God of War is a franchise I have always found intriguing; from the lore, the combat, and story, it checked all of the boxes for a game I would enjoy. However, it suffered from the fate of 99% of games, being that there were not enough accessibility options to allow me to play independently. I am happy to report, that this is not the case for God of War Ragnarok. From TTS to navigation assistance, Ragnarok boasts a wide range of accessibility features that make it possible for blind people to play, with a few caveats. It is worth mentioning that I have not completed the game in its entirety because of how long it is, but I will update this article if I am unable to for any reason. Of course, feel free to contact me Santa Monica Studio if you would like to work together! Without further ado, let’s jump into it.
The Main Menu
Upon booting up the game, we are presented with a TTS message that instructs you to press square to enable the screen reader. After this, I had no problems setting up the game and getting into the main menu. Something I noticed right away is that the player has the option to choose from a variety of accessibility presets directly from the main menu. I cannot say for certain, but this is the first game I have played that has accessibility presets available from the main menu.
Accessing settings, we can see that there is an entire menu option for accessibility, which is always a welcome sight. Something I noticed and a consideration I really appreciate is how accessibility options can be found in the accessibility menu, but can also be accessed from other menu options where they are more categorically appropriate. What this does is increase the likelihood someone will stumble across an accessibility option they might need, while at the same time providing a menu where all accessibility settings are conveniently grouped together. To take it one step further, Santa Monica Studios provided players with a list of accessibility options found in the game prior to the launch of the game and can be found here. Among these accessibility options, I’ll be focusing on the audio cues, screen reader, and navigation assistance. To be clear, this is far from all of the many accessibility options available, these are just the three that warrant a deeper discussion.
The first feature I feel is noteworthy are the audio cues. There are many cases where Kratos needs to throw his axe or Attreus needs to shoot an arrow, and thankfully there are specific sound effects for each of these actions, as well as when to parry, dodge, and more. Something I know many people will appreciate is how there’s an audio cue glossary for players to consult in case they forget the meaning of a specific sound. Lastly, I noticed that many of the sounds used in Ragnarok, were sounds used in The Last of Us I and II; I have already been told by a few people that they appreciated the sound cues being the same because it made it easier to react to a recognizable sound.
Imagine my excitement when I first heard the prompt, “press square to enable screen reader.”; it gave me the exact feeling I felt when playing The Last of Us. The feeling that I was about to experience a game that I could sit down and play, without having to worry about OCR or sighted assistance to read content on the screen. There are many things this screen reader does well: it’s snappy, it’s volume can be adjusted, and it reads out a surprising number of tutorial messages, if not all of them. The last part can not be understated because there were many cases it would narrate a certain mechanic or button combination that I would not have known otherwise. This brings me to the sad news that as great as the screen reader has been, there are menus in the game that it does not read, being the skill tree, shop, journals, and map.
It is incredibly disheartening to have a screen reader that does so much, but still missing in key aspects that are critical to playing the game. Throughout Ragnarok, Kratos gains new skills and weapons that will allow him to stand against ever more difficult enemies. Not having the ability to reliably upgrade your character as a blind gamer is a huge blow to the accessibility of the game because it means the player will eventually find it difficult to keep up with the progression of the enemy. Additionally, removing the ability to customize your character to match your playstyle is a notable disadvantage that could have helped with the game’s difficulty. There is, however, a slight workaround by pressing L3 in the gear menu, which will give you an auto equip menu to choose from, based on the gear you currently have. Lastly, it doesn’t feel good to be missing out on so much lor through the journal. I would advise playing the game on an easier difficulty, to make up for the inability to improve your characters in a manner that will scale with the enemy.
Navigation assistance in Ragnarok is triggered by pressing R3, where it will then attempt to point the character towards the nearest objective. Without it, blind players would not be able to independently navigate the game. Ragnarok has impressively created navigation assistance that generally works really well getting the player from point A to point B. Most exciting is the fact navigation assistance works with side-quests as well. Previously, with games that had similar navigation assistance, such as The Last of Us, it was impossible for a player relying on navigation assistance to explore areas that were not part of the main story. Having the ability to do this in Ragnarok is huge because it opens the doors to allowing blind players to experience all of the game and it makes me imagine the potential for an open-world game. This game is full of puzzles and most of them have been accessible, but there has been at least one puzzle that I have needed sighted assistance for. Many of the puzzles require the player to complete each step of the puzzle in a specific order, and the navigation assistance usually does a decent job pointing the player in the correct direction when appropriate, but there have been a couple times where it fails to do so. the navigation assistance does great in many areas to help a blind player advance to their next objective, but there are a few things that could be improve to make progression a bit easier. First, I have found that overall navigation assistance can sometimes be a bit clunky, which translates to doubt in the player as to whether or not navigation assistance is working to begin with. In many cases, navigation assistance works as intended, but there are a few cases so far where a puzzle was not accessible. Second, I found that the hitboxes for many button prompts to be awkward and difficult to activate, whether it’s something to interact with or to throw my axe at. Again, it introduces doubt as to whether or not the player is on the right track, or if something isn’t working as intended. When it comes to throwing your axe or using Attreus’ arrows, the game does not always make it clear when you actually need to use these skills. Second, it doesn’t always lock onto axe throwing targets, leaving the blind player somewhat left guessing where and when they need to throw their axe. It is my hope fixing this will be a priority for Santa Monica Studios so blind players won’t run into any frustrations when navigating the game or it’s puzzles because otherwise, I do find that navigating in the game for over an hour can be overly tedious and frustrating in certain cases.
What Santa Monica Studios has accomplished with God of War Ragnarok is significant for multiple reasons. Before and after The Last of Us, many games would have navigation assist options, but they wouldn’t be reliable enough to allow blind players to navigate through the game independently. While it can not be understated how bummed I am that I am unable to access a major portion of the game due to a lack of a screen reader in specific cases, I really do hope there are additional patches to expand the screen reader’s capabilities, but the fact that it reads as much as it does already is really appreciated. Would I recommend this to an experience gamer, absolutely, but I would be a bit more hesitant to let someone new to console gaming try this, only because of the learning curve with navigating the game and it’s puzzles. At the end of the day, it’s an amazing feeling to be able to boot up my PS5 and pick from an every growing list of blind accessible games to play. Big thank you to Play Station, who provided a copy of the game for this review.