With the advent of Gears 5 setting the bar for an accessible shooter experience, though it's by no means perfect even with practice, I looked forward to seeing what Doom Eternal would bring to the table.
I'm very glad I did, in fact, as even after the non-narrated "press A" prompt, there was no narration for the Bethesda.net account screen either. There is, unfortunately, no option to skip this step and log in later, forcing you to either create an account within the menu system or online. Given I knew the latter option existed, I opted to try the online creation process instead as it would likely be more accessible.
This was my thought process until I got to the sign up page and, wanting to subscribe to updates for Bethesda products, checked the necessary box. That then, for some unknown reason, caused the continue button to be unavailable. Unchecking the "sign up for updates" box again allowed me to continue, but with greater trepidation this time as to what other issues might be ahead.
My fears were realised when I found a number of unlabelled links, as well as headings that were actually also buttons for some inexplicable reason after verifying my account and, thanks to a well-labelled series of links and buttons, added my Microsoft account for "automatic linking".
Relaunching the game connected to the Bethesda servers, with a further non-narrated prompt to adjust brightness, which I of course got sighted assistance for.
After managing to log in and setting the brightness levels, I'd hoped that, at the very least, the main menu might be narrated much like Mortal Kombat 11, or that I'd be able to set the game up from start to finish like The Division 2, both of which are multiplatform games.
Unfortunately, Doom Eternal greeted me only with silence, which left myself and a sighted CoPilot scrolling around the settings for around 5 to 10 minutes getting everything calibrated and double checking everything before we jumped in.
Wrapping menus can be considered a longstanding problem as a gamer without sight, as you can easily get confused as to where you are. Narrated menus/UI resolves this issue, but without it, even though it's helpful for gamers who might be using switch access for instance, it's a real struggle to get anything done without sighted assistance.
The interesting thing about Doom Eternal is that even though the vast majority of menus do wrap, submenus, such as the selector for what sound you hear when you hit an opponent in battle mode or whether you're using speakers or headphones don't wrap at all. Hopefully wrapping could be changed to a toggle to provide greater consistency throughout the experience.
Sound design and score hit hard from the word go, though it doesn't quite live up to Doom 2016's industrial metal drop-tuned styles in this intro and tutorial sequence.
Going through the tutorials was quite pleasant as, though the game seems complex, the tips and breakdown make it seem less so. However, the difficulty certainly spiked unforgivingly from very early on compared to Doom 2016 and, considering myself and my CoPilot were on the lowest setting, that did not sit well with me. I'm all for a challenge but, given what I'd already discovered with the lack of accessibility, it frustrated me even further to know that the game might be even harder with no discernible correlation to the difficulty.
As we progressed, however, we discovered that there were some positives that other games could take notes on. For one, whenever a new enemy's weak points are introduced, the video that shows said weak points, like a Cacodemon being open to swallowing frag grenades or sticky bombs, also contains sound cues from the actual game showing the enemy's sound design in part, as well as the cues for eliminating said weak points.
As a result of this, I now have a better idea of what to listen for, not only (in this case) in terms of a Cacodemon actually swallowing the item in question, but also the general sound design of the enemy, though unfortunately they do not appear to have any movement cues.
This is actually a situation that occurs across the board, with even the Slayer himself only having footsteps that are virtually inaudible save for only the quietest of moments (much like in the previous game). If the enemies had movement cues and audio that correctly allowed you to identify distance, even in three basic tiers (melee range, within gun range and out of all ranges), this would make the experience much more balanced in terms of information provided to a gamer without sight VS a sighted CoPilot.
Speaking of information provided to the player through audio, the game does have low ammo cues, as well as cues for picking up armour, health, ammo and chainsaw fuel amongst a variety of others. Some of these return from the previous game whilst some are new and I'm definitely glad for all of these, even if there's no way to double check what they actually are via narrated menus/UI prompts.
Having only completed the first mission and got part way through the second so far via CoPilot, I'm definitely interested to see what happens as Doom Eternal moves through its lifecycle and hope that accessibility for gamers without sight improves along with the title itself.
In Doom Eternal, this element of the franchise's history makes a very much welcome return. Unfortunately, you could very easily miss them, other than knowing they exist via information on the post-mission stats screen.
It's a great shame that such an iconic part of Doom's history has been relegated to a part of the game that players could easily miss or worse be completely locked out from due to inaccessibility. Moreover, the codes are apparently only available for the levels you've already completed. This means that you may as well complete the game once, then go back for the cheats and, even though that does increase replay value, that might not be something everyone's willing to do.
Whilst it's not perfect in terms of how much information is relayed to the player, the audio is a significant step up from Doom 2016. The fact that I can alter it to have a more classic vibe, even with the mods being active, is definitely an extra plus.
Here's a demo of the pack in action from a relatively early point in the game. As you can hear, it's interesting to see these two eras of Doom mashed together, even if at times the end result is rather jarring. The demo footage in the video above was recorded through Xbox DVR on an Xbox One X via CoPilot, with my CoPilot navigating and giving me instructions as to when to fire and obtain glory kills etc.
With how much they've stated they care about accessibility, I really hope the folks at ID Software understand that a game like Doom Eternal currently doesn't exist for gamers without sight. With the right audio cues and narrated menus/UI, this game could be a great step forward in terms of pushing the envelope for accessible titles. After all, "when everybody plays, we all win" and why should gamers without sight be excluded from joining the brutal fun that is Doom?
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