Presented with a slew of 10/10s and reportedly the highest-rated game of the year already, Elden Ring seems to be the game to own right now. However, with it being a From Software game and holding its Souls gameplay style close to its chest, there are a lot of conflicting thoughts online. It seems that for most, the game is a masterpiece, for others, they’re wanting to know how well Elden Ring handles accessibility before jumping into this vast, magical world.
I went out and purchased a copy of the game, not just with the intention to write an accessibility review on such a desired title, but because I was incredibly intrigued by the story and world. It has everything I would like in a game; a fantasy setting, bows, melee weapons, fascinating landscapes, grotesque beasts. Elden Ring looks like it is absolutely my shit.
But the more I read online, the more I felt excluded by…well anyone who liked From Software games. There were people telling disabled people they shouldn’t play it just because they were asking questions about if they would be able to have certain elements. There were people praising the lack of elements that could have helped. There were people telling others who were in dismay that “you’ve just got to persist and learn!”
The more and more I heard about Elden Ring as it grew closer to launch, the more I felt unwelcome amongst all these players who seemed to have built workarounds for design choices. And when I booted up, I realized that was exactly the case, they’re workarounds to bad design choices.
A Pathetic Tutorial
After spending a fair while building my character and choosing my class —I started with the Bandit— I tried to slog through the tutorial. Initially, I thought the ghosted characters running around were visual tutorial animations. After realizing they’re actually other players, I found a finger, and went on my way, accidentally rolling off a platform and falling to my death only 2 minutes or so into it.
The tutorial does eventually walk you through combat, but I found it only started displaying prompts after I’d already had 2 encounters and had to figure the controls out for myself. And then, after a few enemies had been killed with dodge rolls, ranged, and melee attacks being utilized, I was on my way to a boss I felt I had to kill. After many deaths, I eventually defeated this enemy but I felt no sense of that pride I’d been told about — maybe later.
In another playthrough, I realized that you can skip the tutorial by just heading to a door, so those who don’t want to jump down the hole and go through it all again can do that. I tried other classes as well, Prophet, Warrior, and the Astrologer.
Rise Tarnished, and Head… Somewhere
After the tutorial, I step out into Limgrave to start my journey across The Lands Between. Already, I have no idea what to do. While a number of items and actions pause the game to present explanations of certain things, I still feel confused as to what the game actually wants me to do. There’s a weird person at the first campfire who seems to list some items I need, but I see no markers or directions to quests.
The first thing I do is run to the left chasing after some rolling goats, then I jump down to a beach below and get killed by a group of enemies. After respawning I run off right and find a church, a campfire, and a merchant, but I’m obviously lacking anything to trade, so I venture off. Shortly after, a large horse thing with a knight person sees me and starts attacking me until I die despite me running as fast as I can.
I respawn again and find a pathway through some woods, kill a few soldiers, and then find some ruins where I die. Thankfully there’s a special statue nearby so I can respawn there instead of going all the way back to the campfire. This time, I run around the ruins, clambering over some rocks until I find another campfire. A nearby note left by another player instructs me to jump down, so I do and I’m greeted by evil land jellyfish.
But persist I must, that’s what everyone tells me you need to do to enjoy a Souls game. Persistence.
So I run past the land jellyfish, I run past the evil skeleton thing, and I kill a evil land octopus thing, only to die when I reach some water and discover I cannot swim. At this point, I’m confused. Where the fuck am I meant to be going? Nearly 2 hours of exploration and I’ve not had a single cutscene appear and there’s nothing that seems to direct me to a specific area.
I play around with the map and set my own markers, I try again and again to liberate that ruin and fail. I follow another rolling goat and it leads me to another knight riding horseback.
It was only after I started talking to some friends about my struggles in Elden Ring that I was told things that should have been explained by the game. I was told I’d gone too far from where I was meant to be although I thought the game was supposed to be some massive open-world that lets you do what you want. I was told that I’d picked a tough starting class, that I have to find weirdly named items, or that I should play the game with another player online.
I was also told to use the horse, but after hours of play, I’d not rested at a campfire on account of dying so much that I didn’t need to use it. It turns out you only get access to the horse after resting at any campfire at night, and you’ll then get gifted Torrent.
The more I browsed Twitter, the more I saw similar conversations taking place. People complaining they’re struggling with certain tasks, then people from the community throwing tips their way, explaining things that should be in the game itself, or made a lot clearer. People were saying it’s better to play with friends, but I wanted to play it alone and just explore and fight.
Not only that, I already feel like a burden to people in real life because of my disability, so I’m not fond of feeling like a burden because I can’t play the game to some stranger’s standards.
People had even been saying you need a physical journal to track your quests, and I can see why. However, contrary to some thoughts from fans that it’s what makes the game special, it’s actually a terrible design. I would rather have some quest log available to open on-screen, not put my controller down in a game that I cannot pause just to write down the next item I need to gather. This could be achieved on screen through an optional feature.
Before anyone goes there, no it wouldn’t ruin the game because the existence of such a feature is a “temptation” to use. You’d just have to persist your own temptation to not activate it should you not wish to use it.
This is where my issue lay, though. I was finding out more about the game from the ones who are familiar with Souls games rather than through the game. While nice that there is that social element that comes from it, the game should still do a job in offering guidance.
For me, with Elden Ring there’s no real accessibility for deafness. Subtitles on cutscenes have no backgrounds, the size cannot be increased, there are no speaker labels. I cannot figure out what direction sounds are coming from and more often than not I’ll not realize some enemy has seen me and initiated an army to chase me.
In-game subtitles are okay to an extent. While the font is iffy, a darker background does appear To help make them a bit more legible. On-screen prompts usually have text contained in boxes that contrast well. It’s just a shame you can’t increase the font size across the game, or even increase HUD elements.
The lack of quest tracking and information about what things you need, which finds some players wanting a journal, is not at all enticing for the cognitive side of things. The map is nice though, and being able to set a number of waypoints that display as beams of light in-world is good to see. Additionally, it’s clear what is lootable, and random loot shines like a white dot.
There’s no menu narration or game narration available, and there’s a fair number of menus to get lost within.
If you’re hoping for mobility wins with Elden Ring and accessibility, you may be in luck. While I was playing the PS5 version, I noticed that you can assign the majority of inputs, and the same is available for PC from what I’ve been told. I’m not overly struck on how you have to hold a circle to sprint, but at least I have that option to rebind it to L1. There’s also a target lock!
I Just Wanted To Play
I get it, Elden Ring is a Souls game. Souls games are notoriously hard. For me, though, I actually ended up getting the game refunded because it’s incredibly clear that this game is not accessible to me. At no point did I overcome a group of enemies and feel proud and achieved, and at no point did I feel like I wanted to carry on because I was enjoying it.
I wanted to explore without the requirement of fleeing and consulting with others about if I’m doing something wrong. I wanted to listen to the amazing voice acting and take in the story without struggling to read subtitles. I wanted to be able to take more damage before falling to my knees, dead.
What’s frustrating, is that I was seeing area after area of improvements that could have been done to actually make the game accessible. Elements that other games have championed, such as balancing quests logs, catering challenges for encounters to a level that is challenging for me and not impossible. It was things that could have been achieved by clever design, or features that are togglable and optional.
It’s upsetting that what I’m seeing online instead, is people encouraging players to just keep struggling because eventually “it’s worth it”, or the more toxic ones who say “Some guy completed Dark Souls with his feet, git gud.” I could have continued to struggle, but I was not enjoying Elden Ring at all, and I was not interested in feeling like I had to motivate myself to enjoy it.
“Not every game is for you.”
Correct. I don’t like RTS games really, but sometimes an RTS game with a theme I like will launch and I’ll want to get into it — and so I shall try. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes I like a challenge, other times I want a smoother ride. As I said earlier, Elden Ring is absolutely a game I would have enjoyed had I not faced unintentional barriers that are born from design choices.
And yes, I believe they are unintentional. I don’t believe that From Software set out to make a game that excludes an estimated “over 400 million gamers with disabilities” as noted by Xbox. A lot of the barriers I faced were from what seemed to be the game expecting me to be familiar with past From Soft games as well as not having elements that would help me while keeping the challenge.
It’s also upsetting that I even need to write this, but given how protective From Software fans generally present themselves online I feel I have to. I am not bashing the game for the hell of it, this isn’t a “this person is disabled and can’t play games like a normal person”. I want to experience the game, and as fans, you should want to expand that fandom too, without equating that inclusion as a slap-on easy mode. Take this Eurogamer article as an example of ways the game could have been improved.
For potential players, I am not suggesting that you should not buy Elden Ring, because disabilities are varied, human beings are varied. Perhaps the game will work for you, perhaps it won’t. Elden Ring already has some accessibility and approachability improvements from past games, but they weren’t enough for me.
My experience was not great, but it was abundantly clear once I got into the gameplay that it wasn’t for me. I simply wanted to experience the story and do a bit of looting and hacking and slashing with a challenge to boot that made it enjoyable, not punishing.
I would say that Elden Ring is a good game, but it’s also a game that does not have much for accessibility, and for many having accessible features would benefit them.