Before I begin, I want to stress to all my readers that I am, always have been, always will be, against racism, against transphobia, against homophobia, against persecution of any kind. That is who I am. I stand with nonbinary folks as well. Heck, I stand with the entire LGBTQIA+ community. This is fact. If you know me, you know this. That said, I have an imperative to write this document, not just because I am obligated to review the accessibility of games as part of what I do, but because of what I experienced today. This post will touch on both of these things. Let’s start with the review.
Right off the top, I have to inform the blind community that Hogwarts Legacy is not playable by the totally blind. While it does feature an accessibility menu, and some of the better narration in a game in recent memory, it is lacking in many features that would be necessary to make the game blind playable. I’ll break these down in a second. First, housekeeping. Thanks go to WB Games for providing me the review code for this product.
Upon launching Hogwarts Legacy, (I reviewed the PS5 version of the game), you are greeted to an initial setup screen and told via narration to press L2 if you want to actually enable reading of text. To be clear, this message plays for everyone. Pressing L2 here turns on narration, not pressing it leaves it off, although it’s one of the first options in this menu anyway, and is easy to rectify if you miss the L2 prompt. From here, you have the chance to adjust several settings, from accessibility to linking your WB account and more. Also it’s worth mentioning that, at least on PS5, narration is done by the PS5’s built-in TTS, which is actually fairly decent. It is at least a better TTS than the low-quality one used by many other games. You even have a few vocal choices. Even in the US you can choose either the American or British voices for your narration, which I found cool. It also has its own volume control, which is another plus. However, it is here that I must express the first negative.
Unfortunately, Hogwarts Legacy uses a combination thumbstick and D-pad menu system. It very much reminds me of Ubisoft’s early attempts at turning a cursor-based menu into a D-pad-controlled, snap to each item menu. The D-pad does work sometimes, but it won’t actually get you to every single option, and the thumbstick cursor must be used to actually peruse the entire screen. This creates several problems, including an extreme lack of screen awareness when it comes to changing certain options. When setting difficulty before I started my game, I pressed X on difficulty a couple times. Eventually, it said easy instead of normal, but then after moving around a bit more to try and find other options, I went back to difficulty and it said “hard.” This left me genuinely uncertain whether hard was the difficulty it was currently set to, or if it was the difficulty it would be set to if I pressed X. The moral of this story is one I’ve been spouting for years. Cursor menus suck, and they will continue to do so.
Next up, I have to say that, unfortunately, narration is incomplete, though perhaps not in the way you are thinking. The point at which it is supremely lacking is very specifically the character creator. I had to kind of move and mash my way through that as, while narration does read what I will call the headings, (hair style, face type, and so on), it does not read the options within these areas. And since it’s already hard enough to move through cursor-based menus where everything is read, this makes for some unfortunate interactions. I have no idea what I chose for anything except voice type, and only then because I heard it later. My character name is also gibberish because, on PS5, it uses that weird PS5 keyboard interface that doesn’t speak via PS5’s screen reader. However, we are about to talk about one good thing. Here goes.
Within the game itself, I daresay narration is quite good. I didn’t get very far, but first, your Hogwarts acceptance letter is narrated. Then, after the first cut scene, when you start receiving basic tutorial prompts for things like looking around, movement, and jumping, those are read by narration as well. I didn’t get far enough to be able to confirm for you whether dialog choices are also narrated, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they were. However, there is no form of navigational assistance of any kind, which in an enormous open-world game like this one is essentially the death nell for us. This is why I have reached the conclusion that the game is not ultimately playable by the totally blind. The game does contain several accessibility features including toggles versus holds, difficulty also affecting puzzles and not just combat, subtitle settings and so on. Also, the 3D audio does appear to have been done particularly well. However, it just isn’t enough.
Before I go, I want to talk about the why. Why am I writing this review despite the controversy surrounding the game? I am doing it because it is a part of who I am. Along with being an accessibility consultant, I am a respected member of the blind gaming community, trusted to provide helpful reviews that will inform whether or not the blind purchase, or do not purchase, both games and consoles alike. It is thinking exclusively of that responsibility that I wrote this review. There is a little more to it, though, which I’ll discuss now.
Full disclosure for the readers that don’t know, I worked on this game as a representation consultant, because there is a totally blind character and they wanted to get it right. When I took the job, what I saw was a chance to take something surrounded by this huge controversy, and make it just a little better than it would have been had I said no. That’s it. My entire career is based on making things better, and the hope that, by the time I leave this world, it is just a little better than it was before. I want to have affected the world that much. I am not in any way in denial of the issues surrounding this game. As I said earlier, I have supported, and will continue to support trans and nonbinary people. But I am firm in my belief that putting something good in the world is not bad, no matter where it is. Putting good things in the world is good. Even if some are of the belief that the very existence of this blind character is performative on WB’s part… So what? Blindness is almost never represented accurately in any media, not just video games. Maybe there is a lot wrong with this one, too, but do you know what isn’t wrong? The representation of blindness. And that is more than many, many pieces of media can say. Moving everything else to the side for a second, the blindness representation in Hogwarts Legacy could be a small step toward better portrayal of blind people in other games or media, and I absolutely stand by that. I believe I have done a good job. I believe in the quality of my work, and being perfectly honest, my work has already been complimented. I have already heard that the blind character is someone’s favorite, and I cannot be mad at that because of what game he happens to be in.
On the day I’m writing this, I was told by multiple people to act against my personal mission. And the craziest thing is, I almost gave in. Truly, I have no desire in my body to make anyone angry. I have no desire to even make anyone sad. I don’t want to “go against” anyone here. I want to make everybody happy. Of course, that is an impossible feat, but that’s who I have always been. I know that in reality, nothing I can say will convince some people my reasons were genuine, but I will just keep repeating that they were. I will keep doing what’s right, helping and supporting trans and nonbinary folks where I can, no matter what people think of me for this. I know who I am, and I believe what I have done is good, and that’ll have to be enough.
In summary, JK Rowling is a horrible human being who does not deserve to be elevated in the way transphobes are elevating her. Hogwarts Legacy is a game in a universe which she created, which is one of the most unfortunate things of all time. I worked on that game as a representation consultant, attempting to bring the blind community one more thing we don’t have much of, which is good representation. The game, however, is still not playable by the totally blind. And lastly but not leastly, I continue to care deeply about and support all LGBTQIA+ people. If you would like to support the Trans community as well, I present you with a link to a list of organizations you can donate to in order to do so. This list was put together by Gamespot, but seems pretty comprehensive, even linking to another list at the bottom. https://www.gamespot.com/articles/how-to-help-trans-people-by-donating-to-charity/1100-6511097/
Thanks for reading. I hope I have clarified my stance for some, and provided the blind community with the answers they were seeking. I will continue to do what I do, working hard to make games better and more accessible for the blind, and all disabled folks where I can. And while I stand by the specific work I did, Hogwarts Legacy is not my legacy.