First Look at Obsidian’s Grounded – Accessibility Impressions

Obsidian’s upcoming multiplayer, survival adventure, Grounded, is Honey, I Shrunk the Kids meets Dark Souls. The demo dropped as an Xbox Insider preview on June 16th and will be launching into early access on both Xbox and Steam on July 28th. Xbox Insiders get to go hands-on with a 30 minute trial of the game and I spent my 30 minutes poking around the accessibility menus and getting a feel for how accessible the game is in its current state and where it could stand to be improved (quite a bit, in some aspects).

The accessibility pop-up menu players see first thing upon launching the game.

When launching the game for the first time, players are greeted with an accessibility prompt, though it only notes the existence of its Arachnophobia Safe Mode in this accessibility prompt but the other accessibility options aren’t great, unfortunately. Grounded seems to be yet another game that illustrates the fact that just because you have an accessibility menu, it doesn’t mean that you have an accessible game.

The accessibility menu showing what spiders look like with arachnophobia safe mode toggled to its highest setting.

With Arachnophobia Safe Mode toggled to its highest setting, spiders look like Baymax’s head in Big Hero 6 and have a less creepy spider sound. But even with this setting turned all the way up, these cute little puffs can still kill you in one hit. The other options within the accessibility menu are fairly self-explanatory, with theme selection changing the color of the UI, colorblind safe UI doing exactly that, and read to me, well, it reads to you.

Controller options menu.

The preview also features full controller remapping as well as some handy toggles for sprinting and crouching. Where Grounded falls terribly short is in deaf/hoh accessibility.

Illustrating the game's subtitles.

The subtitles are…fine. Standard fare for 2020, though, at least in this limited preview, they have no size options, nor is there a background to help with contrast and legibility.

Illustrating the captions for player character sounds.

There are captions for player character sounds, such as the (gagging) shown above, which is great, but there are no captions for world sounds or enemy sounds. In fact, there are no visual indicators at all for nearby insects until one has spotted you and is coming after you.

Illustrating the tiny "alert" for an incoming attack.

That little “ALERT” displayed in the bottom left corner? That’s it. There’s no indication of how close the deadly bug is to you, though hearing players will have no trouble hearing the very obvious deadly bug sounds, there’s no directional indication for where said deadly bug is unless you happen to be looking right at it, and again, hearing players will have no trouble because the sound is directional.

This oversight that I hope will change as the game is developed further will make Grounded impossibly hard for many, unplayable for some.

The "You Died" screen.
I saw this screen far too often in my 30 minutes with the preview due to its lack of deaf/hoh accessibility.

Another issue that will prove to be a massive barrier for Deaf and hard of hearing players is the radar sound and its corresponding flash on the UI. When nearby a research hub or other important area, there’s a directional sound that plays and grows in intensity as players get closer to the spot. There’s also a faintly flashing ring in the lower left corner of the UI, but it’s not nearly strong enough or obvious enough to really be as helpful as the sound. It’s a faint purple ring that I spent a lot of time squinting at, trying to tell if it was actually growing more bold or if I was imagining it. Not really what one wants to be doing when being chased by a wolf spider.

Grounded is a fun and rather unique game, but I truly hope more consideration will be given to making the game actually accessible prior to launch.

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Courtney Craven

Co-founder and EIC of Can I Play That?, captioner of many things, occasional writer of fiction. Any pronouns. courtney@caniplaythat.com

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