Diablo 3: An Accessible Little Devil

Diablo 3, as you may or may not know, has been out for a long time. I mean a long, long time. Many, many years. Its PS4 release is more recent, but even that has existed for several years now. Nevertheless, for most of its existence, I never once tried to play it. Usually I am willing to try anything once, but I made the foolish mistake of dismissing it as an impossibility. “There’s nothing here that will help us,” I thought. “There’s no way we could get through this game. It’s all about the gear, and improving the gear, and leveling up, and the grind, there’s just no way.” I’m ultimately very happy to say that I was wrong.

It was my fiance’s idea, actually. She’s the one who suggested, after having played the game quite a lot herself, that I give Diablo 3 a try. We’ve lived together for some time, and she’s gotten used to my talk about accessibility, why certain games are and are not accessible to us, and what kinds of things we blind gamers are looking for. She was convinced that she had spotted things which definitely made Diablo 3 accessible. I was skeptical, but I gave it a shot, and boy was I surprised.

She had picked out a number of things. First, the movement was simplistic. You never have to jump in Diablo 3. There is 0 platforming. That’s actually an important issue. When we blind gamers are trying to figure out where to go, where and when we have to jump can really hinder our efforts. Keep in mind that we can’t actually see any platforms if they are there, so if one is required to progress, we may be stuck there until the end of time. Not so with Diablo 3.

Secondly, when you are walking along and run into a wall, the footstep sounds cease. This is also important, as many games keep that animation playing even as the character runs into a wall. We may not be able to see obstacles, but using this method, we know when we encounter one and thus need to change direction.

Third, monsters mean progress. Monsters in Diablo 3 don’t automatically respawn unless you reload the game. When they’re dead, they stay dead. So for the most part, if you’re encountering enemies, you’re probably going the right way.

Fourth, positional audio. Not only do the monsters themselves make noise in the appropriate surround sound channels, but so do dropped objects. If an item drops nearby, it actually isn’t too difficult to track the area where it dropped, and go pick it up. There can be some confusion when many, many items drop at once, which happens when you slay a rift guardian, but overall these things are extremely helpful to us.

Fifth, exits. This is something I noticed myself when I listened to her play the game, but didn’t think it was enough. Alone, it wouldn’t be, but with all these other things, the fact that entrances and exits to different areas make noise when you approach them is just another helpful addition. When you hear that hissing sound, you know that pressing X will take you somewhere else.

With these basic discoveries, I began playing Diablo 3 for PS4. Once I did, I made even more discoveries. For instance, certain world objects and items make their own ambient noise. This I found very strange, as I couldn’t really see a reason for it from a sighted gamer’s perspective. That’s not a complaint by any means, it just struck me as strange because I know Blizard didn’t consider the blind when making the game. There is a crafting component called Death’s Breath which, after it is dropped, has an ambient sound, making it easy for us to collect. The waypoint markers in each area also make a sound. If a demon Hunter class drops a century turret, that makes a sound too while it’s active, even when it’s not shooting at anything. These are really interesting sound design choices that, while nonessential for sighted gamers, are actually wonderful for us.

Next, shortcuts. Diablo 3’s story mode does an interesting thing. For context, you can use waypoints to teleport to different major map areas. In adventure mode, you have to specifically select a waypoint to teleport to once you are in the appropriate menu. Not in story mode, however. In story mode, the correct waypoint you need to proceed is automatically highlighted when you access the waypoint menu. Now that is convenience, and accessibility for us.

It goes further, though. I mentioned before that waypoints do make noise, but we figured out that you don’t actually need to find them. Like, ever. If you go to the map screen, which you can do by pressing Down on the directional pad, then press R1, you get an act map view, which is actually what the waypoint menu is. It gives you a map of the current act of the story you’re in. Once you’ve done this, if you’re playing story mode, the automatic highlighting shortcut works just as if you had clicked on the waypoint. That makes it super easy for us to progress to the next area, no matter where we are.

There are more things that I haven’t mentioned here, but I think I’ve gotten the overall point across. Diablo 3’s accessibility is not a simple thing, like Resident Evil 6’s is. It still requires lots of patience, and it requires you to pay attention. It is, however, workable if you combine all these things together. Gear and skills are still a problem at times, but if you’re really, really patient, you can actually use a free screen reader called NVDA to perform OCR, (optical character recognition), on the game with PS4 remote play. The results are generally good enough to figure out what gear you’re looking at, though sometimes the stat numbers don’t read very well. However, it works just fine if you’re trying to build a particular set, as reading the names of gear generally isn’t an issue.

There is a lot of information here, but at the same time there is a lot of room for discussion. While I’m personally happy to answer the questions of anyone who contacts me, I would also like to point you at my Youtube channel, where you can find videos of me actually demonstrating this stuff. Check out http://www.youtube.com/superblindman for that if you so desire. For now I will say that Diablo 3 is a fun, addictive game, even if you are blind. You may need or want a little help along the way, (I don’t blame you for asking a sighted person to help with gear rather than suffering through using Remote Play for instance), but I do not regret my many Diablo 3 adventures. My Paragon level 661 wizard can attest to that. Thanks for reading, everyone, and continue to be awesome!