However, though a Fallen Order sequel was known to be in development, nothing was known about its accessibility.
4 years on from one of the most successful titles in the franchise in a number of years, thanks to a code provided by the folks at EA, let's ask the question: just how much have Respawn learnt and achieved in terms of allowing "totally blind" gamers to use the force, lightsabers and traverse the fantastic worlds of Star Wars without assistance?
After the familiar and very much still star wars sounding Respawn entertainment logo (which always brings a smile to my face), you are presented with the EA user agreement, with the option to Press A to continue or B to cancel.
The next screen is a photosensitive seizure warning, again telling you to press A to continue, but with no cancel or back option available here.
Following this is audio output, a left/right menu that doesn't wrap. Though it starts on speakers, you can switch to headphones as well, neither of which seemed to make much of a change on a surround sound setup that was truly noticeable to my ears at least.
On this screen, pressing X will allow you to test the audio and pressing Y will toggle subtitles, which are set to on by default. As a quick sidenote, seeing subtitles set to on by default is always a good start from where I stand, even as someone who can't use them.
The audio test is a rather synth-like set of blips, not something you'd hear in-game. Personally, I would've preferred an actual audio test with in-game assets as that would be a more accurate representation of how things would sound on the type of output you're testing for, much like you'd hear in graphical benchmarks on PC games.
If you're curious, at least during first setup, I chose speakers, as that's what it was set to by default, then pressed A to continue.
Now we have to adjust brightness (by moving the slider until you can barely see the symbol on the left). It does actually support DPad movement which is much appreciated. The default turned out to be ok on my setup, though of course your mileage may vary.
After this you have to select between either performance mode or quality, though seemingly the game is set to quality by default. As the game states, performance prioritises 60 FPS at the expense of resolution, quality prioritises resolution over framerate. This menu actually wraps, strangely enough, compared to previous and later ones that don't.
I chose quality as that was the default for me on an Xbox Series X, though I know display options can vary by what system you play the game on.
As a fun note and interesting catch by my sighted co-pilot, all the setup screens appear to have aurebesh writing (a language in the Star Wars universe that can be translated into other languages, in this case via online resources) just above the main heading (for example, Visuals for the performance mode screen or the words "View Distance" for the next screen of the process. The writing, from what we could tell doesn't always translate to something to do with the option you're choosing though, but it is indeed a neat little detail. The fact that it doesn't make OCR difficult to work with also helps, of course.
Now we come to one that many with vision will likely appreciate, View Distance. To test out the font and how well it recognised with OCR, here's the direct text from the game, including the prompts:
SETUP VIEW DISTANCE Camera distance and FOV (field of view) can adapt to whether you're sitting far from your screen (a TV in a living room) or close to your screen (a monitor on a desk). VIEW DISTANCE AMBIENT CAMERA SWAY FAR (TV) ON If you experience motion sickness in games, consider turning Camera Sway off. O CONTINUE O BACKAs you can see, the button prompts don't read, though this is likely because they are images instead of readable text (an unfortunately common practice for those with screen readers trying to make sense of videogames with optical character recognition). This screen wraps as well, surprisingly. As you might be able to discern from the OCR above, the settings selected by default for me at least were Far (TV) and with ambient camera sway enabled.
The next screen is additional settings. As the game puts it, "Colour-blind profiles, camera field of view, hold inputs, dialogue skip and other settings are available on the title screen. You can change these settings at any time."
After hitting A, you are immediately thrown into a cutscene of sorts (a recap) of events from the previous game, which you cannot pause.
After that you're on the title screen (or rather the main menu), where you are able to replay the recap you would've just seen, known as the "Jedi Fallen Order story".
If you accidentally play the recap again, holding B will skip it. Remember this for in-game usage as well, as it's how you skip past cutscenes should you so wish during gameplay.
The main menu doesn't wrap, much like the main menu of the previous game.
Once you're in a menu, pressing A on an option that has multiple selectable settings like a slider for example allows you to adjust it and pressing A again confirms any changes to that option and puts you back in the menu it's present in.
With toggle options it is a little different, as pressing A on those will play different sounds for on/off and set the option appropriately.
In terms of game difficulty, you have a slightly wider selection than the previous game, with the new addition of Padawan (the difficulties listed are Story, Padawan, Jedi Knight, Jedi Master and grand master, with descriptions of the various elements that change as you adjust them. Unfortunately, you cannot customise the experience beyond these points, at least not that I've seen, though it would be nice to be able to play the game with, say, very tight parry timings where the enemies can't do large amounts of damage to you in a single hit in order to practice your combat efficiency early game and test yourself.
Before you start a new game, you are presented with exploration settings, with the ability to customise various hints and dialogue line skipping options.
To actually embark on your adventure though, you hold down the confirm button (at least by default), which I am personally a fan of as someone who doesn't want to miss any options etc by accident hitting start too early.
One thing I wanted to compliment is the audio for selecting and going back in the menus, including submenus. The audio for these is very clear and I'd say it's very unlikely that you'd miss if you'd selected an option or gone back too many times in a menu by accident, a useful if underappreciated element of good audio design.
By default, you have to use the view button (where select would be for those that can't remember the names of the two buttons that replaced Start and Select from the old days on Xbox One controllers) then press the button you've assigned to the option in question, whether that be holomap, navigation assist, audio ping, etc. Speaking of navigation assist...
The instructions state that the ping is "automatically fired", though this is only partly true, as it seems to fire on entering a new area, or more accurately one where the waypoint changes.
This means in practice that you have to open the shortcut menu by pressing the view button (by default), then keep activating the ping as you move around the environment, with the menu still open for greater ease of use. Having assigned items to all of the shortcut buttons (i.e. the face buttons on the controller), in order to jump or conduct any kind of traversal, you have to then close the menu and reopen it again if you want to hear where to go next.
Unfortunately, this is also true if you want to attack during battle, as you can't attack while the shortcut menu is open (leaving you able to sustain damage whilst trying to even close the menu in the first place).
The audio cue for navigation also only gives you a direction, not a sense of verticality or what you'd have to do next (acting as a literal navigation assist), thus meaning that it is still unclear as to whether you have to climb, jump, pull or parkour your way through environmental elements to progress.
This is one of those strange situations where a camera turning navigation system such as in the Last Of Us Parts II and I and God Of War Ragnarok would be preferable to the current system, even if an audio cue system, if constantly relaying information without requiring the player to press buttons, could provide greater fluidity (as seen in Gears 5's Navigation Ping: Escape Mode system). I hope elements of this system's flaws could be resolved in patches, but only time will tell how much can be done.
As a result, from here on out, I also had sighted assistance to navigate, traverse and otherwise interact with the environment, as there are no audio cues for interaction prompts being available.
A common problem in games is that you don't know how much health you have other than when it is in dire need of replenishment through stim canisters and, sadly, this game is no exception. The only cue you get is a haptic and audio indication that you are at low health, which you then have to act on as quickly as possible to avoid having your battle ended by enemies in short order.
One thing I was very glad to see return was the audio cue for unblockable attacks, meaning that dodging those proved to be easier than it otherwise would be had the sound design removed them altogether. Speaking of tweaks to the audio design though, attacks did seem to come in much quicker with far less telegraphing, though I'm not sure as of the time of writing whether the difficulty might impact that.
Wall running, which previously had haptics for individual steps, does not have this now, instead having haptics when you jump onto the wall and when you reach the end of it. This makes any movement difficult to time as, up until you near the end of the wall, you have no sense of how far along the wall you are or how long the wall run is, meaning that not only is the experience less immersive, but you have no sense of being able to time subsequent re-runs (pun intended) of the same traversal areas.
During this particular battle, an unfortunate issue I ran into was constant resetting of the boss to its first phase, meaning that we had to run through the same small area and see the same cutscenes multiple times, even though I'd already got through multiple phases prior to the reset. Though there is the option to skip cutscenes as previously stated, having the fight checkpoint you directly within the arena including when respawning would help ease this frustration.
As for the cast, everyone I'd seen during my opening hours of the game were solidly brought to life, with Cal's character development that's happened off-screen being well portrayed through delivery of dialogue alone. Even with a time skip, the writing feels just like an extension of the previous title and, even when new enemies like droids are introduced, they feel like they've been a part of the series all along, we just haven't seen them onscreen before.
I applaud the game for endeavouring to increase accessibility in the Star Wars franchise to gamers that might've previously been excluded. However the fact remains that we have yet to see a Star Wars game that is fully playable by gamers without sight that does not require any assistance whatsoever.
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