Star Wars Squadrons — Accessibility Impressions

In EA’s latest game in the Star Wars Franchise, Star Wars Squadrons made an effort to make the game accessible to disabled players. Does the arcade space combat style of gameplay help disabled players live their dream to be an Ace Pilot for the Empire or the New Republic? Well, I jump into a cockpit and take a look at what accessibility is available and share my impressions on the game as a whole.

Also make sure to check out Ben’s Deaf / Hard Of Hearing review for additional context.


TRANSCRIPT

Hi, I’m Steve Saylor. I’m blind, and if you’re wondering how I’m able to play video games if I’m blind if you take a look at the video here, and if it’s not there, click the link in the description down below to see exactly what I see when I’m playing video games. Today I’m going to be taking a look at EA’s Star Wars Squadrons and give my accessibility impressions of the game. So let’s just jump right in and see whether or not I actually am gonna be a good Imperial or Rebel pilot. I’m probably gonna think not.

So to start off, the TLDR, or the TLDW? Too long, didn’t watch? Of this is that the accessibility options in this game is kind of a mixed bag, but it’s probably the most fun I had struggling with my own disability than I’ve had in pretty much any other game. And I’m wondering still if that’s because of the Star Wars franchise or just the gameplay elements themselves are pretty fun, but I actually am excited to wanna be able to jump in and keep playing the story. The multiplayer is probably something that I’m going to avoid like I would want to avoid Jabba the Hutt. Otherwise, you know.

But to kinda start off with, there are some things that actually I kinda found were really interesting, and we’ll start off actually with the very beginning of the game when you first boot it up is that it takes you to an accessibility menu.

Options menu available at first boot in Star Wars Squadrons

Now, I did see actually on social that people were really excited to be able to see this at the beginning of the game. And I will say yes, I’m excited, as well. Star Wars Squadrons isn’t the first game to really have an accessibility options menu at the very beginning of the game, but I think because a lot of people are recognizing accessibility options and realizing what accessibility can do in a game, I think it’s just people are definitely very excited to be able to see that menu at the very beginning and actually have some pretty interesting sort of options that are in there.

One of which is actually the narration to accessibility menu, which is something that we haven’t really seen actually in a lot of games, where it actually will do a narration voiceover that sorta tells you how to be able to get to the accessibility menu. The fact that those lines are voiceover instead of a text to speech narrator voice is actually really cool. It’s something that I’ve actually wanted in a long, for a long time for narration. Instead of using a text to speech, I would love to be able to hear voiceover from either some of the actors that are in this game or of the main character if the context allows it, because I love when sort of a game adds you into the immersion of it, including within its accessibility options, and I’d love to be able to see more of that. I know how expensive voiceover is, so to see that in this is great.

However, there is definitely a lot of problems with the narration voiceover. Unfortunately, pretty much almost everything else is not narrated or even, there is even a text to speech option. The majority, I’d say, like, 90% of the menus are not narrated at all, including even the accessibility menu at the beginning of the game, which is kinda sad, because it’s sort of, the narration is meant for blind players or visually impaired players to be able to get to, but when you don’t have a menu that is even narrated for those players once they get to that menu, it really kind of makes it extremely difficult for those players to actually find the settings that they need without sighted assistance. Now, I’m not saying that this game is great for blind players, and actually I will probably say it’s a little bit far from it without having sighted assistance. It does work for some visually impaired players like myself, but it definitely does not fill the spectrum for blind players as a whole.

Control Remapping Menu in Star Wars Squadrons.

Now, before we get into the actual gameplay itself, there are other options that I actually wanted to be able to touch on. You have full remapping of pretty much every single control. You can get really nitty gritty with some of these controls, especially on a mouse and keyboard setting, or even if you have an actual throttle and joystick as a hardware component controller, there’s definitely a lot in there to be able to remap and try to be able to customize it to your own sort of play style or ability, and it’s really cool. And just in general, as well, there actually is kind of a nice sort of balance between simulation and basic sort of arcade style gameplay.

There is a lot of customization once you kinda get into the simulation aspect for it. So if you really wanna feel like that you’re flying a TIE fighter or an X-wing, you can definitely do that and really customize that experience to make it really feel like an actual Rebel or Imperial pilot. But then for those who sort of want a more fun kind of arcade-style experience, there are those basic options that will still make it fun to play even with just a regular controller, but you don’t really have to worry about every single movement or wrong button press if you mess up.

Another thing that’s great is that you can adjust your difficulty options and there are multiple options to be able to choose from, and you can be able to adjust at any time throughout the game, including you can be able to go, to jump in back into missions once you’ve played in the story mode, and you can actually be able to adjust which difficulty setting you wanna be able to set at.

Now, as far as audio and for those who are deaf and hard of hearing, there is some pretty good options in there. There are subtitle settings. You can adjust the subtitle size, background. It has speaker tags. It even has some of the NPC announcer dialogue that you’ll hear in some of the hangers that you kind of jump into, which is really cool. So it kinda has full captions in that.

Star Wars Squadrons

There is even a lot of visualization of sound throughout the entire gameplay where even if you are looking away in your cockpit and you hear someone, one of your crewmates actually speaking, there is a little audio wave icon that will point in the direction of where that pilot is so you can actually be able to kind of fly towards it and kind of see exactly where they are, but there’s also subtitles for those, as well. Pretty much there’s a lot actually in here for a deaf and hard of hearing. It’s not perfect. I would say if you want a more in-depth look, read Ben Bayliss’s review of this. He gives it a 6.7 out of 10 for deaf and hard of hearing.

Now, as far as the actual gameplay itself, this one was tough. I think probably my biggest problem as a visually impaired player is really the tunnel vision you get in Star Wars Squadrons. When you’re in the cockpit there is no capability to be able to kind of go outside of the cockpit and sort of have a third-person view or a HUD-less sort of mode where you can actually be able to see everything that’s around you, because they actually rely mostly on kind of the realistic simulation of the controls and certain dials and switches that give you visual feedback of what sort of things you’re doing within the ship itself like being able to increase shields or engines or more power to the lasers or how fast you’re going.

And it’s kind of a cool immersion aspect of it, but when a lot of that is in the cockpit and you’re already in tunnel mode, it is really difficult to be able to see anything around you. I haven’t played this in VR, so I don’t know whether or not this’ll work 100% where you can be able to kinda look up and down and see everything that’s around you.

There are definitely some things in Star Wars Squadrons that would be difficult to see even if I was in a VR setting. I think probably the biggest sort of tunnel vision type cockpit that I jumped into that was very difficult was probably the TIE fighter. There is such a focus on the center of the screen where there’s so much in the way that it is really difficult for me to be able to find my target even with the ability to be able to lock onto targets by a click of either the left trigger button or the X button to kind of cycle through targets. And it’s just really difficult to fly around and see exactly where you’re going to.

Actually, I had more luck with the Rebel side when you’re in jumping into an X-wing or an A-wing, which is the two ships that I tried because the canopy is actually much bigger, so I can be able to see a lot more of what’s around me than if I was in the TIE fighter. So that’s probably my biggest complaint with it is that literally just depending on which ship you’re in, it’s going to be difficult or not difficult to be able to fly around.

Star Wars Squadrons multiplayer flying, showing other teammates and subtitles

Now, as far as flying, that is probably the steepest learning curve that I had with Star Wars Squadrons because I’m so used to be able to using the left and right thumbstick to be able to look around and kind of determine how fast I’m going and stuff like that. But in reality, I had to sort of switch my thinking in that mostly my right thumbstick is to be able to kinda look around and the left thumbstick is basically, is just literally the throttle. And it took a while for me to be able to get used to, especially in that training mission where essentially I’m just constantly pushing forward on the throttle, but it took me a while to realize, oh, no, that’s just basically just putting my speed at maximum. And I’m like, why can’t I turn that quickly? And I realized, “oh, right, I have to sort of throttle back in order to be able to even make the more precise turns.”

So it took me a little bit to get used to that and it probably took about two or three missions to finally get that aspect. So if you are not really super great or you have a disability that kind of would limit that aspect to it, just prepare for a bit of a learning curve in trying to be able to get that to work for you. Another big problem I had was trying to be able to find the targets that I’m supposed to be hitting. Yes, there are buttons to kind of auto-sort of lock onto a target. The game does a pretty good job of being able to let me know where that ship is that I’m targeting, including when it sort of dips below my canopy or dips below my field of view, and I have to, and it comes up like a little square box for me to be able to see, okay, that is the direction of where I need to sort of move my ship towards. But when a ship is a little bit further off in the distance, and all I really see is just a bounding box, I can never really determine how far I need to be in order to be able to start shooting.

There are many times where I would shoot because I think I’m shooting in the right direction, but there would be a little prompt that says I’m out of range and I’ve basically wasted energy on those lasers or missiles because I’m just shooting at something that is way too far off in the distance.

Showing the direction and multiple information for one chracter speaking.

Another trouble I had was flying around pretty much anything that wasn’t open space or any other ship sort of flying around me because I kept bumping into everything. It was so bad. And unfortunately, I don’t have any video footage of this. I am such a bad pilot that at one point, I’m flying pretty much right beside a star destroyer, and I’m trying to be able to kind of make sure I don’t crash into it, but then I accidentally crash in. Now, in Star Wars Squadrons, you can be able to be, like, you don’t explode if you crash it. You basically just kind of bounce off an object. But in this one, I kind of went at such an angle and such a speed that I legit got stuck in a star destroyer, and actually kind of, like, I couldn’t move at all. I basically broke the game and I had to restart from that checkpoint in order to be able for me to move forward.

So it’s really difficult for me to be able to fly around, especially when you’re like, all of a sudden you find yourself upside down and you’re like, wait, why is that star destroyer looking like that? And then you have to kinda reorient yourself. And it was, I could definitely see people getting very seasick when you’re, or spacesick if you’re playing around this in VR because there were times I actually kinda felt like, whoa, wait, what am I doing? There was even one mission near the very beginning where essentially you have to try to be able to destroy these Imperial shuttles, and they’re flying into these kinds of, like, this sort of ship debris into this kind of little tunnels that it sort of made within the debris, and it’s actually kind of using it to be able to hide its approach to try to be able to take out one of the other big sort of ships.

And you’re kinda tempted to sort of fly into it and try to be able to get into a dog fight with the Imperial shuttle. But I essentially was like, I tried that a few times. I kept crashing so much. I felt like I was in a washing machine just kinda spinning around hitting almost everything in between. So I basically just, like, when I saw the shuttle just kinda go through it, I’m like, nah, I’m waiting till you’re out, buddy. And then I start shooting.

Star Wars Squadrons target wheel

Now, there are some good aspects of the Star Wars Squadrons gameplay. Honestly, it legit is actually a lot of fun. I don’t know whether, like I said before, whether it’s the Star Wars franchise that I just love, but it really, really dives deep into the lore, kinda creates some cool contrast between the Imperial side and the Rebel side. And I was worried that I was gonna like one more than the other, but in a way, I kinda liked both regardless of sort of the difficulties I had in being an Imperial pilot as opposed to a Rebel pilot.

Unfortunately, though, from what I’ve been told that the single-player campaign is roughly about seven to 10 hours long, and the majority of the rest of the gameplay is in the multiplayer aspect, and which is something that I wish I could be able to jump into. I was really excited to kind of see how fleet missions would go. But I just know my limitations and I know my own disability that unfortunately, I will not be able to jump into the multiplayer. That’s just, and I feel sad about that because I wanna be able to give you my full impressions of the game itself from single player to multiplayer. But I just know my disability well enough that I will not be able to either A, carry my own weight, and B, I would get so frustrated trying to be able to get through either a dog fight or a fleet mission without dying a lot.

And that’s something that I know can be a detrimental factor when being able to play in those modes. I would love to be able to kind of jump in with some friends or have sort of a private server where I can be able to do those things, but where they can, at least people that I know can be okay with if I’m not that super great at it, but for right now, matchmaking is just something that I’m gonna have to just say no to. So I apologize I’m not able to get into the multiplayer aspect, but like I said, I know my own disability, I know my own barriers, and I don’t wanna get frustrated with trying to be able to play something that I just know I’m not gonna be able to enjoy and play.

So in conclusion, the accessibility in this game, while there are some pretty interesting stuff in there and it does work for different aspects of the spectrum for different disabilities, unfortunately, it just misses a lot of kind of areas where it would’ve done really well in at least they started to be able to kinda do really well in and then they just kinda stopped. Case of point, the narration aspect. So I think it’s probably gonna be difficult for those who are blind or low vision to be able to jump into Star Wars Squadrons and enjoy.

Deaf and hard of hearing players might actually have a somewhat decent playing Star Wars Squadrons, including the aspect that in the multiplayer there is a sort of speech detect aspect for the chat, which is great if you’re in a match playing or matchmaking scenario. And for motor disabilities, even though it has full customization for remapping of controls, it can be difficult because it uses pretty much a majority of the buttons that are on a controller. That would be really difficult to kind of remap to makes it feel more comfortable. Mouse and keyboard would probably be a much better scenario for those motor disabilities. If you have the capability to be able to play it on PC, I would recommend trying that and see what control scheme works best for you.

A review copy of Star Wars Squadrons was provided by the developer / publisher.

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Steve Saylor

Steve Saylor is a Toronto-based podcaster, radio host, Blind Gamer, YouTuber, Twitch Streamer, Graphic Designer, Content Creator and College Professor all while being blind! Starting in 2015, his entertaining YouTube series “Blind Gamer” fuses humour with his passion for playing video games. In just a few short years he is considered a thought leader on accessibility in gaming and an advocate for developers to push video game accessibility forward. Steve is the top Blind Gamer in Canada and has worked with prominent clients in the video game industry.

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