Horizon Forbidden West Accessibility Review — Can I Play That?

Ben Bayliss15 minute read

Horizon Forbidden West Accessibility

Horizon Forbidden West has a populated menu but the majority of features and design have not been implemented well. The result is a beautiful-looking game with numerous of hard to see elements, including subtitles and HUD. The game shines with its focus on mobility with various assists available.

Score

5.5 out of 10
  • Remapping
  • Assist features
  • Game speed features
  • Simple loot system
  • Climbable ledges light up
  • Illegible text and UI
  • Subtitles are small
  • Some assist features seem unhelpful
  • Traversal control is messy
  • Combat feels too free and precise

Aloy is back in this action-packed, cinematic sequel where she’s on a new quest to save the world following on from the events of the original title from 2017. There’s a catch though because Horizon Forbidden West feels like one of the weakest recent titles from PlayStation Studios in regards to accessibility. It’s certainly a shame as well considering how much is available from the Settings, but it is clear cinematic immersion took a stronger focus and the result left me feeling disappointed.

Sure, Horizon Forbidden West is a beautiful addition to PlayStation’s growing roster of games, but it doesn’t stack up to the quality of accessibility available in other Sony Interactive Entertainment titles. The reason why is because there’s a populated accessibility menu, but it comes with a strong lack of implementation.

Lacking From First Boot

One thing I’ve grown used to these days is AAA titles booting with an accessibility menu, even a scarce one. Horizon Forbidden West does not do this, instead, I’m booted into a cutscene with tiny subtitles, a speaker label, and no background with the scenes behind the text being fairly bright rendering the subtitles illegible. Eventually, I gave up trying to follow the story playing out after about a minute, which was something I was quite disheartened about due to wanting to finally embed myself into this world that people have been talking about for years.

From the main menu, there’s a shortcut to the accessibility menu, allowing adjustments to be made to various parts of the game. While there are a number of features for mobility, hearing, and cognitive, there’s not much for players who are blind or have low vision, such as menu narration, larger UI schemes, and the like.

There are standout features though such as a weapon wheel that slows time, with options to adjust that speed, adjusting the concentration duration mechanic while aiming, and more. All these features were teased in an official PlayStation blog post.

You can see the full suite of settings available at launch in our Horizon Forbidden West menu deep dive.

Forbidden Subtitles and Illegibility

The subtitles should be forbidden because they’re incredibly frustrating to read, even at their largest, but this is because they’re not what you’d actually consider large. The text is thin with speaker labels bearing the same stylization to make differentiation complicated, and the background can only be toggled on with no way to adjust the opacity. Instead, what you have is a background that seems to awkwardly blend brighter scenes through, making the purpose of the box to provide contrast, redundant.

If you’re sitting near the TV with your knees tucked against your media unit you’ll likely find the subtitles to be readable in the darker areas, or where bright backgrounds aren’t so overpowering. They’re still hard to follow though because not only are they small, but they’re far too close to the bottom of the screen. This is problematic because the gap between the dialogue and the on-screen action has me having to constantly determine what aspect of the game I should focus on.

If you’re playing on Normal —as I was for the majority of my time— you’ll find that combat can be fairly punishing and requires your attention. As a result, I’m having to ignore the dialogue to make sure I survive because my speed of reading deteriorates if I’m struggling to read tiny text.

A thicker font that is actually large would have been far more accessible, but also background opacity options, such as opaque and semi-transparent would help a lot more where the game likes to plaster bright lights about.

While all dialogue is subtitled correctly, there are some bugs where subtitles in-game can bug out when an overlay of sorts is present. For example, when using the quick craft feature, Aloy was muttering something but the subtitles are not present.

To add to the illegibility, text across the game has conflicts with a lot of areas that either have a background or don’t. For example, dialogue choices have no backgrounds to them, and neither do the majority of UI areas such as ammo counters, weapon wheel information, and quest and waypoint details.

Meanwhile, areas such as the tutorial prompt or the Story So Far area have a background that is a light, frosted color that blurs the section behind it with text layered on top. This isn’t an issue in darker areas, but again, Horizon Forbidden West likes to utilize bright lights and scenes which makes the text hard to read. I’m not showing these in the review due to potential spoilers in the quests.

As for the Focus feature, when Aloy is scanning enemies and points of interest, the background boxes for this information is light blue with white text. A color contrast I really dislike as they blend a little bit too much for me, but I do find them to be fine in darker areas.

Horizon Forbidden Waypoints

One of my major pain points with Horizon Forbidden West and accessibility comes in the form of waypoints. Text is thin, icons are small, and the lack of background makes for a hard time seeing them against the very over-exposed world, especially if you have HDR enabled.

Above, you’ll see the waypoints in action, with one waypoint to the left next to the mission information, and the other to the right. How hard these are to see is honestly unacceptable and even when I’m sitting against the screen I’m still needing to find a shadow to stand in and adjust the camera until I find the waypoint.

When you start the game, there are two methods to choose from that can be changed at any point in the game. Explorer mode will guide you less, encouraging more exploration, while Guided mode will show you waypoints. In addition, you can toggle on Waypoint Pathfinding which uses breadcrumb-style waypoints on-screen to travel through like checkpoints.

The compass on top of the screen shows icons of nearby points of interest such as shops, herds, and the like. You won’t find your main objectives or manually placed markers here which I am honestly baffled by as it would have been a lot more legible than the on-screen icons. The compass does glow gold when you’re in the area of your main quest, so that’s something I guess.

A feature that feels oddly implemented is the ability to set a marker and display a route on the map screen. The thing is, when you’re in-world, there’s no mini-map, nor is there a route displayed anywhere outside of your guided waypoints for the main mission. So really, I’m having to consistently open and close the map screen to make sure I’m heading on the right path.

Focus, Aloy

The Focus feature is what allows Aloy to scan her environments and pick up anything with a digital signal, including mechanical enemies. This feature is activated by pressing R3 will highlight humans, machines, and anything with a digital signal.

The reticle will lock itself to the target like a handy aim assist, which gives you more comfort in reading the information displayed, selecting specific parts of a machine to tag, or even highlighting a patrol route if you’re doing stealth.

When things are highlighted in-world, such as the patrol route that shows up in blue, or enemy parts which stand out fairly well as glowing orange/yellow or purple when tagged. This is handy when aiming because you’ll know what spots to hit. It’s just a shame that some intense moments in combat leave you with very little time to activate and read up on the enemy and assign tags.

Directionality and Combat

There are many moments in Horizon Forbidden West where you’re called over somewhere, or you have enemies nearby, but hardly anything is indicated on-screen, at least not in the form of directions. What’s perhaps more frustrating is that landmarks and mission areas are pointed out during conversations, the characters acknowledge them through dialogue and are “looking” at them, but the camera doesn’t point you to them.

This transfers over to combat as well, especially given how enemies aren’t automatically tagged, which means having to see the enemy characters to know where they are unless, of course, you can hear the surround sound pointing you in their direction.

Action-packed combat can feel grueling especially when you can’t seem to block, instead just rolling out of the way. And once you’ve rolled out the way, having to find the enemy again means unneeded camera movement which could have been bypassed had the game come with a target lock-on mode.

There is an aim assist, but even by setting it to strong seems to find the feature absolutely non-existent for weapons, although it seems to be tied to assisting the arrow trajectory specifically instead of targeting. This is particularly troublesome when you have enemies that move around a lot and have particular points that you have to hit, which is mainly the reason why my first boss fight took nearly 12 minutes to bring it down after failing to hit its deadly target areas.

What I did enjoy with Horizon Forbidden West was the slowdown feature for the weapon wheel where you can craft more ammo for your ranged attacks which I found great for accessibility. With the setting set on the slowest available option, I was able to just stand and craft all my ammunition back up without worrying too much about an incoming attack.

Sneaky Stealthy Scanning

Combat isn’t always the way forward, although it’s often the way to go because stealth seems really rough. You can hide in red, pinkish bushes that give you a gentle rumble on the DualSense to indicate you’re hidden, but outside of that, there’s no indication for whether you’re crouched or even hiding, not even a vignette.

Robotic enemies make use of colored lights to indicate their alert status. Blue is neutral, yellow alert, and red they’re going to run at you and slap you about with their many gears and wires. There’s also an on-screen icon that is mostly static, just under the compass bar that determines how detected Aloy currently is, but its focus on staying out of your playing field makes it incredibly forgettable.

Now, let’s focus on scanning a mechanical creature, you can tag an enemy with an arrow that follows them around, you can highlight a patrol route that appears as a digital path on the floor, or you can tag specific mechanical parts by scrolling through any available parts to highlight.

One mission found me having to tag a specific part of a mechanical beast and then shoot that part off without killing it first. Firstly, I had trouble figuring out what part was highlighted as there were a number of parts that glimmer, then I had trouble actually aiming and hitting the part. Because I missed, my arrow hit the creature sending it into offense mode where it starts attacking, which makes precise aiming even harder when they jump and spin.

Thankfully, on Story and Easy mode, an automated Easy Loot feature should be available which means you can still kill an enemy and harvest all parts without them being destroyed upon death. Although despite this being announced in the official blog post revealing accessibility features, I can’t seem to find the option.

Holds and Toggles

There are a number of nice settings for players who want to change their holds and toggle inputs. You can use a custom mode to select whether a number of game mechanics require a toggle or hold, or you can set them all as a toggle, or all as a hold. For me, I favored the custom option, allowing me to have toggles for deploying my Shieldwing but letting me hold for my ammunition wheel.

The downside here is that there are moments in the game that require forced inputs anyway. So, prying a door open or looting one of the many chests in the world will require holding an input, while other options like crafting the max number of ammo or activating conversations only require a toggle.

The mount feels like a trickier situation as to sprint, you need to hold the cross button down and the auto-sprint feature makes controlling it rather irritating. On that note, the “Mounts Follow Road” feature does work when you’re moving slow, but it still relies heavily on player guidance and seems to not work at all when sprinting. If you’re looking for something akin to Assassin’s Creed Odyssey where it’s all automated, then you’ll be disappointed.

Haptic Rumbles and Adaptive Hurdles

Horizon Forbidden West does not use haptics for accessibility purposes, it’s all for immersion. This means there are lots of rumbles from giant monsters, vibrations for cutscenes that show Aloy or another character taking a good wallop, and many other uses. It’s clear the studio wanted to get the most out of the DualSense, and while I quite liked the level of immersion delivered through this, I was particularly happy to find that there is no unbearable rain haptics! There is actually a good deal of control over the vibrations with sliders allowing control over cinematics, traversal, combat, player weapons, environmental, and UI.

For the adaptive triggers, you’re only able to turn them off or on. With them on, actions such as aiming with the bow provide some gentle resistance, and melee attacks are also more subtle. However, I hurt my poor index finger at one point trying to pull down on the R2 trigger to pry open a door which puts a more significant deal of resistance on the trigger.

Remapping Options

As far as remapping goes, Horizon Forbidden West is wonderfully freeing, good for accessibility, and offers more intricate control as you can remap everything gameplay through the Custom layout. You can choose from a number of presets for different gameplay styles. So if you want a Default control scheme for main gameplay, but want to use a left-handed preset for swimming, you can do that. Auto-sprinting on foot can also be applied and works better than sprinting on mounts, and a swap move and look option is also available.

Those jumping into the accessibility menu will notice something called Co-Pilot, which is exactly what you think it is. It’s a software-level copilot system like Microsoft’s that allows a user to link up a second controller. This is certainly helpful for those that may need 2 PS4 or PS5 controllers connected, but it could also be used for sighted assistance if needed.

Traversal

There’s a lot that can be said about Horizon Forbidden West and the accessibility of its traversal. The waypoints are, as already noted, hard to see unless it’s dark, the open world looks nice but it can be a slog to travel across sometimes, with many encounters with enemies.

Additionally, there are a lot of verticalities, but with the feature on, climbable ledges can always be seen glowing which can help, but again, brighter levels make them a lot harder to spot. I do enjoy the markers for lootables such as herbs and chests which are displayed with a pin on-screen, although more could have been done with the presentation as they’re quite thin. Sadly none of these glowing visuals are present for elements such as the metals you can pull to break down a wall and instead relies on you seeing that object and knowing what tool to use on it.

As for the climbing portions, I found this to be half and half. Sometimes I’d find the game to be fun to climb up and around mountains, especially moments where Aloy automatically jumps to nearby ledges so you’re not constantly pressing a jump button. Other times, larger gaps need an input to be pressed, and trying to determine whether Aloy is going to automatically react or not found me frequently falling off high ledges and starting again because I kept pressing a button to jump to something I couldn’t.

Inventories and Management

Finally, the looting system in Horizon Forbidden West is actually not half bad. While you can loot corpses and chests and choose to browse what’s inside, you can also just pick everything within up in a go. This is all dumped into your inventory, with a Stash available at safe places to store or withdraw certain things.

My only gripe with inventory management is the presentation. While things are automatically categorized, the icons used for those items feel lost on me. But then, in the hours I’ve been playing this I’ve not even felt like I’ve needed to manage anything, which is a bonus.

Conclusion

Close up of Aloy looking to the camera, a digital mesh in front.

Horizon Forbidden West has a beefy menu, a bit like Halo Infinite had a beefy menu, but the implementation of accessibility features drastically lets it down. Where it shines is in mobility but it falls short in a lot of other areas such as directionality and legibility. The requirement to use the DualShock 4 or DualSense means that those who need third-party peripherals will mean it’s yet another PlayStation exclusive that’s unplayable until a PC port.

It’s clear that efforts were made, and it’s a pretty-looking, lens-flare-heavy game, but the features that are supposed to guide you need to be implemented with functionality in mind. Darker backgrounds, bigger and thicker fonts, clear waypoints, camera guidance of sorts, and even target locking could have all alleviated some of my pain points.

A review copy of Horizon Forbidden West was provided by the developer / publisher.

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Ben
BaylissEditor-in-ChiefHe/Him

Ben is the one in charge of keeping the content cogs at Can I Play That? turning. Deafness means that he has a focus on discussing captions, but with experience in consultancy and advocacy, he covers what bases he can. Having written about accessibility in video games at DualShockers, GamesRadar+, GamesIndustry.biz, Wireframe, and more he continues his advocacy at CIPT. He was actually awarded a Good Games Writing award for an article he wrote here! He enjoys a range of games, but anything that’s open-world and with a photo mode will probably be his cup of tea. You can get in touch with him at: ben@caniplaythat.com

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