The first thing that was clear to me when I booted up the latest Star Wars title from Respawn was how drastically the landscape of accessibility has changed in the decade plus I’ve been reviewing games. Star Wars Jedi: Survivor looks to be an extremely accessible game, and for some players this is probably the case. Jedi: Survivor boasts one of the most robust accessibility feature suites I’ve seen in a game to date. Unfortunately, this game is a masterclass in two simple lessons: robust features can never fully compensate for an inherently inaccessible vision, and features have to work well to be useful.
What Respawn gets right
Let’s start off with the positive. There is a large portion of the disabled gaming community that will have no problem playing Jedi: Survivor. Players who are deaf and hard of hearing will be happy to know that this game features one of the most robust subtitle option suites I’ve ever seen. Ambient sound effects and story dialogue can be captioned separately, and the game includes optional sound indicators that point you in the direction of the speaker. Combine that with the scalability of the subtitles and the ability to add and adjust a drop shadow, and Respawn’s efforts to include players who are deaf and hard of hearing are commendable.
The case is similar for players who are low vision or colorblind. Thanks to a UI customization system that is very similar to Ubisoft’s approach to accessibility, this system allows players to customize nearly 30 different UI elements to ensure for high visibility. Add this to the subtitle scaling and one would think that there are few barriers that would cause a visual impairment to actually impede enjoyment of Jedi: Survivor. Unfortunately, this is not the case. More on that later.
Mobility falls short
At first glance, even players with relatively severe fine-motor disabilities appear to be accommodated in Jedi: Survivor. Not only are the controls fully remappable even on the PS5, where I reviewed it, but the game features shortcut controls and a time slow very similar to Rachet and Clank: Rift Apart. If this was implemented properly, the ability slow down time whenever needed would have been wonderful because there are many time-sensitive puzzles and complex platforming segments that could be difficult for fine-motor impaired players, or even players suffering from fatigue. But again here, we see that these features only address the surface level of the accessibility of Jedi: Survivor, and on close inspection, this game will provide significant hidden barriers to most players with physical disabilities.
A basically inaccessible game
When I originally reviewed Jedi: Fallen Order, I stated that it was a dark-souls style game with a Star Wars skin. The main draw of that game was its immersive and highly technical lightsaber combat. That DNA is still very much present in Jedi: Survivor. It’s still a Souls clone, where timing and combos matter greatly, but Respawn has done a thorough job making combat accessible, whether it’s full control remapability or the various ways that you can upgrade and change Cal’s lightsaber stances.
The combat is not the problem in Jedi: Survivor. The problem is in almost every other aspect of the game. It takes its complex approach to combat and applies it to traversal and overworld puzzles, but does not give the player additional supports that would make these elements accessible. In other words, I love the combat in the brief slice of this game I was able to play. But as soon as the traversal became complex, or the puzzles required simultaneous button inputs, I was confronted with barriers that no amount of perseverance could break through.
Fatigue shatters the illusion
As I have stated in many other reviews, having a disability more often than not means that you fatigue faster than players without disabilities. The reality is that Respawn’s vision for Jedi: Survivor as I understand it is a game that is always going to be incredibly fatiguing. This is because of the extreme prevalence of multi-input button presses required to progress through the game, the requirement to be able to use any input on the controller at a moment’s notice, and Respawns commitment to a more minimalist aesthetic, which hides vital information like a mini-map behind additional button presses and in some cases menus.
But you would think, “Surely all these features mitigate these barriers and make the game less fatiguing.” In fact, in my experience, the exact opposite was true. Because of the poor implementation of Jedi: Survivors core accessibility features, they tended to add to my cognitive load and fatigue rather than subtract from them.
Robust Features, Lackluster Implementation
The unfortunate thing here is it seems like Respawn or their parent company EA approached accessibility by “copying off another students test” rather than creating bespoke accessibility features that could really support the player throughout the Jedi: Survivor experience. Two examples of this spring readily to mind from my time with the game.
The first is the audio ping navigation. In order to make exploration and traversal easier, Respawn has included an audio ping that “automatically fires an audio ping in the direction of the current objective.” Now, this may be my ignorance, but when I read that, it tells me that I need to have 3-dimensional audio enabled and my set-up doesn’t have that capability. It was only after I played the game with this feature enabled that I realized this description is inaccurate.
From what I can tell, it doesn’t fire a ping in the direction of the current objective. It fires a ping when Cal moves towards the objective. It seems to ping off a fixed point on the map, which results in the ping growing incrementally louder as Cal gets closer. But this does not seem intentional, as the ping seems set to go off when Cal crosses certain environment thresholds.
The other issue with the ping system is that it says it can be triggered via the shortcut system, but whether it’s a Nav Ping or an Audio Ping (Don’t ask me the difference), both are disabled at certain points in the game, as is the Puzzle Hint that you can access via the Shortcut menu. As a result, good luck having access to these features when you actually need them, and may the force be with you as you try to figure out how to actually use them.
The shortcut menu itself is the other major problem. It seems like they were trying to emulate Insomniac’s shortcut system, which allows you to turn the D-Pad into a series of shortcuts that include everything from Time-Slow to attack combos. But the difference in Jedi Survivor is that this Menu requires a 3-button input to turn it on and off. Players will have to open the shortcut menu, use the accessibility feature they want, and then close the shortcut menu, all while key abilities such as jump are disabled. To make matters worse, the game does not pause while this menu is open, so if you try to turn slow mode on in the middle of platforming, Cal will most likely fall to his death while you’re fumbling through menus.
If this game came out in 2018 or even 2020, we would be having a completely different conversation. We would be praising it for its sheer volume of features and industry-leading inclusion of accessibility. But we live in 2023, and accessibility by volume doesn’t cut it anymore. We’ve seen over and over again that real accessibility requires elegant implementation that seamlessly aids the player. Unfortunately for Jedi: Survivor, you see an inherently inaccessible game with blunt force accessibility options that can often be as much of a hindrance as a help.
A review copy of was provided by the developer / publisher.