Where did that assistance come into play and what have I discovered? Let's see:
Specifically, you have to wait for the boat to turn before proceeding forward. My suggested strategy is to press nav assist, wait until you hear the oars stop moving through the water, then push forward on your movement stick. If done correctly and if the geometry doesn't get in your way, you should have relatively little trouble proceeding, at least in the main story content.
Not only that, but even with sighted assistance, sometimes periods of half an hour or upwards were spent on these puzzles without success, sometimes preventing me from playing for extended durations.
During my time prior to launch, up to the point where the early impressions embargo had ended, I only needed sighted assistance with two puzzles, but that realistically shouldn't have been required in the first place were the game fully accessible.
Later on, as I progressed through the game, there were more and more puzzles that were extremely difficult to finish without assistance, but that was mostly because of a lack of auto-lock-on for certain items that would've allowed me to hit them, or a larger area in which I could tell I was aiming near them in the first place, perhaps with a directional cue as to which way I should aim to hit my mark. I should also note that not all the puzzles I describe were required for story progression, some were part of side quests, which I discuss later on.
That being said, these might be seen as being few and far between on balance, as I was able to get through other much larger sections of the game without issue if they involved navigation, dislodging singular items or other straightforward tasks cued in by other characters. Moreover, I even managed to complete a few puzzles by trial and error or, more accurately, brute force.
But the fact remains that these puzzles will not only prevent players without sight from progressing, but those with motor challenges or cognitive processing issues may struggle with these too, especially as there's no auto complete or skip puzzle option and no CoPilot option to allow for someone else to take over simultaneously. This latter point is particularly relevant on the PS5 build, where for sighted assistance I had to have a person try and hold the same controller as me whilst trying to align the axe, throw and recall it, which if you've not tried it before, is less than stellar.
Suffice it to say neither of these results are what would be hoped for. I know this situation isn't ideal for everyone and how many pre-ordered the game in the hope that this might change and, personally, I still have hope that it will. After all, accessibility features have been patched in before and the team is aware of the issues in question, which is half the battle.
However, this does mean that managing gear, skills and upgrades will essentially be off-limits to anyone who doesn't have sighted assistance or can't use or is unwilling to trust Optical Character Recognition.
On the positive side though, the font does seem to work fairly well with OCR, allowing for upgrading, equipping of gear and potentially other inventory-related tasks.
However, if you do get stuck, note that auto-equip armour is an option, accessed by pressing L3 in the armour tab. To find the armour tab, press your touchpad then L2 or R2 to navigate to it as this is narrated. This will bring up a tutorial message, with left and right on the DPad allowing you to equip based on defence, runic and other stats. This does mean that, though you won't know what you're wearing, it would be significantly better than running around with default armour as your only means of protection.
There's also another workaround that's useful to keep in mind in terms of an aspect of the game I mentioned earlier that could help you level up your gear.
With this game however, its usefulness is elevated beyond that, as tracking a quest from the associated activity card, if it is a navigable one unlike the "Eyes Of Odin" quest which cannot be tracked, results in it being marked on your map and consequently your path is set towards the various waypoints on that questline.
I'd hoped this would allow me to complete a side quest (also called Favours in-game) without needing assistance to select them on the map given that if I wanted to untrack and progress with the main story, I understood I could do so by navigating to the map screen and press L3 once to reselect the main path.
However, when I tested this theory, it only partially worked. Once the quest was tracked, I had to travel to the correct location, which seemed to involve using the map to select the correct gateway which is not currently possible without sighted assistance or OCR. If you're going to an already visited realm, the game does seem to put you on a gateway, but with the map being free cursor if you accidentally move off the gateway there is a chance you might have to go back out of the menu and re-enter it to find it again.
If you hold down or up on the DPad in an armour menu for instance to see all the items, you'll notice that the list will stop at the bottom and not proceed any further. However, if you press down once on the DPad, you'll be back at the top of the menu. This theoretically does make writing guides to various non-narrated menus possible, though as most would have differing armours available to craft based on where they've been, what resources they have available etc, this might be a much harder process than most would anticipate.
However, putting the game down to story difficulty did somewhat mitigate this, so if you find yourself stuck and can't get past a particular combat encounter, then do by all means scale it down to a more comfortable level for you. There is no shame in turning the difficulty down.
Give Me God Of War (which can be reduced mid-game but not re-selected), on the other hand, presents enemies that are supposed to be challenging but a couple of early game scenarios put you in situations where the challenge does indeed feel insurmountable due to previously described lacking audio cues for certain elements like weak points or to be able to evade attacks effectively if they are line-based or area based for instance.
As of the time of writing, I am, in my Give Me God of War run, stuck on a fight where having vision could be considered mandatory to avoid the various attacks, as elements of it are so unpredictable and fast that you'll get hit by things you thought you could dodge or be unable to find health stones due to there being none on the battlefield. I'll be curious to see just how much this fight may change with patches or how hard it is when members of the public who are inclined to challenge runs take this on, regardless of their level of vision. I am also not saying the fight couldn't be beaten, but that to do so would likely take larger amounts of luck than skill which, in my personal view is less satisfying.
These sections might cause a lot of frustration for people unfamiliar with videogames, with this potentially being their first ever step into the world of action-driven narratives.
On the flipside, there were boss fights that were completely accessible thanks to tutorial messages throughout for certain potentially one-off mechanics, as well as callouts from various characters. These were perfectly doable, if complex due to the nature of combat and occasional geometry (which always causes issues with large scale fights, with The Last Of Us Part II's iconic Rat King encounter being one such similar example). At least with this game you have the opportunity to block, counter and fight back without the need to scrounge for resources on a constant basis.
The complex enemy variety is offset thankfully by the audio cues for weapon swaps if required as well as in-combat dialogue from other characters instructing you as to the best way to battle these fierce foes, including some that returned from the previous game with some surprising differences. Being able to actively counter these threats, playing as aggressively or as patiently as you like is a fantastic change of pace compared to when needing sighted assistance with a combat style like this, since as much as you could pepper the enemy with arrows from afar, you can just as equally throw your axe, run in and follow up with your fists or the iconic blades.
Even trying this game on the PS5 Pulse 3d headset, the audio was brilliantly scaled with the preset I created for The Last Of Us Part II, with cutscenes, battles and reverberant soundscapes all crisp and clear. Impactful hits punched through as I carved a trail through my adversaries, but even the quieter moments stood out well, complimented by the exemplary haptics on the DualSense.
When going back to the PlayStation 4 build though, you certainly do notice the difference between the two, with the PS4 game feeling like an extension of the 2018 game of the year award winner due to the nature of the controller haptics of that generation alone. If you don't have or can't afford a PS5 right now though, importing your save on the latter generation is possible, so if you're willing to cope with the load times and lack of additional haptics as well as of course having sighted assistance where needed, you would be wise to invest in this game and upgrade in the future when you have the funds to spare.
Though I had earlier pointed out that OCR did not work in the skills screen, this appears to be an intermittent issue as I've had it work once out of the 3 times I tried it, meaning that I could upgrade my skills and other elements as well as the aforementioned equipment, the latter appearing a little more consistent. That being said, I still stand by my point that the game would be much more accessible if OCR didn't have to be relied on at all.
All in all, if you have the sighted assistance to get through the various puzzles that require it, a way to navigate the world for untrackable elements and your preferred workaround for non-narrated screens, God Of War: Ragnarok is well worth investing your time into even if it's not as accessible as it might otherwise be as a gamer without sight.
As for Give Me God Of War, I'm also pleased to report that I finally got past a fight that had me stuck for a significant period of time, not just due to good fortune in terms of enemy attacks, but also because I'd figured out the patterns, much as a sighted player would be able to! Though I'm still early in the game i can't wait to hopefully beat the entire thing, even if it takes me a while, as it would anybody. This will be likely my hardest ever videogame completion that I've personally achieved once I finish it (yes, even harder than The Last of us Part II on Grounded or Permadeath I think), but it's something I've always wanted to try and would be proof positive, aside from the aforementioned caveats, of just how accessible the game is and how much potential there is in what we're already seeing in this title in its current state as of the time of writing.
God Of War Ragnarok is certainly an accessible title, though how much you can do without assistance will still unfortunately depend on your level of vision.
With all the accessibility improvements in this game that I'd previously mentioned, even in spite of the caveats I experienced along the way, playing what I could of this game has been a great journey and nothing like what's come before in terms of accessible mainstream games in this genre. That being said, the fact that you need sighted assistance to gain the platinum or even do certain things like upgrade skills and manage your inventory still hurts as, with those things being possible, I would gladly have spent hours grinding to level myself up and improve my combat skills, enjoying the narrative side content along the way too.
Sony Santa Monica, considering they started their accessibility journey later into development, have pulled off an amazing feat even getting this far, though of course there is still much to be done. Will it be achieved as a part of this game's life cycle? We'll just have to hope, wait and see.
I would like to thank PlayStation and Sony Santa Monica, not just for the review copy of the game I received, but also for setting a bar for games in the action combat genre to follow whether indie or triple A. It may not be a perfect experience in terms of accessibility, but it does far surpass anything we've had before in its genre or style.
I would also like to extend my thanks to Mila Pavlin, Lead UX Designer at Sony Santa Monica and her colleagues throughout the studio (not just on her team directly), for being not only very receptive to feedback provided, but also extremely willing to assist where possible, something that all studios could learn from in terms of accessibility.
I can't wait to see where things go next. I've had the fantastic opportunity to enter this world, now mostly on my own terms in this second entry and I very much look forward to the next game that gives me even greater successes in that regard.
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