Ashen is a game we’ve had our eye on for a while, eager for its release, though it flew under many a radar, which is a shame, because while it’s a Dark Souls clone, we actually enjoy it a hell of a lot more than any Souls game. Why? Because while the combat is all about timing and stamina management and is definitely punishing (three hits from any enemy can easily kill you in the early parts of the game) it doesn’t feel nearly as hopeless and lonely as Souls games tend to. The whole point that’s constantly running in the background of your game as you play is to build a community. You go out on quests to bring in new recruits, some of whom will follow you as companions.
Unique to Ashen is that these companions can be controlled by random players that drop into your game and help you, or you can play entirely alone, or opt for an AI companion (We found the AI companions to be not great. They’re not so smart, it seems.)
It’s rewarding to go out on a difficult mission and be able to come home to an ever growing village. Each time we returned from a quest, we found a new structure somewhere within the village, or one being built by one of your residents (who also can all trade with you).
So how’s the Deaf accessibility of Ashen?
Right from the start you can access options that let you select your language and toggle different volume settings. You’ll note there’s no setting to turn subtitles on or off.
Even without a subtitle option, there are subtitles. But they’re far from good (hell, they’re not even legible half the time).
More subtitles from the opening scene where players are supposed to learn the lore. Good luck with that if you rely on subtitles.
After the opening cutscene, you get another cutscene just before you take control of your character, the subtitles get a little bit bigger. They’re still pretty small but at least you need a lesser magnifying glass to read them.
Dialogue options are equally small but appear on a darkened background and are yellow which may make them easier for some to read.
One thing Ashen does very well in terms of deaf accessibility is pairing important sounds with controller vibration. The visual cues are also very well done and quite helpful. Quest locations and collectible items have a large icon above them, and most collectibles have a hint of a glimmer around them as well.
There’s no voice or text chat even though this is an online multiplayer game, so deaf and hoh players are on a level playing field to hearing players in that respect (we found the lack of a communication system interesting and something that seemed to fit well with a game full of characters with no faces).
All in all, it is possible to play and enjoy Ashen as a deaf or hard of hearing player, even though the subtitles leave a lot to be desired. The controller vibration fills in there there’s no visual indication of sounds and if playing on PC, the dialogue choices at least, are legible.
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