Like many MMOs, Fallout 76 leaves a lot to be desired accessibility wise. Often in the name of leveling the playing field, there are no scant options available to players except the bare bones ones that are standard in most games, such as controller vibration, turning subtitles on or off, and language settings. Were we surprised that the game fell short of what we’d hoped for in terms of accessibility? No, not really. But what makes Fallout 76 such a tremendous disappointment is that it comes at the end of an incredible year in game accessibility. There have been plenty of examples from which the developers could have learned about accessibility in general (i.e. Spider-Man, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey) and even other MMOs that set a new standard for deaf accessibility (talking to you, Fortnite) but Bethesda chose to take essentially an identical system as they used in Fallout 4, complete with all of its accessibility failures, and plop it into an MMO where it’s essential deaf and hoh players are provided with options that will give them a chance equal to that of their hearing peers.
Now, let’s dive into the accessibility specifics of Fallout 76:
Even after turning on subtitles, the game begins with a cutscene that remains not subtitled.
Once you are given subtitles, they’re not a whole lot better than not having any at all. They’re far too small, lacking any scaling options, and quite often, there’s a lack of contrast between text and the world that makes them impossible to read.
Also problematic is that the game is not fully subtitled. Throughout the game world, you’ll find numerous holotapes to play in your Pipboy. Some are related to quests while some are purely for the sake of story and immersion. The latter of these are not subtitled and are instead only given a bare bones (Radio drama plays) instead of the words spoken in each holotape story being subtitled.
Other on-screen text isn’t a whole lot better. In the above image, if you squint you can see the [CAUTION] warning of a nearby enemy that has spotted you. The issue here is that hearing players will be well aware of the enemy presence because every enemy in the game makes noise and each variety of enemy makes a unique noise. There is no indication for deaf and hoh players of enemy presence until it’s too late and they’re being shot at or attacked. No indication of sounds made anywhere in the game world is present in the game, leaving deaf players at a significant disadvantage.
In the scene above, I stood listening to gunfire trying my best to avoid it because shooting in the game is difficult for me. Hearing players have the advantage of knowing general distance and directionality of gunfire in the game while deaf and hoh players will have to wait until they’ve spotted the enemy and it appears as a little red blip on the bottom of the screen.
Perhaps the biggest roadblock for deaf and hoh players eager to play Fallout 76 with their friends is the lack of any sort of player communication but voice chat. There are emotes players can use but they’re not nearly robust enough to converse and plan missions with your teammates. Bethesda has future plans to maybe add text chat to the game but at present, it’s voice chat or nothing.
Is Fallout 76 playable as it is for deaf and hoh players? Absolutely. However, given the numerous accessibility issues, deaf players may have a significantly harder time staying alive and progressing through the game than hearing players do. Hearing players have multiple clear advantages given to them, creating an uneven playing field for Fallout’s first forray into the MMO genre.
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