Borderlands 3 Deaf Accessibility
Improved, but many of the same problems.
Score7.3 out of 10
Hi everyone! It’s my first review here on CanIPlayThat and I’m happy to be here. I don’t want to bore you with too many details about myself, but a quick intro- I’m Michael, I work at Microsoft as a Software Engineer and I’m Deaf. I’ve been involved in the accessibility community for some time here at MS and abroad and always strive to make games more accessible for all.
Now with that out of the way- on to the review!
Borderlands is one of those games that brings back fond gaming memories from the days of yore (I feel old now). It has been a decade almost to the day since the original Borderlands launched in 2009. This visually interesting game presented a new novel premise that all guns are procedural and you would almost never come across the same type of gun twice. Along with comedic writing and fun multiplayer experiences for its time led to a success with the first game.
At the time Borderlands 1 launched with subtitle support which was virtually unheard of for that type of game at the time. This is why I was so impressed with the game and it has earned Gearbox and 2K a repeat customer over the years with the various sequels and spin-offs.
It’s been a long wait for me between 2 and 3 and an even longer wait after they announced Borderlands 3 was coming last year at Pax East. I was looking forward to where they would take the story, more of the same brand of humor, and whether or not they had improved things on the accessibility front.
There have been improvements on a lot of fronts in Borderlands 3. No longer do you need to have a friend at the same level as you when playing multiplayer lest they be smashed by a rogue Psycho. Visuals have been given a polish appropriate to the state of our hardware today. Accessibility on various fronts has been improved, but not as much as it should have.
To begin, there’s a new closed caption option in the game menu that allows you to enable captions for specific events as well as speaker labels…. this is not the closed captions you’d probably expect. This means that a lot of the tonal dialogue or sound effects that are used in game are still lost on the player. The captions only specifically add subtitles as part of a fight’s (think a boss fight) telegraph of a signature move so you can appropriately adjust your strategy as well as various environmental cues (exploding barrels). This was quite disappointing to me because there’s a lot of things that really should be conveyed to the player in terms of dialogue tone or even random sound effects that happen in the world. Not only this, it appears a lot of the random player chatter is actually not subtitled or captioned. There’s times where your character will say a quip at the end of a battle or, in at least one case, find an interact-able object and say something, but have no subtitles. The problem with the previous games with inappropriate chopping of dialog (long lines, not being displayed for long enough, etc.) are still prevalent. This disappointed me given the current state of some top-notch caption/subtitle support in games that we have available today.
As a small aside to the above- I have a 4K monitor and usually run my games natively at that resolution, the subtitle options allow you to scale up past the normal 100% size (which is a tad small at 4K). Some community members found a bug prior to release, where if the scaling was increased too large, the chat line would run off the edge of the monitors. This was not patched for release, hopefully this will get fixed soon. Also it appears that the subtitle settings don’t carry over to cut scenes for some reason.
My memories of the older Borderlands games are a bit hazy on this front, but one other possible improvement I did notice is that there appear to be more visual indicators in the game of things that are happening that may otherwise be audible. For example, there is a specific boss battle not too far into the game that requires you to dodge speakers. The boss will trigger speakers which cause an explosion and can hurt you if you are standing too close. You can tell which ones will explode by listening to where the music is coming from or you can look at the cabling on the floor which is lit up. The cabling will lead to the speakers that are going to blow. Beyond that there’s no other additional visual indicators for sounds, you still cant hear any psychos yelling when they are blitzing you and you still have no damage direction indicator in game.
On the multiplayer front, a lot has not really changed from the original games and this is a good thing. You still have access to text chat in games and in Borderlands 3 they have introduced player emotes which you can assign to specific buttons as a quick action. At release this works well enough, but I’ve run into a few bugs where I’m not able to reliably bring up the chat box during cut scenes and there’s also no setting to keep the chat visible meaning its easy to miss messages that are being sent to you in the heat of the moment. For other players, there’s no way to change the voice options (it defaults to press to talk) and there is also no way to change the keybinding for press to talk in the menu that I’ve found so far.
New in Borderlands 3 multiplayer is the introduction of a ping tool. This builds upon the success of the ping tool with Apex: Legends and serves to allow players to call out various environmental cues. This is bound to a key and is context sensitive. So pinging a chest will pop up a chest icon, pinging an enemy will cause a red orb to stick to them and blink so players can easily find them.
All the issues with Borderlands 3 from my personal experience are small, but they certainly do add up. However, its not enough for me to put down the game and I’ll certainly be playing this to completion and beyond. I still hope that Gearbox will fix some of these issues over time and make this game as accessible as I know it can be.
Here are screenshots of the accessibility and controller settings for Borderlands 3: