can't replay this intro, which though it's a small inconvenience would've been good to see as an option.
When starting a game for the first time, you'll be dropped directly into a tutorial. This is where, unfortunately, the first issues start to become apparent.
Fortunately, getting your friends involved is all part of the experience and, if you have sighted friends with the game on the same platform as you, you can party up and take on the hordes of mobs that await you.
Had I known this before I started my review, I may have opted to play the game on PC from the start instead of levelling up an Xbox character from scratch, though the latter has definitely been a more rewarding experience.
If you don't have a controller, unfortunately you will be hard pressed to actually get anywhere in the game even in terms of selecting a mission. Hearing the words "use the mouse cursor to navigate the map" was disheartening to me as other than this there was no other UI prompt, not even an alternative method to select your mission (if one even exists on PC). Allowing the player to navigate via arrow keys as well as having next/previous mission keys would greatly help in this regard.
Along with this, sometimes the order of elements can make for a less than desirable experience as well. For instance, currently the prompts for navigation (press X to salvage, press Y for enchantments etc) plays before all the stats of the currently highlighted item. This means that comparing whether an item is more or less useful to you will take much longer, made all the more tedious with the lack of speed adjustment options for the in-game TTS.
When you pick up an item, on-screen there is information as to whether it's better or worse than what you are currently using. However, no such information is indicated to the player outside of visual cues, meaning that you still have to use an inventory management system that is sluggish when narrated with TTS. Being able to manage your inventory independently is certainly a great step forward though as it means you as the player have a sense of agency as to what kind of playstyle you want to use.
The stats screen, which previously was not narrated, now informs you of the percentage of mobs defeated, the amount of healing done, number of chests opened and other relevant information. This is all information that was presented to sighted players previously, so it's good to see parity here.
The controls, which I enjoyed in terms of the responsiveness from previous builds, haven't changed and the fact that haptic cues are present for not only damage from enemies but from traps (something we'll come onto briefly a little later) is greatly appreciated. Were they not available, I wouldn't be able to tell how close I am to death in certain instances (as a heartbeat type cue occurs along with similar audio when you're at low health) there are situations that I may not have been able to survive.
The fact that I can manage my inventory, though it is imperfect, has certainly saved me time as, even though I need sighted assistance for missions I can look at any gear obtained during them afterwards on my own. This is one of the highlights of the experience, having choice in what I want to work with and how I spend my enchantment points, though I've certainly taken advice from other players on that front as well. Speaking of other players, let's look a little at the heart of the game (arguably), the co-operative experience.
Due to the slow speed of the narration and the relatively sluggish transition between inputs and audio feedback, inviting friends is best done through the Xbox guide rather than through the game's own social menu. In fact, using the social menu in-game takes you to the exact same destination in the Xbox main interface anyway.
If two or more players are in an online game, in your separate camps (the hub from which you can select missions and buy new armour and artefacts amongst other things), accepting an invite will teleport you into the host player's camp. Once there, any of you can start a mission with down on the DPad, bringing up a cursor-based grid-style menu that, though it's a little frustrating at first, is narrated and doesn't wrap coupled with the fact that there's usually not too large a gap between most of the icons.
However, if you prefer an easier method of navigation, you can move to the next and previous missions with the left and right trigger. This means that you don't have to contend with what is a rather unusual system of navigation to most and one that might leave you scratching your head when you're trying to look for one specific location.
Though you can press left or right trigger to go to other missions, it didn't (rather oddly) allow me to select Creeper Woods when moving left during my testing, so I'll chalk this up to being a bug that can hopefully be easily resolved during a patch.
Currently, when trying to change difficulty (by pressing Y on controller), there is a bug where the mission name will continuously be spoken meaning that, even if you can change the difficulty, you won't know what you've selected. As a result, it's currently better to have a fellow player change it for you. After beating the game on "default", the difficulty automatically changes to "adventurer" so there's no need to worry for solo sessions after your first run through at least. Like the previous issues I've mentioned, hopefully this can be resolved via a patch and mean that if the game becomes fully playable, a gamer without sight could work towards even better gear and artefacts.
On default difficulty I did have a good time playing through it with individuals who were kind enough to assist me, found via Xbox's Looking For Group (LFG feature). I did skip some of the cutscenes so that I could experience them during streams and such, but even without those and the associated additional atmosphere they provide, it was still possible to play missions out of order, for instance.
Even with what might loosely be termed as a very basic story or one with no real substance to it, I think this is just what the game needed. Something easy for anyone to pick up and with no convoluted twists or turns.
Even though these twists and turns don't exist, I'd say you should be prepared for the unexpected, especially as a gamer without sight where not everything that you'd think needs an audio cue necessarily has one. I won't go into too much detail here, but suffice it to say that the Arch-illager is just as devious as his various appearances during the beta might make you think. This includes the fact that he's placed traps in large numbers of locations throughout the later levels.
Thankfully most of the actual traps have audio cues and once you know what they are these could theoretically be avoided, but there are other elements in the game, such as lava, that don't appear to have an audio cue at all until you step into them.
I've been taken out both by traps and lava when teleporting, so keep that in mind if you decide to play with friends and you teleport at the incorrect moment.
The fact that you can hear enemies through walls, as well as hear players off in the distance fighting enemies when they are nowhere near your location, are two other issues that have come to the forefront whilst I've played alongside friends. Coupled with the aforementioned lack of navigational cues, thinking an enemy is right in front of you and firing multiple arrows into what then turns out to be a wall is not only frustrating as you might expect, but it wastes arrows that you could otherwise use to take down the nearest foes when the opportunity arises.
Fortunately, chests do have an audio cue for the general area in which they're located, which has actually allowed me to let sighted players know they've missed a chest that they didn't even see, much to my satisfaction.
Sometimes, drops are universal meaning that players can see the available items on their screen as well, especially true with things like arrow bundles. However, this has its own problems as, during combat, I've had numerous fellow players pick up bundles that I was trying to take to increase the number of arrows I have to work with, even when they didn't mean to. Again, this could be resolved, or at least lessened, via additional audio cues.
To avoid overload, it would be important to have the above audio cues available as toggles in either the audio menu or the accessibility settings, meaning that players can customise their experience to their liking, even if they have full sight and want to use the additional features to aid them in their adventure.
Whilst not much has changed from the beta, the facts remain the same. This game has a chance of being 100% playable without sight if the developers add the correct tweaks/extra features. It's a great casual experience that you can pick up and play and it's even better with friends as you can actually complete missions, earn better gear and have an enjoyable time whilst doing so, at least if you keep in mind the issues you might come across during gameplay.
As a gamer without sight, it doesn't necessarily matter what platform you play on. However, if you want to easily play the same character through multiple sessions on multiple devices, the Xbox One version is the way to go. This game is close to being fully accessible and, if the team is able to pull it off, this will mark a massive milestone in mainstream videogames and hopefully push other developers to achieve more in terms of making sure everyone can enjoy their games, regardless of whether they have full sight or none whatsoever.
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