Watch Dogs Legion Preview — Deaf/HoH Accessibility Impressions

Ubisoft is notable for having large open-worlds in its games. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, for example, Far Cry 5, and Watch Dogs 2. I was able to get hands-on with Watch Dogs Legion for four hours through a streamed session, and I was told there were gameplay and customization features that “benefits accessibility” — so of course I was interested.

Watch Dogs Legion for those that don’t know is an open-world game played in a third-person perspective and is set in a fictionalized London, just down the road from me. The game features DedSec, a group of hackers working against an authoritarian regime that has capitalized on surveillance technology. Players get to recruit literally any character across the city in a bid to liberate and build a strong enough team.

To start things off, I wanted to examine how the default settings looked in-game without actually going in and changing anything. For the most part, it wasn’t at all too bad. Subtitles were nice and thick, the interactive prompts were visible, there’s a directional indicator to warn you of enemies out of frame that are attacking you,  and in hacking some barriers, you have to follow an electrical trail, in this case, it was simple enough to follow because of how confined the playable space was.

Of course, this was all confined to the incredibly linear beginning. When the game opens London up to you and freedom to move around is offered, that’s when the accessibility actually starts to take a hit in Watch Dogs Legion.

Before I really delved into my time with Watch Dogs Legion, I opened up the options menu and had a good rummage through everything that was available. You can see what the full range of available options included in the games current state by watching the video above which shows me going through each menu category. There are options for features such as the reticle, the HUD, and the subtitles tucked away in the menus you’d expect to find them in. There’s also a dedicated accessibility menu that has options to turn on menu narration, have puzzles less complicated, and much more.

My one complaint is that some features, such as subtitles, are fine being in the audio menu, but it would also make sense to duplicate them into the accessibility menu. That way, you’re not burrowing through menus trying to find the accessibility feature you want.

There is a lot of information being displayed to you throughout the world with digital-looking Interactive prompts that appear for every NPCs hackable phone, for surveillance cameras, for flying drones, for vehicles, and for door keypads. On top of that, each object has hackable options that appear within their own prompt, offering you the ability to distract nearby NPCs by causing a spark, to hijack the drones or cameras to use to your advantage, or to read the information on a possible recruit for your team.

During my time with some of the missions in Watch Dogs Legion, I found myself sneaking into restricted areas to achieve different goals. I had to locate an electrical board in one in order to progress, which meant following the red cables as I had done in the earlier mission. However, trying to figure out where these cables led in a larger, more open-world setting saw those lines becoming a tangled mess, passing through walls and floors. It felt confusing, to say the least.

There was another mission that required me to rescue a hostage. It was clear I needed to get into the room, but the password for the doors was inside and needed hacking. However, I couldn’t see any prompts helping me out, at least not clearly. It wasn’t until I accidentally moved over a section of the wall that “Hijack” appeared, eventually allowing me to hack into a surveillance camera inside the room to download the password from the PC. 

Frustratingly, there is an option to push the right-stick in to send out a pulse that should show you where all nearby electricals are. In honesty, that would have helped me find it quicker. The trouble is, this feature felt rather forgettable, with there appearing to be no reminder such as an on-screen indicator when near an objective. As a result, I was faffing around with beating guards up thinking they had a key on them. Ideally, more obvious cues would have sufficed.

Watch Dogs Legion has such a large world, and with it being London, there’s a lot of roads to travel through. Thankfully, a waypoint system helps you to figure out what road to follow, and there’s even an auto-drive function which…worked as expected, steering my car into a nearby vehicle. The problem with this waypoint system is that it felt as if there were too many steps to take in order to activate the wayfinding.

When starting a mission, an on-screen indicator (a dot) is shown in yellow for the location of missions or objectives. While the indicator shows you the general direction of the objective, how you get there seems to be entirely up to you. I can walk for example, or use a vehicle, or even hack a flying drone and just fly there. But if you want a guide, you have to open the map and set the waypoint yourself which I felt was an unnecessary step considering I clearly chose to track the mission in the first place.

It certainly feels as if Watch Dogs Legion tries to keep the HUD as much as it can out of the way, but winds up with elements feeling too tucked away in the desire for immersion. I felt like some of the subtle wayfinding options weren’t that obvious and as such a more obvious directional indicator or beam of light would have helped. I even spent a good few minutes trying to figure out how to get to the top of a building to get to some sort of target, but there seemed to be no clear way up, and no nearby drones, so I just left it and carried on route to my main objective.

Let’s touch more on the audio. There’s a lot going on. Of course, I didn’t realize exactly how much was going on on account of being Deaf, but also the demo stream being somewhat quieter than I’d have liked. So while general sounds, such as protagonist dialogue, and the sound of a scooter crashing into a car, sending your granny flying were nice and crisp, the general surroundings felt buried under audio layers. And there’s a lot of surrounding noise.

There’s people having conversations, people shouting at one another, someone yelled “fool, fool, fart!” at another, there’s the sound of cars honking their horns, there are birds tweeting. There are police barking orders at others, there are very frequent announcements being played, there are crashes taking place, protesters chanting. The world is living, and it is breathing, and it feels very well done at the cost of feeling audibly messy.

Thankfully, Ubisoft has thrown in world captioning which takes the form of subtitles, placed in the lower areas of the screen, and aligned to the right-hand side to illustrate sounds going on around you. So you’ll have car horns being captioned, or some random beeping, maybe gunshots, or a crash. I really liked the implementation of these, and they allowed me to understand the deeper world-building going on around me. My only complaint was that they felt somewhat confusing when multiple appeared at once.

Sticking with captions, there are subtitles available that capture just the dialogue of your key characters which is presented nice and clearly — I’ll go into customization shortly. There’s also the option to enable full-captions which gives you additional subtitles displaying dialogue that isn’t entirely that important but still allows you to understand what’s being said around you. Throw this all together and you’ve got subtitles for your character, subtitles for NPCs, and world-sounds captioned, all at once. It may look a bit messy, but I really liked it.

The customization features available for subtitles is pretty nifty. Rather than being offered size preset, you can scale the subtitles up anywhere in between 100% and 150%. You can choose to have no background, a translucent background, or a solid black background. You can have speaker names enabled or disabled, you can choose to have the subtitles wide or short in width, and you can change the subtitle colors.

The font itself is nice and thick and while the backgrounds are nice and separate the subtitles from the game nicely, at current it feels like the text needs more breathing room. The background boxes hug the text far too closely. There are also directional indicators for some subtitles of nearby NPCs, but I found they weren’t entirely that clear in displaying where their location was, especially when they were only present for a moment.

For me, I felt as if Watch Dogs Legion was an enjoyable open-world game that I was able to explore and understand more thanks to the full captionining alongside the world captions. The game seems to fall short in conveying information for objectives and making it clear where interactive objects are. And while there’s a feature to reveal those, it didn’t feel as if the game tried hard enough to embed the need for that feature. As much as I enjoyed the game, I do feel it is an exhausting, and overwhelming experience when it comes to taking everything in, both audibly, and visibly.

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