Before I truly begin this review, I want to make one thing clear. I have not actually finished God of War: Ragnarok. However, that is not because I’ve been stuck for an accessibility-related reason. In fact, I can honestly say that, as of this writing, I’m not stuck at all. There were, however, a couple factors that contributed to me not finishing this game despite the 2 plus week review period. The primary one was the fact that multiple accessibility features were not functioning as intended for the first several days of review time, so early progress was extremely slow at best. Remember that first impressions article? Yeah, I had just barely gotten past the furthest point we could talk about by the time I wrote that. But what also hampered my finishing the game is that the game is huge. This is a true monster of a game, whose main story alone might be 40 hours or so for the average sighted player, meaning that, for us, it is much longer. I’ll do my best to clarify why that is. Nevertheless, I haven’t finished it, but I think that’s OK. My reviews tend to be very, very accessibility focused, and while I will address the game overall, I think I can say all of the main things I intend to say regardless. So with that in mind, let’s jump in! But first, as always… Thank you to Playstation for providing me the review code for this game.
God of War: Ragnarok is a massive, sprawling, epic journey that takes place across all of the 9 realms. After all, Ragnarok is coming, and it turns out lots of entities have thoughts about that. Gods, yes, but also plenty of other creatures straight out of mythology. The prophecy is long, and very detailed about what will happen. The game itself is about Kratos’s continued growth, and the strengthening of his paternal bond with his son Atreus, while both of them try to deal with the implications of what we learned at the end of God of War 2018. I will not spoil this here, considering this review is going to be read by many blind folks who haven’t experienced the previous game in any way. That said, I highly encourage you all to watch a playthrough. There is a recap in the menu of the game, but it’s very short and only touches the key points. Watching a playthrough will be an undertaking, to be sure, but it will connect you with these characters in a way a recap just cannot.
Anyway, suffice to say that Kratos isn’t a fan of the revelation in question, desiring only to keep his son safe. But Atreus is growing up too, wanting to take on more responsibility, and handle his own business. He wants to find his place in the world, and that’s a real struggle for Kratos as his father. All of this I tell you as a way of stressing the point that, just like God of War 2018, this game is very much about these characters. The events that occur throughout the game are the situations the characters are in, but characters take center stage here. I compare this to the last of Us, which is not about the infected, but the characters that are in that situation. That’s the God of War experience, and one could argue that its larger scope and thus significantly greater playtime means that it could potentially be even better, since characters have longer to be developed in even greater detail. Regardless of where you land on that, though, the writing is excellent. Banter is basically nonstop, as the writers have worked to fill just about every space with character interaction, making traversal almost always enjoyable. The voice acting is top notch as well, and I really mean that. There is not a single character I’ve met in this game, both new and returning, that either has a bad voice actor, or whose actor gives less of a quality performance in any way. Everyone here is absolutely brilliant.
Speaking of characters, you have a lot of them to look forward to. Returning favorites like Brock and Sindri and of course, talking head Mimir, and new characters as well, not all of which I will talk about here. I will give an example, though. Ratataskar, the talking squirrel. Yep, there’s a talking squirrel in this game. Don’t let that fool you, though. This is God of War. Ratataskar is the overseer of the World Tree, and thus a very important figure in this universe. Every character is interesting, and that includes your enemies. Their portrayals in this universe honestly might not be what you’re expecting if you’ve seen them portrayed elsewhere, and those different takes give them an intrigue that is backed up by the great writing.
The sound design is consistently excellent, too, making you feel a part of this universe at all times. Everything from a small echo that indicates what type of environment you’re in, to the solid impactful thuds of combat adds to the already-incredible atmosphere. This is no surprise, though, as the previous game also had excellent audio design. In fact, quite a few sounds are reused from the previous game, but I don’t think I’ve ever cared less. Why would you want to fix something that isn’t broken? Oh, and those haptics. Yeah, I’m going to stick by what I said in my first impressions. The haptics really are even better than TLOU part 1. Of course, there are very different things to feel in this game, but there’s just something about the haptic presentation overall. Whereas TLOU Part 1 has specific moments of haptic amazingness, every moment feels like that with this game. The haptics are just always amazing. Anyway, enough about all that. I think you get that the game is great. Let’s talk accessibility, which is the real reason most of you are here. Trust me, there’ll be more proof the game is great in the accessibility discussion, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Here goes.
Instead of starting with the basics like I did in my first impressions, I’m going to get to the question that is probably on every blind player’s mind. “What about them character menus?” Sadly, as of this writing, the character menus, (map, skills, weapons, armor, codex), are still not narrated. I absolutely still concede that this is a huge hole in the blind accessibility of the game. This effectively smashes a whole section of the game for us, that being the RPG element. However, all is not lost. Don’t get me wrong, the inaccessibility of these screens still stings quite a bit, but well, there are some workarounds. Here they come.
Firstly, there’s OCR. While I would say it doesn’t work particularly well for equipment, it actually does work OK for the skills screen. If you’re willing to use OCR along with in-game TTS, you can at least be certain of the skills you’re equipping. This is absolutely a bandaid and not a real solution, especially because there are still issues here. Some skills you equip result in you unlocking new moves with button combinations. Well, anyone who has used OCR in video games knows that controller buttons don’t OCR well at all, so you’ll have to take a guess as to what those combinations might be. Still, not all skills are like this. In fact, here’s the real truth. Even if you can’t use OCR on your skills, upgrade them anyway. Just throw upgrades at skills. Seriously, there are enough passives here that upgrading your skills absolutely will help you. So yeah, no matter what, spend that XP. And don’t forget to upgrade skills for your companions as well. They are just as important as your own skills.
Workaround number 2 is kind of a hidden gem. If you go to the weapons menu and press L3, you will be presented with an autoequip popup which, funnily enough, is narrated by the game’s TTS. This will allow you to automatically equip the best gear you currently have based on whichever stat you select. For instance, if you want to spec for damage, choose the strength option here. If you want to spec for defense, that option is here too. There’s also vitality, cooldown, and luck. Whichever you feel like, just press X on it and the appropriate gear will be equipped. Now don’t get me wrong, this is great. However, just know that there are even issues with this. See, autoequip doesn’t actually equip everything. Shields, for instance, aren’t considered armor, even though they do boost your defense, so autoequip ignores them. I am fairly certain it does not equip enchantments either, though I’ve just started equipping those, so I could be wrong about that. In any case, my desire here, barring narrated weapons and armor screens, is of course a more comprehensive autoequip. If we are to be denied one of these things, the other should be made significantly better. Now let’s talk about the next workaround.
I’m going to write a sentence pretty soon. It’s a sentence that literally 0 blind people who are reading this review are expecting to read. To those of you who are sighted, you cannot possibly grasp the weight of the sentence that is coming up. You can try, and maybe you’ll understand, but you will not, possibly cannot understand fully. OK. Ready for the blind community to freak the heck out? Awesome. Here it comes… We can do side content.
What’s that? You think I made a typo? “He can’t possibly mean what I just read, can he? No way. It just cannot be!” Well, let me write it again. We, the totally blind gamers playing God of War: Ragnarok, can do side content. This is absolutely, positively a first for any open world AAA game ever created. The open world… realms… Whatever you want to call it, are open to us. We are not locked into a linear progression through only the main story, and nothing else. Yeah, I know, blind community, I hear you. I was sure we would be. I was sure a truly monumental event like this could not possibly occur with this game. I didn’t think we were there yet, but it has occurred. Well, sort of. OK, don’t let that “sort of” throw you, I promise it’s still great. Just keep reading. I mentioned a workaround. Let’s get back to that.
So, on the surface, technically the accessibility we need isn’t actually there. I already said the map screen doesn’t read. However, there are not 1, but 2 other ways to begin tracking a sidequest if you’re blind, and I’m going to tell you both of them.
First, there’s a button. If you pick up a side quest and say to yourself, “Oh neat! I wanna do that side quest right now! Then what you need to do is press up on the D-pad when you hear the sound indicating you’ve received a quest. If you do this quickly enough, your new quest becomes tracked. So that’s option 1.
Option 2 is perhaps the thing that makes me the happiest of anything. It’s something I didn’t figure out until I was already pretty deep into the game, but when I did, my brain exploded with delight. There is a feature of the Playstation 5 that I have said had tremendous potential since its launch. I used Spiderman to demonstrate that potential in a video. Have you figured it out yet? I’ll bet some of you have. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m talking about activity cards.
If you bring up the activity cards for God of War: Ragnarok, you are presented with a list of your available activities. This will include the main story quest, and any side quests you have picked up so far. If you click on the card for a side quest, you can not only view its name using the PS5’s own built-in screen reader, but you can view its quest description, something which is otherwise completely inaccessible within the game itself. But the real prize is the button above those things. If you click “resume activity,” the side quest you have selected becomes your currently tracked quest. No, I am not kidding, this really works. It is literally the purpose for which I said this feature was meant, and it works.
“But but…” I hear you say. “What about nav assist on side quests? How the heck does that work? Surely it can’t possibly… Blubber, blubber…” Shhh, it’s OK. I’m getting to that. In short, the answer is yes, it absolutely can. You see, nav assist is actually based on 2 things in God of War: Ragnarok. It is based on camera position, yes, but it is also based on the in-game compass, which always points toward your tracked objective. So yes, friendos, it can. Not only that, it’s a smart system. Here’s what I mean by that. Let’s say the quest you’ve decided to start tracking is in a completely different realm than the one you’re currently in. That’s STILL not a problem for nav assist. Nav assist will direct you to the dimensional gate first. You will be responsible for selecting the appropriate realm, (so pay attention to your quest descriptions folks), but once you’ve done that, and walked the interdimensional pathway, you’ll pop into the correct realm and start nav assisting straight toward your chosen quest. Trust me, this really does work. I just recently did a side quest for which nav assist directed me to a boat, then got me sailed to the correct dock, then brought me to the gate, then brought me through into another realm, onto another boat, to another correct dock, and THEN to my side quest. This is real, folks. We get to do THIS. We get to do ALL of this. Oh, and just to throw this in here, the realm-selection map specifically is accessible. You can navigate between realms easily, and the one you’re highlighting is narrated. Just hold X to go there once you’re on your selection.
One more thing about side quests. If you want to untrack a quest, (if you get stuck on it, or if you simply decide it’s no longer what you want to do right now), you can. Go to the map screen. Then, if the side quest you want to untrack is in the realm you are currently in, press L3, which is a key that centers the map on active quest markers. The marker will snap to your current quest, and you can then press triangle to untrack it. This will point your compass, and thus nav assist, on the main story. If, for example, you picked a quest in another realm by accident, things are a bit tougher, but still doable. You still go to the map screen, but you press R1 or L1 on that screen to navigate between realm maps. This is not narrated, so you’ll have to keep doing this, then pressing L3, and then triangle to untrack your quest once you’ve found the right realm. Tracking and untracking quests on the map screen does come with its own audio queue though, so the rule of thumb here is that if you press triangle after pressing L3 and hear nothing, your quest is in another realm and you have to use L1 or R1 to try another map. It’s more complicated, but thanks to L3 doing what it does on the map, it is at least doable.
I want to pause briefly for 2 things. First, I want to give a shoutout to Mila from Sony Santa Monica, without whom I never would have known we could do side quests. The lack of an item scan, plus the inaccessible in-game map were all pretty heavy indicators that our only path was the main story. It was during a conversation with her, just providing a little feedback here and there, where she almost casually dropped the fact that nav assist worked in side quests. At first my reaction was actually sad. “Why oh why would you give me such hope,” I said, half-jokingly of course. She then told me about the up arrow solution to track side quests when you got them, which already made me insanely happy, but I’m proud to say that she did not tell me about the activity cards idea. My super smart brain figured that one out all on my own, and it made my entire day. But thanks, Mila, for leading me down the path of knowledge, and showing me that we are more than welcome in this giant world Sony Santa Monica has created.
Secondly, though, I want to reiterate something. This part’s mostly for the game devs out there who might read this, because the blind community is probably already going to agree with me on this. While I am truly, truly overjoyed by the fact that we have access to these side quests as well as the main story, I mean I’m basically over the moon about it, the 2 workaround solutions we have for experiencing this content are STILL not ideal. These solutions should not be taken as excuses, or reasons NOT to make the in-game map accessible to us. I would love the freedom of actually moving through the map to see what places I could select, and having nav assist lock in on whatever I chose there. Knowing what realm map I was browsing, tracking and untracking quests with ease without leaving the game… I STILL want those things, and I think we still deserve them. Honestly, that’s not even to mention all the other screens under the touchpad, as I still believe, as I said in the impressions video, that our lack of access to them is unfair, (more on this later), given all the other things we can do. I don’t know if we’ll see anything happen on this particular subject with this game. I have said before that things like this are harder to actually program than some of you may realize. But I really, really hope this makes someone go “Huh. Guess maybe we should’ve done that,” not because I have any desire to make anyone feel bad or to be mean, but because it really would’ve closed the gap. Had these things been done, God of War: Ragnarok probably wouldn’t be far from replacing TLOU as the most blind-accessible AAA game of all time. After all, you can’t fully explore downtown Seattle in TLOU2 without help. Sure, there are other differences, other issues to consider, but this is a huge, huge one, and I hope the right people see that.
Alright, let’s get back to it. It’s time to talk puzzles. I feel like lots of people will have lots of different opinions on this, because puzzles don’t work the same way as they do in, ya know, The Last of Us. They are scripted to provide you the correct audio queues at the correct time, but not unprompted. They don’t handhold you as much as TLOU does. I do think some people are going to dislike this. Let me explain what I mean. Let’s say you have to throw your axe into something in order to freeze it. This happens quite often. Nav assist will lead you to the point where you must throw your axe, but will not directly prompt you to do so unless you then hold the aim button. Then, if you have the axe equipped, you’ll get the attack cue, meaning you should throw it. If you do not have the axe equipped, you will get a different cue that is meant to inform you the axe is required for this puzzle. These things are helpful, and will get you through a basic puzzle like the one I’ve described here. However, puzzles absolutely do get more complex than that. Sometimes you will have multiple things to do, but in a certain order. The necessary queues for those things will play on all of the targetable puzzle objects you need, but it is still up to you to figure out how to use these things, and in what order to use them in. Sometimes the characters themselves will provide helpful hints that should point you in the right direction, but some puzzles are quite challenging. One particular puzzle that comes to mind is extremely difficult, as you aren’t provided enough information in order to complete it blind. Make no mistake, it can be completed blind. The aiming works as it should, it is simply that the complexity of the puzzle is quite high, and certain things need to be explained before the blind person has a chance of figuring out what to do. All of this said, I do absolutely believe that work on the game’s many, many puzzles will be an ongoing effort for some time, so it is very possible a solution may be found to make these more complicated puzzles clearer. However, I am also considering working on, and potentially collaborating on, a puzzle guide for this sort of thing, should the need still exist after a patch or 2. Until then, I will do my best to help blind folks stuck on puzzles should they request it.
One more note on puzzles. Though there thankfully aren’t too many, there are some puzzles that are still broken with accessibility as of this writing. One particular puzzle prompts you to climb to an area you cannot actually reach because you haven’t lowered an elevator platform you need in order to reach it yet. I am now familiar with what to do here, so I will try to help folks who find themselves stuck, but I am hoping this puzzle, and a few others, get fixed through patch support. Again I have no real doubt this will happen, as the dedication to accessibility has been proven very real to me more times than 1, but since I cannot absolutely guarantee it, I’m including my desire for it here.
Now I want to talk about an extreme positive, and that, friends, is bosses. Boss fights in this game are amazing. Just truly amazing. Remember how I said I haven’t finished the game? Well I haven’t but I’ve still faced tons of bosses, and loved every encounter with one. Each boss fight has different mechanics that need to be learned, and I have yet to encounter one that isn’t accessible. It might be tough, in fact I guarantee some of them will be tough, but bosses in this game are often puzzles themselves, and if you can figure them out, you can indeed truly feel like the God of War as you take them down. I cannot tell you how many times I just grinned as that final moment played out. You know the one. The one where you know the boss is done for good. It happened a lot, let me tell ya. It’s a fantastic, glorious feeling, and I truly cannot wait for all of you to have it over, and over, and over again.
But then, combat in general is fun. Some of those grins didn’t even require bosses. Using a finishing move on a stunned enemy is so, so insanely satisfying, and boy oh boy are there a lot of finishing moves. I am almost certain I am correct in saying there is one finishing move per weapon per enemy type. Trust me, that’s a lot. Taking almost any group of enemies down can be a blast, especially when you can grab multiple stunned foes in a row. Just don’t forget to keep upgrading those skills, and buying stuff at the shop when you’ve got the cash.
I do have to say one thing more, though, in relation to this whole game. This goes out to both the blind players, AND any devs who look at this. Blind players, this game is difficult. I mean really, really difficult. When I said that the lack of access to the character screens and the shop screen, (also not narrated), was unfair, this is the really emphatic part of what I meant. When you start this game, you are prompted to choose a difficulty level. You may choose “Give me Story,” which is the easiest difficulty, but you will not experience that level of difficulty throughout. You just won’t. Enemies will get more difficult as the game goes on, and you will likely be behind, having not equipped that awesome shield you never realized you picked up, (this happened to me), having not upgraded your weapons and armor as best you could have because of the inaccessible shop screen, and so on. But that’s not all. We blind gamers miss SO MUCH in this game. I’m not talking about side quests here, I’m talking about the stuff we walk right past, all the time, because we have no item scan of any kind. There are a few things that do make ambient sound while on the ground, such as health stones and rage stones and so on, but even they are far, far too quiet in the audio mix, and can barely be heard unless you’re already right on top of them. You will naturally pick quite a few of these stones up, though, since some do drop from enemies, but honestly it’s the coins, the chests, and the crafting materials I’m talking about here. There are tons of these things all throughout the world. There are so many, in fact, that I can promise you you will definitely get a few of them. But I can also certainly promise that you will never get all of them.
Now here’s the thing. There is a chest that shows up in every shop that contains some of the items you missed while you were adventuring. This is good, but of course the nav assist doesn’t lead you to it, and it currently has no ambient sound save for the interact prompt if you happen to get close enough. I believe throughout my entire playthrough so far, I have found this chest 3 times. And yeah, it is really good, but it does not give you literally everything. It only gives you some of what you could have otherwise gotten relatively easily. Ragnarok does contain chests that need to be opened in special ways. For example, a legendary chest might require you to break 3 seals found around the general map area you’re in. But we have no way of finding these seals, and you can bet the contents of those chests are not included in the things you missed because you didn’t complete the puzzle to get them.
In short, unless solutions are reached for these things, the blind will be dreadfully behind, on multiple levels, as you get further and further into the game. It’s still worth mentioning that I do believe the game can be completed by a blind person in spite of this. I did start to struggle, but I also put myself at a disadvantage by not completing the tons of side quests I could’ve completed when I originally got them. That, combined with the ability to upgrade skills using OCR, to autoequip weapon attachments and armor, and so on, makes me think that you probably can finish the game at least on story difficulty. But the point of all of this is that it will be tough. It will be unfairly tough. I still think you should all play this amazing game, because I truly believe it is worth it in spite of all that, but you do need to be prepared for that. And while I don’t want to say this next bit, I will, because I cannot promise any resolution to these issues. If you can find your way to occasionally grab up some sighted assistance, preferably near a shop so you can upgrade, purchase, and equip all at once, then do it. That’s not the goal, to be clear. The goal is total blind accessibility without the need for sighted help. But unless things change, I do have to encourage the use of sighted help at least for this. Again, you can still make your way without it, and also again, you might even succeed if you do more content than I’ve done on my first playthrough, but a sighted person is not a bad thing to have in your back pocket here.
I think that about does it, at long last. In short, God of War: Ragnarok is absolutely the most blind accessible AAA game since the last of us, and manages to pull off amazing feats that even TLOU cannot boast. It has its issues, but it is a truly solid, competent effort. Every single patch since we received our codes for the game, (there have been 2), has improved accessibility along with everything else. This is why I have no trouble believing more improvements are definitely on the way, I just cannot say with absolute certainty what they will be. I hope you find enjoyment in this game. I hope you fall in love with it as I have in spite of its issues. I cannot wait to play more. Embodying these characters is the coolest, most fun thing I’ve done all year, and I still can hardly believe I get to do that every time I fire this masterpiece up. I hope for the future. I hope for tweeks. I hope for accessibility support that lasts as long as all other support for this game does. But even with the problems I have right now as a blind player, this game still truly shines as an example of an incredible accessibility effort. Thank you to Sony Santa Monica for doing what you have done to this game. Thank you for opening up this universe to us. I will forever be grateful for my chance to experience this as I have, no matter what happens next. And thank you, dear reader, for reading what I am fairly certain is the longest review I’ve ever written. I look forward to your reactions to this, and to the game itself once you get your hands on it. Now go. Go be the God of War!!!