Update: The following update isn’t one I’ve been looking forward to writing, but it is a necessary one. I have been informed, and then subsequent tests confirmed, that the Snap Focus feature for menu navigation in Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla does not, in fact, work even half as well as I believed it did. The worst part of this for me personally is that if you’re blind, it’s almost impossible that you would even detect one of the problems with the feature. While you can move through menus with relative ease by flicking the left thumbstick up and down with focus navigation enabled, you can only move through the items that are currently on screen. Multiple menus, especially in the settings area, can be scrolled down for more options, which you must do with the right thumbstick. Knowing that, I can reach the rest of the available options, options I never even knew existed before, but this is obviously a serious problem. There is no indication whatsoever that we need to scroll, or that there are in fact more options. Furthermore, when you click on any item that has multiple selectable options, like Aim Assist which has 3, you must first move the left thumbstick to the right before you can actually scroll through the choices. I didn’t catch this before because I’m kind of terrible with thumbstick and have a tendency to veer, thus I am pretty sure I just accidentally happened to press right. But careful testing has confirmed that just trying to move up or down in one of these choice menus yields nothing until you press right first. Again, there’s nothing which tells us we have to do this. I apologize for touting this feature as good, because clearly it needs a lot more work.
Additional update: The collision detection sound doesn’t seem to work at all on PS5. The option is there, and I have it activated, but I haven’t heard it since I tried the game on PS4.
Updates end here. My original impressions are below.
Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla is, without question, the largest leap forward in accessibility from Ubisoft to date, and there’s no doubt in my mind that it only gets better from here. Sadly, the plethora of awesome accessibility features isn’t quite enough to make this particular game playable by the blind, but what has been done here definitely deserves recognition. Let’s discuss.
I want to start this review with the menu navigation. Valhalla boasts an awesome solution to Ubisoft’s now typical cursor-based menus. You can enable a focused navigation feature, wherein the cursor will snap to the next option depending on which direction you move the thumb stick. This is awesome, and makes navigation as simple as it should be. However, there is a pretty major problem with this feature as well. That problem is… enabling it. It’s not enabled when narration is, and it’s not even in the starting setup screen. You have to go into options and find and enable it yourself, which means you have to use the cursor-based navigation until you get lucky enough to find this option. (It’s under Interface, for those who are curious). Personally, I don’t think this should be attached to an option. Leave the cursor navigation on the thumb stick, but make the snap feature work if the D-pad is used instead. I can’t speak for all blind folks, but I tend to use the D-pad in menus anyway. Still, all that said, once enabled, the feature works well.
Secondly, the narration. As predicted, the narration is pretty great. It can read all menus outside the game, and multiple in-game UI elements, including the map, once again as predicted. Quests and their descriptions are included as well, which is great. However, it’s worth mentioning that the snap navigation that works in most menus does not function on the map. So, while everything seems to be narrated, you do have to move manually around the map. This is not, therefore, the seamless blend of narration and UI design I was hoping for to create an accessible map view for us. But yes, overall, the narration itself, taken on its own merits, is great.
Now, let’s talk audio cues. There are a lot of them. Seriously, you’d be surprised, though mostly you’d be surprised if you hadn’t checked out my earlier coverage. But yeah, it’s worth noting just how many of these things exist in Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla. And the best part is, most of them don’t even have to be enabled. I said this during my preview, but it bears repeating. Ubisoft has decided to have these audio cues on by default, for everyone. Why not? They’re unobtrusive, they’re easy to ignore if you’re not listening for them or don’t need them… Why not? There are audio cues for enemies and items when using Oden’s Sight, there are audio cues for incoming attacks so you can effectively dodge, there are audio cues for entering new areas, discovering enemies, finding important collectables… It’s a lot! However, there is one brand new one that I didn’t know about.
This brand new audio cue must be activated in the options menu under accessibility, and creates collision detection for the blind. With this enabled, you can tell when you’re walking into an object you can’t move past, such as a wall. This feature is quite nice, and completely honestly, did enable me to get through the intro of the game, which takes place during a gathering of sorts. The collision detection sound combined with the environmental sounds around me was enough to push my way through in that case, and I was quite pleased. Even more kudos to Ubisoft.
Lastly, let’s talk generally about how I did in the game using these and other features. As I said in the beginning, the game isn’t fully blind playable, despite its great strides. Collision detection is only going to get you so far in the massive, open, climbable, swimmable, sailable world that is Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla. Furthermore, the automovement feature, which specifically applies to roads and rivers, does nothing at all when not on those things, so no easy navigation to your objective. I wasn’t able to see how well full aim assist worked as I only entered combat once and managed to rush the guy, but I imagine it works just as well as Fenyx Rising’s aim assist, so that’s probably a positive. The point, though, is that there’s still work to be done to make open world games blind playable. However, with all of these wonderful things Ubisoft has done, even so far, I know that we’ll see it happen eventually. Thanks all for reading, and stay awesome!