Bethesda Game Studios launched The Elder Scrolls: Blades last week for the Nintendo Switch after being in early access for iOS and Android users for the past year. I’ll be focusing specifically on the Nintendo Switch version and looking to see how well it does in being accessible for a Deaf or hard of a hearing player.
Firstly, the gameplay in The Elder Scrolls: Blades is so different from previous Elder Scrolls titles. So if you’re hoping for a stunning world to explore, you’ll be disappointed by this. Instead, you’re restricted to linear levels and locked into combat that you can’t escape from.
Now, straight out of the bat the game gives off a bad impression. The very first cinematic cutscene you’re introduced to has horribly stylized subtitles that blend into the flames shown on behind them. However, things do somewhat improve.
Interactions with NPCs are subtitled with text that stands out on a blueish block. The font is easy to read and will only progress once you press your button, meaning you can read at your own pace. There are dialogue options you can choose from which are clearly separated from the NPC dialogue, making it easy to determine which is which.
However, another subtitle comes into play when you’re wandering around the environment. If you get near an NPC, they’ll speak to you and are accompanied by my most hated version of subtitles — small, hard-to-read subtitles that display above their heads. To make it worse, on numerous occasions, these subtitles would become covered by larger icons that would overlay them. This often meant I’d miss what was said as they disappear the moment the voiced dialogue ends. Thankfully these subtitles aren’t entirely important, but it’s still nice to know what they’ve said that’s so unimportant, ya know?
The Elder Scrolls: Blades will find you mostly venturing out on quests, which as already mentioned, are small levels that are meticulously linear. You’ll be going from point A to point B and it’s done. That means that there’s a very high chance of you bumping into enemies that are waiting for you to cross their path. You’ll usually see them waiting for you in a corridor, but sometimes they’re not as easy to see.
Some areas of these linear quests are large enough for you to have a good wander around and explore for hidden food or supplies. But in doing so, I couldn’t hear the footsteps or noises of a nearby enemy. This resulted in rather rude, and surprising sudden combat when I was busy marveling at some pottery. I also was unable to locate the source of a door or passageway being opened because of the lack of information for sounds in the world.
Now, outside of quests, you’re situated in a town that’s just been burned down. You need to gather supplies on quests to rebuild the town, raise its prestige, and make it a thriving stronghold essentially. As already mentioned, the town features the NPCs with subtitles above their heads, but this isn’t the only visual aid you get. The town has many buildings you can rebuild and interact with, as well as NPCs who have important quests for you. These are all illustrated with lovely, large icons that are easy to see.
The fact these icons are so large, and the name of the buildings next to them means the screen is easy to read. Nintendo Switch ports and small UIs were something I complained about here at CIPT not long ago, but this has done well because it was designed with small screens in the first place.
The Elder Scrolls: Blades is very reliant on using visual cues that I can actually play it with no audio. Any item I can pick up is highlighted by a shimmering golden sheen that’s clear from a good distance. Combat is focused on stopping a circle within a circle that’s clearly indicated, and when you’re wandering around on a quest, a blue wisp constantly guides you to your objective.
There is an issue with the size of the icons in the town sometimes, and that’s how many can appear on the screen at once. I was surprised there wasn’t a mini-map or a compass to aid with navigating. Not only that, but the inventory menus and skills screens are an overwhelming wealth of information and just confuses me. Equipping items isn’t a friendly task and it’s even more confusing when it comes to purchasing and selling.
One thing I liked was how tips and tutorials are displayed. The Elder Scrolls: Blades guides you through the steps by pausing the action, darkening everything around the focus area, and lets you digest the information with easy steps. It’s certainly a patient game and a totally different pace to say, The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim.
The Joy-Cons could have been implemented more, such as warning of enemies approaching you, or nearby clues hidden away that are harder to locate. You do have the HD rumble doing its job during combat at least, but that’s about it.
There are other modes that interlink with your story progress, allowing you to join the Arena or face the Abyss. The arena is simply just a battle against other real-life players. You don’t do much other than time your attacks and blocking right to win the match and unlock rewards if you win.
The Abyss is a different story, taking you on a single-player survival through as many levels as you can battle your way through. Each level pits you against specific enemies, one level is skeletons, the other bandits, the next Spriggons, for example. While this is fairly simple to go through, my concern is once again having a visual indicator to determine nearby enemies you may miss.
All in all, The Elder Scrolls: Blades is actually not that bad. It’s certainly a huge change in pace in comparison to other Elder Scrolls titles, and it does come with a lot of microtransactions begging you to purchase them. But from a gameplay standpoint, especially in regards to being accessible for Deaf or hard of hearing players, I think this does a good enough job at offering an enjoyable experience. Not only that, but it’s free as well.
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