Deaf / Hard of Hearing: 4 out of 4
Blind / Low Vision: 2 out of 4
Fine motor: 2 out of 4
Horizon Forbidden West is the eagerly anticipated sequel to the hit open-world action RPG Horizon Zero Dawn created by Guerilla Games in 2017. Set in the 31st century after a cataclysmic event known as The Faro Plague has wiped out the majority of life and infrastructure on Earth, and the surviving remnants of humanity have regressed to a primitive existence resembling indigenous tribes while dangerous robots resembling dinosaurs roam the wilds. The story follows the exploits of a red-haired huntress of the Nora people named Aloy, who after discovering and destroying a malevolent Artificial intelligence who sought to eradicate what little life remained on Earth after the Faro Plague, named HADES, embarks on a new mission across the ravaged remains of the Western United States, in an effort to recover an Artificial Intelligence that will breathe life into the rapidly decaying planet, and is set six months after the destruction of HADES.
Gamers who have fine-motor impairments will find a partially accessible experience. Control bindings are entirely customizable and can be changed to any input that a player desires. In most cases gameplay is not hindered when multiple functions are attached to one input, which is a welcome and refreshing addition given that most titles of this type that allow control tailoring will not permit players to exit the menu if conflicting inputs are detected. Forbidden West also offers the option to convert rapid button taps to holds for quick-time events, and should this still not be enough, players can set them to automatic completion. An option that enables continuous sprinting is also available, and it would be a tremendous barrier-breaker if other games incorporated this, as many other titles contain jumps that require sprinting, and a feature like this would eliminate the barrier created by having to press the sprint and jump inputs in tandem.
The Focus is a gadget Aloy possesses that allows her to see and exploit mechanical beasts’ weaknesses by targeting specific parts with elemental ammunition to remove their abilities and cause crippling damage using status effects. This mechanic is a double-edged sword, as it is Horizon’s most distinguishing feature, and its most satisfying to execute properly, but also its biggest barrier for the motor-impaired. To elaborate, aim-assist can be adjusted to varying levels within the accessibility menu, but even when set to its strongest, it only tracks an enemy when Aloy’s focus is active, with the caveat being that Aloy cannot draw her weapon when using the focus. If aim-assist doesn’t snap to a target in the moment when a player needs to make a shot, its purpose is defeated. While it isn’t a complete work-around, readying a weapon can be set to a toggle, which does alleviate the problem considerably because the L2 button doesn’t need holding, allowing one to focus on firing, but you still need to manipulate the right analog stick precisely, which may prove difficult for some players. The developers attempt to rectify this by including a difficulty setting called story mode in which Aloy receives less damage and crafting components don’t need to be knocked off of enemies to remain intact, but the projectiles are still required to inflict the most damage, particularly against bosses and late-game adversaries that fly. Sustaining less damage upon being hit is awesome, but if you are unable to make precise shots due to an inability to dodge, you will be constantly pummeled and frustration will set in because Aloy lowers her weapon each time she takes damage. There are no time-sensitive sequences in the game, and Aloy climbs relatively smoothly. There are no aspects of climbing that require a button to be held, as even the glider remains open once deployed. Like the previous entry, saving is done at campfires which are abundant and also serve as fast-travel sites making traversal over long distance a breeze. Were it the case that shooting were a minor aspect of gameplay, I’d give Forbidden West a thoroughly accessible score, but since it permeates the entirety of the game and is even used for traversal, and aim-assist is largely ineffective, Forbidden West is partially accessible to the motor-function impaired.
The visual accessibility category is also partially accessible. Travel is made easy, as any of Aloy’s mounts can be made to automatically follow roads if one desires, and there is even an option available that can help the player find their way to quests with markers, however the downside is that the marker used to track main objectives or areas that you’ve marked has a beige color, which has a tendency to get lost in corners of the screen. It can also be hard to see because it often blends into the colors of the environment. This is especially prevalent in the Las Vegas chapter, in which you travel through a desert. Changing the icon size in the same way you can change the subtitles would be an excellent way to rectify this, but at the time of writing, only subtitle size is adjustable, not icons. This also applies to icons that indicate incoming attacks, as they’re far too small. Similar barriers are present in both the platforming segments and other aspects of exploration. When climbing, the huntress can only grab onto hand-holds that are painted yellow. Not only is this a strange design choice in 2022 when we have games like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Uncharted 4 where you can virtually grab onto anything that looks like a hand-hold, but there are also no color-blind settings of any kind. The developers attempt to rectify this by highlighting climbable surfaces in yellow with Aloy’s focus but any player with tritanopia will likely not be able to see these very well. The mission design also displays an over-reliance on finding small targets in a large area, which can sometimes lead to extended periods of aimless wandering, but this can be overcome with tenacity.
Auditory accessibility is barrier-free since the subtitles are presented effectively and clearly and they include speaker-tags and a background whose opacity can be adjusted along with the size of lettering. Furthermore, since each enemy is so distinct, they’ll be easy to prioritize. The weapons and monsters also all have a unique feel courtesy of adaptive triggers and haptic feedback.
While not a perfect package by any means, Horizon Forbidden West improves upon its predecessor in every way. Aim-assist may not be as effective as one would hope but the ability to set aiming and weapon selection to toggle helps to alleviate this. Early on when you swim it can be difficult to reach underwater objectives, but acquiring a diving mask eliminates danger since it provides infinite oxygen. Forbidden West does have its fair share of obstacles, but a poignant story, excellent gameplay, and astounding world-building makes breaking through the barriers well worth it.
A review copy of Horizon Forbidden West was provided by the developer / publisher.
This article has been transferred from DAGERSystem (now AbilityPoints). Scores, formatting, and writing style may differ from original CIPT content.