(Review In Progress) Watch Dogs Legion: accessibility Review
The copy of the game used in this review was provided by the publisher at no cost to the reviewer.
This game was tested on an Xbox One X prior to launch. Impressions and experiences herein may not accurately reflect the full launch build.
Hacking. Cyberattacks. Technology out of control and in the hands of those who can do whatever they choose with it. All common concerns for the modern age, even when the first game in the Watch Dogs franchise released. Now though, much of what the franchise tackled is here to stay, not likely to be removed as a threat or fear any time soon.
That being said though, when you get a chance to save a city from some pretty shady goings on from a private security force, wouldn't you take it?
Such a journey is the premise of Watch Dogs Legion (WDL for short), a title that seeks to push the boundaries of Ubisoft's open world and NPC mechanics even further, saying that you can recruit "anyone" to be on your team of hackers, operatives and other individuals in a dystopian version of London.
Having had the great opportunity to worked on the audio described version of the WDL Tipping Point cinematic Trailer earlier in the year and having heard, more recently, about the game's accessibility potential from official Ubisoft press releases, I was excited to see just what I would be capable of.
On booting up the game, I found something I wasn't expecting: a prompt to "press button A" within the first 10 seconds of the menu system loading (i.e. after the logo played). This was a great start as I'd already heard how much effort had gone into upcoming Ubisoft titles.
I got a warning that DLC was not available and that spoken languages would be reset to default, though this is likely due to running this prior to the official launch of the game. After dismissing the dialogue, the screen disappeared and I was then presented with the opportunity to adjust settings. Unfortunately, the screen was not narrated by default, instead I had to press right on the DPad to enable narration, reminiscent of The Division 2's private beta I played at the beginning of 2019.
Pressing down after the spoken prompt allowed me to actually enable narration, then confirm my choices, via the associated menu item at the bottom of that list of options and begin the setup process in earnest.
After adjusting brightness and related settings with narration enabled, I got to select my difficulty. When moving between options, it doesn't announce what changes, which is unfortunate as it's good to know what differs between difficulty levels. Even moving down to the option to enable permadeath and then back up to the difficulty selection after it's been changed plays the same prompt around balancing the aspects of the game, but without specific information that would definitely be useful for selecting just how easy or hard you want the experience to be.
Once selected, the game loads and, whilst doing so, none of the tips are read, something Sea Of Thieves actually added relatively recently which is what made this jump out at me. The only reason I knew there was text on the screen in the first place was through the use of Optical Character Recognition (OCR), a workaround that is not ideal even at the best of times for numerous reasons. Loading times might not be as much of an issue on next generation hardware, but running on an Xbox One X, the process felt painfully slow.
As expected, though far from ideal, the cutscenes have no audio description, meaning that you won't really know what's truly going on without sighted assistance. The tutorials menu available through the pause menu, however, does read and can be used as a way of understanding the game's controls, if to a limited degree.
The biggest obstacle in any game, irrespective of developer, is usually always getting around in a 2d or 3d open world environment. I am sorry to disappoint you, but even with as much work as Ubisoft have put into this game with the menus, there is no way to tell where you have to go, when interaction is available, what hacking options there are, etc without sighted assistance. This was all clearly evident from the very opening sequence, where I was tasked to undertake part of "Operation Westminster", which I, once again, only learnt through using Optical Character Recognition (OCR).
I managed to get into combat extremely briefly against the first guard in the game and, though the melee combat sounded like something out of an action film, I had no way of actually snapping to where the guard was, meaning that he got the opportunity to hit me a couple of times. Unfortunately, this was where my ability to progress ended, outside of hacking a door that led me into an area where I was stuck as to how to proceed.
Getting Sighted Assistance
In these kinds of situations, I'd usually get sighted assistance. Thankfully, CoPilot worked with this game without issue, allowing me to progress much further in the game than I could've done otherwise.
I was told that, in the area I had trouble proceeding in, you actually have to utilise traversal. Again, the tooltips/tutorial prompts that tell you how to proceed are not narrated, as said narration only covers "highlighted menu elements".
Getting Into Gunplay
Having seen there was an auto-aim option in the settings, I was definitely hoping to try it out. Thankfully, with sighted assistance, I could and, at least on easy difficulty it worked remarkably well, even though I didn't get to test it outside of a couple of brief battles. It definitely bodes well if the game becomes more accessible.
Sound Design, Score And Voice Acting
Let me take this opportunity to talk about one of the great positives of this game, the audio. The score, electronically driven as you would probably expect from the genre and subject matter, delivers a very cinematic atmosphere. The voice acting that accompanies it is top-notch as well, aside from possibly sounding a little what I would describe as overproduced in places. The guns and hacking abilities sound very much like something out of an action movie in the mission I was able to play, with the only thing lacking being the weight behind melee attacks, with them sounding like they were just bouncing off relatively harmlessly rather than connecting with anything substantial. This possibly feeds into WDL's emphasis on non-lethal play or utilising hacking as the primary means of both offense and defence, but that might be reading a little too much into it.
Overall though, if I were able to sink numerous hours into this, I feel like I'd definitely enjoy it with the soundscape the development team have crafted.
Play As Anyone
Play As Anyone (PAA hereafter) is Ubisoft's way of allowing you to inhabit and recruit multiple NPCs to build up your team of operatives. After the menu narration did not expand to tutorials, I was concerned that anything other than the most important screens (like the pause menu, initial setup and main menu) wouldn't read.
I was shocked, therefore, to find that when you get to pick your first operative, the game does not only read said operative's name, but also all the other information associated with said operative, including whether they come with any bonus elements like vehicles, guns or other perks).
All the more surprising to me was that when I pressed the right stick in to view bios, all of these were narrated to, allowing me the agency to pick exactly who I wanted as my first character.
Setup procedure is accessible without sight as long as you know how to turn menu narration on which follows the methods in other Ubisoft titles that use it
The recruitment menu and bios are all narrated
Auto-aim seemed accurate and consistent during testing.
Audio including sound design, score and voice acting is very well thought out
Elements including but not limited to tutorials, loading screen information, hacking options etc are not narrated
No audio cues for navigation/traversal/progression/interaction availability
Additional descriptions of recruits/operatives would be appreciated for further agency in who you want to play as without needing sighted assistance
Melee audio could be more impactful
With Ubisoft trying hard to improve their accessibility on various fronts, it seems like they're edging ever closer to making a fully accessible game, which I am really pleased to see. However, being able to save London, or even get started in this brilliant open world concept is impossible without sighted assistance at the current time. Hopefully this can improve in the future and if it does, I will endeavour to update this review accordingly.
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