Diablo Immortal is Blizzard’s latest release, and many people have many opinions on it. Some people love it because it’s a new adventure in the Diablo universe, and because you can play it anywhere on mobile. Some hate it because they say it’s “pay to win.” I’m not here to talk about any of that. I am here to talk about its accessibility, specifically for the totally blind. Boy oh boy do I have a lot to say. Let’s get right to it.
I think the most shocking thing about Diablo Immortal is that it manages to take massive steps forward, and massive steps backwards, at the same time. Take its controller support for example. While it’s fine during gameplay, it cannot be used by the blind for menus. And I mean ANY menu. From the main menu to your skills, they are all cursor-based, point at the thing and click it menus. As far as I’m concerned, this essentially means the controller support is incomplete. Blizzard only seems to half understand that controller support is an accessibility feature. It’s good that it’s there, absolutely, and even better that it’s in the mobile version of Diablo Immortal as well, but one of the specific use cases for the blind for controller support is easier navigation of menus. Think about this, Blizzard. Because your controller support doesn’t snap to menu items, we are locked out of the mobile version of the game. On PC, we can band-aid our way past this using OCR and keys that route the mouse to items OCR shows us, but to be completely clear, this is not a solution. There is no equivalent to doing this on mobile, so this choice leads to greater inaccessibility. TO my earlier point, this is a step backwards, because Diablo 2; Resurrected handles menus with controller just fine. Odd, isn’t it?
The big step forward for Diablo Immortal comes from its autonavigation system. Again, for clarity, it is still problematic, but the basic idea is a good one. Click on any point on your map, as long as it is uncovered, and you will have the option to automatically navigate there. This is done in real time, not as a fast travel option, so this starts your character walking automatically to the destination you selected. Great idea, and it could potentially help blind people get to places more easily. Except… It can’t. Why? A few reasons. First, you don’t have access to this feature right away. You have to complete the first set of main story quests before you can even use it. But that’s not all. Autonavigation will not take you to truly new places. It is intentionally, specifically limited to taking you to places that have been uncovered on your map. I believe the wording of the introductory message says that the map has to be uncovered before it can be used on any map. This decreases the value for the blind, because if we can’t find the place we’re supposed to go next, and autonavigation won’t take us there, what’s the point for us? There isn’t one. That’s the answer.
Another thing I will put in the positive column is the game’s general audio design. Many sounds from Diablo 3 have been reused in Immortal, but I think this is done in a good way. It means there is much less work that we have to do to identify skills, spells, and even enemies, as many were immediately recognizable. But more than that, there are a couple of additions worth mentioning. For one, it seems that there are now specific pickup sounds for certain item types, instead of just drop sounds. This gives us at least some idea of items we pick up, even if we don’t know exactly what it is. Second, (and this might seem like a small thing but trust me it’s not), there are now clicks when you press your interact button on an item that requires extended interaction. I’ll try to explain what I mean. In Diablo 3, there are certain quest-related items that require you to press X, (or A depending on your controller), then wait a certain amount of time for an animation or interaction to complete. In Diablo 3, these are problematic because if you press X, then press anything else, you will interrupt the interaction. And because we blind folks are constantly pressing X to interact as we walk around, just in case there are things on the ground that we could potentially scoop up, it is very, very, very easy for us to miss these interactions entirely, even if we successfully click on the item, because we’re just immediately walking away, happily mashing X some more. Well, this isn’t an issue in Diablo Immortal, simply because encountering one of these items and interacting with it plays a click, letting us know there’s definitely something here. For me, I heard this click a few times as I mashed, then thought “Wait, what’s this?” So I tried again, pausing this time, and low and behold an animation played a second later. This is a good move.
Of course, I have to bring up the obvious bits too. Diablo Immortal contains no built-in narration. This makes menus, gear, stats, skills, all of it more complicated for us. Again, some of it can be gotten with OCR, but that’s not a solution. Here’s the thing, though. The lack of narration probably wouldn’t surprise me, except for the fact that at one point, Narration, and in fact, full screen reader support, was promised for Diablo 2: Resurrected. This still hasn’t been delivered on, and I no longer think it will be, but the fact that it was promised made me believe that maybe, just maybe, the next game would have the feature. And, of course, it doesn’t. Narration combined with snap-to-item menus would already help so, so much.
Of course, that’s not all that needs to happen. Autonavigation needs to become a true navigational assist, allowing us to find our way toward our objective if there is one, and allowing us to find the nearest unexplored space if there isn’t one directly. Autonav using the map needs to be a concession for playability, and take us to our destination regardless of whether the map is uncovered or not. And speaking of the map, it has to be made accessible so we can choose our own destinations from it. We need a version of the map that works like a list, where we can use our arrow keys or D-pad to move from item to item, location to location, and select one to bring up its associated options, description, and so on. This would be the last step in fully enabling our ability to use this feature.
One more thing. There would need to be special scripting on whatever navigational assist was used, because sadly there is yet one more negative to add to that column. I wouldn’t know about this if my fiance Misty hadn’t been playing a ton of Diablo Immortal, but here goes… There are visual puzzles. The one that comes to mind is a puzzle that requires you to light lamps in a specific order. At the least, we would need scripting on nav assist to guide us to the appropriate lamps in order so we can light them, (a concession that is agreeable because the puzzle is visual). At the most, we would need the option to scan for and locate the lamps, but each one would have to play its own specific audio cue when lit, making the puzzle effectively an audio puzzle so long as we could locate the lamps. This is also another case for narration, as I understand the clue for solving this puzzle is text. Yes, narration cannot be done halfway. Every single text element must be included.
I think that about covers it. Honestly, truly, I wish I could play more of this game. I enjoyed the intro, even though I had to struggle considerably to get through it. But I know that now, I could only fall behind, failing to equip new gear, skills, and so on. And so, ultimately, from a blind accessibility perspective, the disappointing negatives do heavily outweigh the positives. I hope that Blizzard reads all this feedback, and knows that, as complex as the work would be, it would be worth it. I write all of this, every bit of it, out of a simple desire to play their game just like everyone else. Sadly, this game has already revealed its mortality to the blind community. Thanks for reading!