How accessible is Elden Ring? A disabled gamer’s perspective
Elden Ring is a difficult game for anybody to play but does it do enough to ensure that disabled players aren’t at unfair disadvantage?
FromSoftware has long considered the difficulty of their games to be part of their brand. Their Dark Souls franchise is famously punishing and requires a considerable amount of patience, skill, and dedication to defeat its notoriously difficult bosses. Elden Ring, their new open world action role-playing game, is no exception and was not designed for those looking to play something easy or gentle. This game was designed for masochists. And as a disabled gamer, I am a veteran when it comes to pain.
There is a point to be made that everyone, irrespective of whether you have a disability or not, will find a game like Elden Ring difficult, especially if you are new to the concept. Dying comes with the territory in this brutal, beautiful world that is full of wonder and terror. Upon walking out into The Lands Between and peering over The First Step, a rugged landscape with a wispy, silver Erdtree, you’re barely given the chance to appreciate the game’s incredible graphics before you are thrown straight into the action.
Within the first five minutes of playing, I approached the Tree Sentinel – a huge, seemingly friendly knight with a sword the size of the moon, armoured and on horseback. Surely, I would not be expected to fight such a huge foe this early on, right? At this point, I was still dressed in rags. How wrong I was. I was dead in two swings, before I’d even thought about parrying.
This kind of experience is normal with a FromSoftware game. Elden Ring is frustrating and a lot of fun in equal measures. Learning the mechanics and figuring out how to overcome challenges will take some players longer than others. I spent 20 hours familiarising myself with the world and level grinding before I even attempted the first boss. Some players, on the other hand, have completed the game within 30 minutes – announcing their claim to the title of Elden Lord before I have even upgraded my wooden club to a sword!
Elden Ring is a very specific type of game: it is unforgiving, and the stakes are high. One mistake, even against a seemingly easy foe, can have major repercussions. But the game is not difficult for the sake of it. It serves the game’s narrative and reminds us that our characters are fragile, and lowly, and tarnished. Death feels meaningful, and so do our conquests.
Although its sales figures may suggest otherwise, Elden Ring is not a game for everyone. Before I started playing the PC version, I was unsure about whether the game suited my play style. 60 hours later, I am glad that I persisted. Sure, I might not have slept for two days. And I might have annoyed my neighbours by yelling out in defeat after being killed for the hundredth time. But it was all worth it. So, if you are up to a challenge and are able to persevere – you may find yourself enjoying it as much as I did. Or you may uninstall it.
Difficulty and Accessibility
A difficult game which is also accessible for disabled players may seem like a paradox to some. FromSoftware has previously argued that they would not want accessibility features to ‘impact their vision’ and have refused to budge on making their games easier. But I am a firm believer that accessibility does not mean going easy on a disabled player. Accessibility simply means levelling the playing field to ensure that everyone is equal.
I do not believe that disabled players should be left out of experiencing one of the bestselling games of the year. From playing the game, I know that there are ways to make Elden Ring more inclusive without changing the difficulty. And, encouragingly, there are also a lot of features in Elden Ring which helped me to play it.
Unhelpful Barriers: Captions and Audio
As a hard of hearing player, I found the captions in Elden Ring frustrating and half-baked. The cut scenes and interaction in the world are captioned, which is a great start. But the caption text is at the bottom of the screen – as if to put it out of the way – and cannot be moved. The captions are also a pre-set colour and font size. Most captions these days can be tailored to a person’s needs and preferences. I wear glasses and wanted to make the font bigger but I was not able to and found myself squinting to read the text.
Captions do not make a game easier or impact on the developer’s vision, they should be customisable and available during any interaction within the game.
This game does not have a quest logger or any fixed objectives, which means that players are more reliant than ever on using the world and characters around them to progress in the game. I wanted to fully immerse myself in Elden Ring without needing to rely on external information from online guides. But an immersive experience is not always possible when playing Elden Ring as a deaf or head of hearing player.
This is a purposeful omission on From’s part and many fans would argue that reading and contributing to wikis is now part of the experience, although others have become so frustrated at the lack of quality of life features that they’ve created their own – such as a phone-based task tracker.
After defeating Godrick, one of the early bosses in the game, I missed a key clue about where to go next because I was unable to read the caption. It whizzed by too fast, and the text was too small. Luckily, because I am able to hear (somewhat unreliably, I might add), I picked up on half of what the character said and was able to replay the scenario. But it is important to note that not all scenarios are replayable. And for players with greater hearing loss than me, or who are deaf, this exchange (and many other encounters in the world) could easily be missed, with no choice to go back.
All that said, one audio feature that I did like was the option to separately balance the music and game sound. As a person who sometimes struggles to hear critical game sound effects due to the music being too high, I liked that I was able to customise the sound effects and voice levels to my preferences.
Unhelpful Barriers: Input Devices
When discussing how to make video games accessible, the charity SpecialEffect has stated that the ‘input devices that a game supports can determine whether or not a disabled player is able to participate’. The more devices that are compatible with a game, the more likely it is that a disabled gamer will be able to participate.
Depending on a player’s disability, players may find different input devices more accessible to use than others. Having the choice to access a game using various compatible devices can be helpful and necessary for some disabled players.
In my case, I have weakened mobility in my hands and fingers. I personally find a keyboard and mouse easier to use than a controller. Keys are light to tap and less restrictive than joysticks. Elden Ring is compatible with a keyboard and mouse, but the game’s interface and prompts do not indicate which buttons to use as a keyboard and mouse player.
Fundamentally, the game is optimised to play with a controller. There is no in-game tutorial on how to play with a keyboard and mouse, which is a shame because the game is already tough enough. The first few hours of playing Elden Ring were more difficult for me than they needed to be – mostly because I had to keep checking how to equip certain items, or use different abilities, or change my binds.
I was able to figure it out in the end, but I can see other players becoming frustrated with the lack of instructions for playing on a keyboard and mouse. As Elden Ring is sold as a PC game, it seems only fair that keyboard and mouse players are accommodated, as many do not own controllers. Although this may have more to do with the PC not being a common gaming format in Japan than anything else.
What I liked: playstyle adaptability and the open world
Something that surprised me about Elden Ring was the fact that there are a range of different ways to play the game. Going into playing Elden Ring, my biggest worry was being stuck on a boss and not being able to progress. But the realm of The Lands Between is much larger than any previous From game. There are an infinite number of things to do without needing to tackle difficult bosses early on, if you don’t want to.
I took my time exploring The Lands Between, roaming across the world on my horse, Torrent. I was captivated by the landscapes and the hidden places spread throughout the realm. I enjoyed taking my time with the game, picking up fragments of different stories as I travelled and piecing them together. I loved discovering items that would help me with my ventures and learning new spells.
The world is magical, eerie, and whimsical. It retained my attention and never left me feeling bored or dissatisfied with not progressing through the central storyline. And when I thought that I had discovered all that there was to see in The Lands Between, there was more: as I discovered when I accidentally ended up in a secret region called the Underworld. (I am still not entirely sure how I got there.)
With no set objectives, players can choose how they want to level and build their experience. I liked that I did not need to fight bosses and high-level foes if I did not want to. For the first few hours of playing Elden Ring, I travelled through Limgrave, the starter zone, building up my experience. For less seasoned gamers, or those with disabilities who, like me, would struggle with early tough boss fights, there is plenty to do in Elden Ring which will allow you to enjoy the game.
By the time I felt ready to fight the bosses, my health points and armour were high enough that the game felt manageable. This is just one approach of many that can be used to face the challenges of the game. With 10 classes to choose from, players will discover different ways to fight their foe and can choose any zone of their choice to level in.
Even still, Elden Ring requires a lot of focus and endurance. As a player with chronic pain and fatigue caused by a metabolic bone condition, I went into playing Elden Ring knowing that it would take me much longer than my non-disabled counterparts to progress. I had to find ways to adapt to playing Elden Ring in a way that best suited my play style.
Sometimes, this meant running away from strong foe on my horse. Other times it meant grinding until I was strong enough to fight. Or utilising the co-op feature to bring my friends into the game to help me.
When I first started playing Elden Ring, I wanted to try a hybrid class to understand which play style best suited me. I opted for a prophet, a class with high Faith abilities. The prophet starts with a spear, shield, and two spell abilities. As I progressed, I quickly realised that I was struggling a lot with close combat fights. I realised I was best suited to playing a caster because I was able to shoot at my foe from afar and had a little more time to parry their attacks.
This meant buying spells with my runes and building up a high amount of Intellect. I would encourage new players, and those who need a little more time to parry, to try a caster if they are struggling with Elden Ring. The astronomer is also a popular option.
To me, Elden Ring is all about trial and error; trying different ways to conquer your enemies, while using all of the tricks and tools in your arson. I did not rush through Elden Ring, I played slowly and at my own pace, and had fun.
As a disabled gamer, I was able to play Elden Ring. However, there are an innumerable number of disabilities in the world and so, I can only speak from my own experiences. I enjoyed Elden Ring for the most part, despite a few accessibility issues that directly impacted me – which I feel could be rectified. I also feel that the concerns from other disabled players surrounding inaccessibility should always be heard and listened to.
Elden Ring is available now on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 5, and PC.
By Charlotte Fodor
SpecialEffect, a charity who specialise in making games inclusive for disabled gamers, has written a DevKit for game developers, on features that should be integrated to make a game more accessible.
Taming Gaming has created an Accessibility Report on Elden Ring which has identified 21 accessibility features.
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