God of War and Accessibility in Games

Santa Monica’s God of War (2018) made a franchise fan out of me, and I was eager for the sequel, God of War: Ragnarök, that released late last year. Wanting to deepen my experience with the game (and since I was preparing myself to play the infamously difficult Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice for my podcast Hey I Like That Game) I selected the game’s hardest difficulty, “Give me God or War”. in addition to improving enemies’ abilities, series protagonists, Kratos and Atreus, have their powers reduced to make them just a bit less godly. Every combat encounter brings the potential of a game over, exploring the entire world is mandatory to get the best gear… and I loved every moment of it. Then again, i’m a physically capable person as well as an experienced gamer; the need for features like, “story mode” (aka easy mode), colorblind settings, and advanced auto-aim aren’t especially relevant to me. So, it might surprise you to learn my newfound obsession with each of those features, often referred to as “accessibility” settings.

Ragnarök joins games like The Last of Us 2 as gold standards for accessibility in console games. Subtitles and colorblind-friendly interfaces are just the beginning for modern accessibility settings, with Ragnarök supporting over 70 different features. These features empower gamers who are unable to use standard controls, have visual/auditory impairments, who are prone to motion sickness, and more, customize the game in a way that makes it more playable and fun. These accessibility options also open up Ragnarök more for outwardly able-bodied gamers, most prominently in the game’s difficulty setting. Choosing between easy, medium, or hard is usually the first accessibility option that players see. It allows them to tone down the complexity of the game if they cannot, or do not want to, engage with it. God of War Ragnarök offers five difficulty settings accompanied with a brief description of what to expect with each level. Phrases like “for those who just want to enjoy a story” or, conversely, “for those who want the game as difficult as possible” show that the developers can communicate these options to players and trust them to use those tools to have fun with games they may not otherwise play.

Aside from selecting the game’s difficulty, Ragnarök breaks down the individual components of the game and gives the player control over it. If timing is difficult for you, there’s a setting to omit timing-based challenges from puzzles, levels of precision in auto-aiming help gamers with who struggle to hit weak points with the Leviathan Axe, and the list goes on. These options are empowered through communication and excellent UI/UX implementation giving players control to optimize the game in ways they prefer, such as increasing subtitle size, auto-sprint, and disabling quick-time events. However, adding accessibility features also requires the investment of time and capital on the part of developers, and how many players are going to buy the game because of these efforts? With ballooning game development costs, it is reasonable to question the commercial necessity of accessibility options in games, as well as the integrity of giving players the ability to change an artistic vision. There is a clear social good to including accessibility options, but the lack of research on outcomes and cost of implementation might give some developers pause.

Several months after God of War: Ragnarök’s launch, it is a bone fide hit; critically acclaimed and beloved, but perhaps its most impressive feat is it pushes the standard for accessibility in video games. What’s left to answer are the implications for the industry at large, and how much more desirable accessibility options make a given title. The expectations of gamers have already been heightening in regards to graphics, gameplay, and story, but will those expectations hold true for accessibility too?

By: Jake Freund

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