(Review In Progress) Immortals: Fenyx Rising: Accessibility Review
The copy of the game used in this review was provided by the publisher at no cost to the reviewer.
Ancient Greek Mythology is no stranger to being adapted, woven into and utilised in videogames, with everything from God Of War's brutal roots through to the more recent Assassin's Creed: Oddesy. But until now, none of those games have, off the top of my head at least, added accessibility features in as a core part of the game experience.
I had the great opportunity to play Immortals: Fenyx Rising (IFR or FR for short) as part of a Ubisoft Forward demo event earlier this year and, whilst none of the narrated UI was available, the combat felt fluid and enjoyable, with the narrative and humorous elements certainly being memorable. But just how does that build stack up to what I can now play as a part of this review?
On booting the game for the first time, there were no prompts to tell me what to do, so I just pressed A, hoping that would just take me to the next screen as it does in so many titles. However, though there was a sound cue, nothing changed in terms of prompting menu narration of any kind. As a result, frustratingly, I had to turn to sighted assistance merely seconds into my exploration of this interesting world.
On getting said sighted assistance, I discovered that the opening screen gives you the option to switch profile by pressing Y, but no accessibility options, also being a "press A to start" screen as I'd predicted.
After checking for additional content, you get a screen for HDR calibration, including options for brightness calibration, contrast, maximum luminence, exposure, UI colourblind filter (disabled) and filter intensity. As much as this amount of customisation is useful for those who need to tweak the visuals or be able to see the UI more clearly, I was surprised to still not see an option to enable menu narration as had been present in both Watch Dogs: Legion and Assassin's Creed: Valhalla.
Another issue discovered via sighted assistance is that the menus in this title are, much like some other Ubisoft titles, cursor based. This is a barrier not only for gamers without sight but also those who do not have the fine motor skills or ability to handle precise movement for any reason. The fact that the system also appeared to use dual sticks to scroll up/down the page as well as navigate the options made things even more confusing and a struggle, even with CoPilot, which was used throughout the entirety of my review period.
Pressing the Menu button takes you to the next set of options, which include menu narration. We did try to look for an option similar to that found in Valhalla that would essentially turn the analogue cursor-based navigation into the equivalent of a digital DPad system, but as far as we could determine no such implementation exists as of the time of writing, even after going into the game. This is unfortunate as this greatly improved my ability to navigate Valhalla's own troublesome menu system, even if I couldn't progress in that title without assistance either.
Once I enabled the menu narration option, I found it to be very responsive, but honestly wish it was on by default much like Watch Dogs Legion as previously referenced.
The Main Menu
The main menu and, in fact, all other menus I saw after that continued the trend of cursor-based navigation, meaning that even setting up my first game, which should've been a painless process, turned into rather a chore. Even the options menu didn't read what tab I was on, meaning that there could've been 6 tabs cycling round and round and I would have no idea which one I'd landed on.
After selecting my dificulty level and choosing Story, as I wasn't entirely sure how easy changing all the granular elements of the difficulty would be with this menu system, I started the game.
Given this game is optimised for Xbox Series X, I was hoping to see at least reasonable load times. I was blown away by just how good they were, with cutscenes and gameplay having such a small transition that it was near seamless. The flipside, of course, is that helpful tips provided between sections were often dismissed so quickly that my sighted CoPilot had no time to even read them.
The combat felt just like I remembered it from the Ubisoft Forward demo: smooth, fluid and, though lacking in wind-up audio for most of the attacks, extremely satisfying when you get to parry or dodge, then retaliate with blistering attacks of your own.
Far sight is a very odd mechanic in that you have no sense of where you are on the screen without sight, but scrolling around with the right stick sometimes offers you vibrational prompts. If you move around to certain, some might say indistinct spots in these areas, the pulsing will increase in speed and eventually, you'll have a short pulse that then stops with a sound cue indicating you've found an area to reveal, indicated by an icon. Once you press RT over this, another cue plays, clarifying that the icon and associated area are now visible. With a fair amount of refinement, maybe with directional haptics and audio to indicate where to move to hover directly over the icons, this could be a much more satisfying task. As it stands, it's less frustrating if a sighted player moves around and you just keep pressing RT.
Navigation and Traversal
Traversal and navigation is nearly always a problem in videogames, even with accessibility being a bigger talking point than ever and IFR is no exception unfortunately. There is no way to direct your camera towards the nearest objective and even though there are control elements that would let you move automatically, they do not orient you in the correct direction. So once again you're looking at getting sighted assistance for even a suboptimal experience.
Checkpointing And Saving
The checkpoints in IFR are nowhere near as frustrating as something like Doom Eternal, where you can literally be set back half an hour or more through one too many hits from enemies or unfortunate deaths during platforming. IFR will respawn you at a close location so you won't have to go very far to get to what you were trying to achieve, which is a welcome approach.
The point where this game comes unstuck, however, is the actual process of saving. Whilst participating in a part of the scripted flow of the game, my sighted CoPilot wanted to call it a day there and resume at a later time. However, on trying to save the game, we were told that we must be in a "safe area". To be clear, at the time, we were not in the middle of combat or surrounded by foes, merely standing around relatively close to a platforming segment that we had yet to complete.
Given we couldn't manually save and the usage of the "online save" option in the menu was unclear (especially as Xbox, my platform of choice, allows for cloud saves anyway), we had to just quit the game and see whether the autosaves will load us in at a reasonable point when we resume.
Fortunately, the autosave functionality did work, though the downside is that they put us right back to the beginning of the area we started in, without the elements that we'd collected on our previous run (that in most games would've served as checkpoints). Hopefully this can be improved in a future patch.
Menu narration is responsive once enabled
Audio design is solid and immersive
Voice acting is well-suited and delivery is on point
Combat is relatively fluid and parries are doable without sight, at least when attacks have wind-up audio
Cursor-based menu navigation is rife and seemingly unable to be disabled in favour of a close to or actual digital alternative
Needing to be in a safe area to save is extremely restricting and a turn off during sighted assistance scenarios
Lack of audio cues to aid in navigation/traversal
Lack of camera orientation towards objectives or other pathfinding implementation
How "online saves" work is not clear and makes for additional confusion
Menu narration is not enabled by default or easily accessible without sighted assistance
UI elements including but not limited to tutorials, tips, reminders and interactivity prompts are not narrated
I really wanted to enjoy Immortals: Fenyx rising, especially after having played it at the Ubisoft Forward event earlier this year and finding it to be an interesting, if quirky, take on Greek mythology. The combat felt different, though familiar in certain areas and I definitely looked forward to exploring much more than the comparatively short demo session.
However, as much as Ubisoft has tried to push accessibility in this game, their third and final title of the year to incorporate it (to my knowledge at least) has arguably been the least successful. Hopefully though, that can change with patches and updates that allow more people to play in the way they want to, rather than having to enlist assistance at every turn.
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