Assassin's Creed: Valhalla: Accessibility Review
The copy of the game used in this review was provided by the publisher at no cost to the reviewer
Assassin's Creed is a series that, even till today, I've always wanted to play without needing any sighted assistance. Running from building to building and stealthily taking out targets, as well as the more up close and personal combat in later entries is definitely something I'm interested in. However, up to now, the numerous games that make up the franchise have been off-limits to me as a gamer without sight due to their lack of accessibility and, more recently, reliance on cursor-based menus adding to the frustration.
However, with Ubisoft seemingly ramping up their commitment to accessibility on numerous fronts, I wondered whether the latest instalment in the franchise would be any better for gamers in similar if not identical situations to myself.
Particularly being a fan of Norse mythology and permutations thereof through games like God Of War and Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, I thought I'd dive in without sighted assistance for this review to see just how far I could get before I had to ask for someone to guide me to the next objective or aid me with progression.
So, how accessible is Assassin's Creed: Valhalla (ACV from here on out) as a gamer without sight?
When I first launched the game, hearing various logos, I was surprised that, unlike Watch Dogs: Legion I was not greeted with any kind of accessibility prompt immediately. Having to use Optical Character Recognition (OCR) via the Xbox Console Companion App on PC this early didn't necessarily bode well here, at least that's what I thought. However, it did reveal that I had to press A to start, which I promptly did.
Thinking I would have to OCR my way through more screens as is the custom with most titles, I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted with a friendly prompt to "hold Y for menu narration" and, after doing this, I was informed I had to press menu for the next step, which I was more than happy to do. Unfortunately, as quickly as the narration had appeared, it vanished and nothing further was spoken. Pressing menu again and using OCR allowed me to see a screen that was, supposedly, for controls. However, nothing spoke once again. Pressing menu a third time said "interface and sound", but nothing else read, yet again, which was, at this point, rather concerning to me.
The Menu System
Given I still had OCR available, I looked around to try to figure out what was going on. I realised, eventually, that the headings were actually part of full menu systems. Then it hit me: These were cursor-based menus and the cursor must've not been over anything on previous screens, explaining the lack of narrated options as I'd been pressing menu.
One of the most inaccessible methods of navigation as a gamer without sight, especially when it is without a digital equivalent, cursor-based menus also present significant challenges to those who lack fine motor skills or have limited mobility, to name but two possible scenarios. Sadly, attempting to move around with the DPad did nothing on these screens and the only way I could move through was via trial and error, as there seemed to be no uniformity to the menu structure. Thankfully though, if I managed to stay hovering over an option, it would narrate and read the name of the option and associated tooltips, something that most cursor-based menu systems lack at present.
Getting Into The Game
After numerous minutes of virtually flailing my cursor around until I found the new game option, having been frustrated at being unable to adjust my options to allow for full aim assist and wanting to just see how far I could progress, I was able to choose my difficulty level for the game as a whole, then the individual difficulty settings for combat and stealth. These menus, from what I could understand, were smaller in terms of their boundaries, meaning that I couldn't move my cursor outside of them as easily, thus making them more straightforward to navigate. In short, the more space you have around and between menu options in a cursor-based menu system, the more problematic they are to work with. Equally though, if you put too many items in a small space, it could become harder to highlight the correct option. For any developers thinking of using cursor-based menus, adding in the ability to navigate between options with the DPad would be an easy and effective addition to solve the aforementioned issues.
I then launched into a cutscene that had no audio description, though the atmosphere was certainly solidly conveyed via the sound design and narration. Unfortunately, from this point on, the only narrated element I could find was the pause menu, with no tutorial prompts or information on how to progress/proceed being available.
The final part of the game I managed to access simply involved me walking around and talking with various individuals, but there were no prompts for interaction or what buttons to press, meaning that I was wandering around aimlessly without any idea of where to go next or how to continue into what, eventually, sounded like a large-scale battle, the thing I'd been itching to try but couldn't access.
AC V is another demonstration that, even though there are major accessibility flaws, Ubisoft is trying to move their games towards a more accessible launch state for gamers with numerous disabilities. As much as I'm very glad to see this shift occurring, if slowly, I am disappointed that the Assassin's Creed series is hanging on to cursor-based menus that were, if memory serves, first introduced in Origins. I cannot, with any confidence, recommend this game to those without sighted assistance, but look forward to seeing what happens with future entries in the series as their accessibility improves.
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