Death’s Door — Steve Saylor Accessibility Review

Steve Saylor10 minute read

Death’s Door by the two-person team of Acid Nerve studio is taking the gaming world by storm and already has garnered such praise as people are saying it’s their Game of the Year. I was hesitant to try it because I was afraid it wasn’t going to have any accessibility. But after spending the $20 and playing Death’s Door for a bit, my fears almost came true. Here is the video review, and below is a full transcription.

Note: There have been reports that Death’s Door contains white flashing lights during boss fights and transitions that may not be suitable for some players.

Transcript

Death’s Door by the 2 person team of Acid Nerve studio is taking the gaming world by storm and already has garnered such praise as people are saying it’s their Game Of The Year. I was hesitant to try it because I was afraid it wasn’t going to have any accessibility. But after spending the $20 and playing it for a bit, my fears almost came true. Let me explain.

Hi, I’m Steve Saylor. I’m blind and if you are 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. 

Disclaimer

Before I start this review of Death’s Door, I want to let you know, this review is not a bash against the game or Acid Nerve themselves. In regards to indies and accessibility, I know how hard it is to make a game and I know it’s even harder with a two-person team to make a working game let alone something that is compelling and fun to play. I know there are people that are going to watch this review and get mad at me by saying “It’s a two-person team there’s no way they had the time and resources to make this game accessible.” To which I say, that’s not true. It’s difficult, but not impossible. I can point you to several examples of games with small teams that made amazing games that are accessible. Games like Hyperdot, Eagle Island, Sequence Storm, even Celeste was made by a small team. Both Celeste and Hyperdot were up for awards at The Game Awards.

So again, it’s difficult, but not impossible. Secondly, and this is for all indies, the fact that indie studios are not bogged down with the red tape that can come with working for a larger studio or working on a AAA game. Indies have far less restrictions in trying out new ideas and new features to make games more accessible. They are able to experiment faster and more efficiently than if they were working at a larger studio. Lastly, I’m not mad or upset at Acid Nerve, nor do I think they ignored accessibility on purpose. Again, game development is hard and I respect that. But to put it bluntly, this game missed a lot of opportunities to make it accessible to more players. 

Death's Door top-down walking through a walled area

General Thoughts

So with that disclaimer out of the way, Death’s Door on the surface looks like a game that would definitely be a Game Of The Year contender for most people. I totally get it. It has a Link To The Past style of gameplay and also has a bit of a Souls-type experience thrown in along with its macabre art style. I didn’t like the esthetic at first, but after playing, it kinda grew on me. The lore is fun to uncover and the story keeps you interested. Even after playing for about four hours, I do want to go back and keep trying. But with my disability, it is much harder than I had hoped. It’s not that I don’t want a challenge, I do. But I know it’s taking me twice as long and double the amount of deaths than a player without disabilities would encounter. Let’s say this without spoilers, I’m only at my first main story boss and I have yet to reach her final fight and that’s after four hours of gameplay. 

My first bit of worry when it came to accessibility was when people were sharing the settings screen with me on Twitter. It only showed four options, the music and sound effects volume, a screen shake slider, and language options. That’s it. On the PC side, there is the ability to remap controls for both Keyboard and Mouse along with if you’ve connected a controller. But for me, I’m playing this on Xbox Series X, and that option is not available on console. Now granted, a lack of options or accessibility settings doesn’t make the game inaccessible. Accessibility could be built into the design and the gameplay without the need for an accessibility menu. So I bought the game wanting to see if that was the case. What I found was kinda? But not really. 

There is plenty of accessibility that is missing. There is no text to speech or Voice Over in dialogue or menu narration. There is also no auto-aim or auto-targeting. There is no vibration or haptic feedback. Again no control remapping for console. There is no ability to change holds to toggles. No map (which is beneficial to those with cognitive disabilities). And no difficulty or assist mode options. Those are just some of the basics that would benefit the game for accessibility without changing the core gameplay (minus the difficulty or assist mode options which would still be okay if the option to enable or disable them was there.)

Death's Door crow standing atop a platform with stairs to both sides

Accessibility

That being said, there is some accessibility that either I would consider accidental accessibility or accessibility that’s there without designing it with that in mind. 

First off, even if there are no colorblind options, the esthetic art style Death’s Door was going for actually looks like that colorblindness was part of the design. The muted tones or monochrome environments made the glowing objects and weapons stand out. The light glow was kind of ingenious because it did two things. It provided enough higher contrast for players like myself to distinguish my character on screen with its glowing sword on my back as well as the items I can interact with. But for those who are colorblind, the items you need to interact with in the game are not tied to a specific color so they can be distinguished for most people with colorblindness. Now granted I do have to say I don’t know if that’s the case later on in the game.

Also for those who are Deaf or Hard Of Hearing, this game does a pretty good job with visualizing everything on screen without tying to a specific sound. Death’s Door has a Nintendo philosophy when it comes to dialogue by having interactable speech bubbles. The combat has enough happening on screen that the player can see what’s going on even from ranged attacks. The only times I’ve discovered where sound was an issue was if you are on one side of the room and you’ve unlocked a gate or door, it may happen off-screen and there is a sound effect that does notify the player you’ve opened it. Sometimes the camera will move to that gate or door so you can see what you’ve unlocked, but if you are too far away, you won’t know unless you get close to it. 

For blind and low vision players, this is where accessibility is greatly lacking. Like I mentioned there is no menu narration or Voice Over in any part of the game. The text in the game is large for the most part. Some infoboxes for items you pick up are small, but for those with low vision, it is nice to see a game with a large readable font. Only drawback I find is that sometimes in dialogue the text animates which, while cool and emphasizes certain words, can be difficult for those with cognitive disabilities to read. The small characters and the zoomed-out look of the game can be difficult to see, even with the high contrast glow that I mentioned earlier can be difficult especially if you are in combat. I do want to point out something about the high contrast that I found interesting. When you are hitting an enemy and it takes several hits to kill them, there is a neat cracked glow effect that lets you know if the enemies are low on health. This is for all enemies, not just the big bosses.

Death's Door combat with a giant laser being fired

That I actually found was an interesting effect and a cool way to display enemy health instead of the traditional health bar. Another missing opportunity for blind and low vision players, there is no navigational assistance or vibration or haptic feedback to give you additional information to know if an enemy or something to interact with is nearby. There is the possibility for mods for this game to compensate, at least for PC players as this is available on Steam. But you may have to wait until accessibility mods can be created, or updated directly from Acid Nerve. Sound Effects can help and I was picking up audio patterns that helped in combat, but not enough for basic exploring or navigation without sighted assistance. 

For those with motor disabilities, this also is a mixed bag. Like I mentioned control remapping is for PC only and while the controls are simple, there are problems. In the Windows Central review, Jez Corden mentioned playing on Mouse and Keyboard was difficult for ranged attacks as the traditional WASD controls for aiming were limited to a few angles. He did mention that this game was mostly designed with a controller in mind. The big main problem for motor disability is when it comes to ranged or charged attacks. On controller, you have to hold the Left Trigger to go into a ranged attack with your bow, aim with your left thumbstick and then push and hold B to charge up your shot and then let B go to fire. Same with a charged attack. You have to use three different controls at the same time to do it. And like I said earlier, there is no ability to change those holds to a toggle or tap. You can play the game with just your melee attack, but there are going to be times where a ranged attack is the only way to either unlock areas or attack enemies that are too dangerous up close. 

Death's Door crow outside a bar

Do I Recommend it?

So in conclusion, do I recommend Death’s Door? No. There are a lot of gaps and missed opportunities for accessibility that this game does not have that will be difficult for disabled players unless there are future post-launch accessibility updates. That being said, I always do say try it for yourself to see what works best for you. This game is only $20 which is far cheaper than most games, so this may be worth a try, even on Steam with their flexible refund policy. Xbox does have a case-by-case refund process as well, so at least if you buy on console or PC you should be okay if you need to return it. If you don’t want to spend the $20 and you want to wait until this game hits Xbox Game Pass, you may have to wait a while as Devolver Digital currently, as of this video, has no announced plans for this to come to Game Pass anytime soon.

Now do I like this game? Yes, I do. It’s hard, but the game did suck me in. Is it Game Of The Year for me? No. It’s a fun game, but not my Game Of The Year. I am sad that I can’t recommend this game for disabled players. Especially as the FOMO or fear of missing out is strong as there are a lot of my friends that are so in love with this game you feel guilty you are not a part of that. You feel like you are on the outside looking in and wondering why they are having fun and you’re not. I do see why people love it. I also see why people are saying it’s their game of the year. I just wish I could say the same thing. 

Thanks so much for watching. If you have any questions or comments, leave them in the comments down below or hit me up on Twitter @stevesaylor. If you want to see more of my videos hit the subscribe button. If you want to be notified when new videos come out, hit the bell icon too. Thanks again, I’ll see you in the next video. As always I remain, obediently yours

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Steve
SaylorMedia partnerHe/Him

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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