Singing The Anthem Of Accessible Gaming
When EA and Bioware announced Anthem, an action/looter shooter, back in 2013 and again in 2017, I was hopeful for what promised to be a great game from a well-known developer. As time passed, I increasingly was forced to temper hopeful anticipation with a healthy skepticism, given some concerning recent trends in the closure of several of EA’s development studios due to average performance and a notable – and highly controversial – rise in microtransactions, particularly in EA’s case. Growing trends like these are making AAA title games less desirable every day. Given Bioware’s mixed reviews for Mass Effect Andromeda, many people see Anthem as the developer’s last gasp opportunity to recapture the hearts and minds of the gaming public. To their credit, Anthem shows a lot of promise with respect to gameplay and story.
Since there are plenty of reviews across the net about the content and play of the game, this review will focus on the accessibility features provided by the pre-release public beta make available a few weeks prior to its 22 February release date. In this arena, Anthem has some strengths, but ultimately suffers from some glaring issues in accessibility that make it notably inaccessible to a good portion of gamers. Our hope is that, between the beta and release, Bioware’s sprint to the finish includes adding in the missing accessibility features that have become the industry standard.
This accessibility review assesses three main categories: visual, auditory, and mobility features.
Visual accessibility features for Anthem are relatively extensive, but simultaneously somewhat problematic. The game features the standard three color blind options: protanopia (red-green, red sensitive), deuteranopia (green-red), and tritanopia (yellow-blue). Anthem’s method for applying the color blind options matches that of Doom and Call of Duty in that it creates a visual filter overlayed onto the game that shifts the entire color-space, menus included.
The overlay filter method of color blindness correction creates an unreal and somewhat jarring appearance to the game, which can be counterproductive for color blind gamers. With regard to this method, Gamers Experience notes the insufficiency of this method, “Compressing the entire color palette pushes hues away from the problematic areas and bunches them closely up against other hues, swapping color clashes for other color clashes.”
HUDs in the game can vary in opacity, which is more of a preference option than an accessibility option. One particularly absent feature in Anthem, in its beta state, is HUD scaling, making higher resolution gaming challenging for low vision gamers. While not usually a significant issue for console players, the inability to scale HUDs remains a perennial challenge on PC, since graphics cards regularly offer much higher resolutions.
Anthem has a balance of good and bad for its auditory accessibility features.
The good features for hard of hearing or deaf gamers include access to the subtitle options prior to any videos or gameplay, so you won’t miss any dialogue.
Next, subtitle options include language and font size, supporting those gamers with English as a second language and those with low vision who also rely on subtitles.
Third on the positive list, all subtitles indicate the speaker and are presented in white text with a black outline on top of a translucent grey background.
That said, the subtitles have some problems. When on top of certain game environments, the subtitle background translucency can sometimes reduce contrast in the subtitles, making them a little difficult to read at a quick speed.
Similar to the HUD resizing issue noted above, the subtitle font size options, which include small, medium, and large, all appear relatively small at high resolutions.
Finally, for online play, team communication is currently voice-only. A recent discussion with Bioware developers on Reddit suggests text-based chat (and other features) may make it to the final version by publication – or may not. Still, it’s reasonable to expect a basic chat function on release, so we’ll be looking for that.
On the positive side for mobility features, Anthem offers extensive mouse/keyboard remapping on the PC version, which is a core component of basic mobility accessibility.
Overall, there are a few problems with Anthem’s mobility options. First, in my review of the beta, I was unable to find options to remap a controller. For those gamers with mobility issues relating to controls, my experience in Anthem required quite a few buttons between the keyboard and mouse to play effectively. Unless you have a 12-16 button mouse or another setup allowing for easier key access, one-handed gamers will find Anthem to be a bit challenging and possibly a bit frustrating.
Second, the absence of mouse sensitivity adjustment while in the hub areas makes control of character movement or look direction difficult without an input device that allows for DPI adjustment.
As a whole, Anthem proved to be a highly enjoyable experience, rife with intense action and a satisfying flight mechanic and combat system that rewards strategic positioning. From a gameplay standpoint, Bioware justified my initial hopeful anticipation and, at least in the beta, helped allay my skeptical concerns. That being said, the many glaring flaws in the implementation of accessibility features hold Anthem back from receiving a high score in this review.
- Poor implementation of color-blind filters (screen overlay method)
- No HUD resizing
- Decent subtitles that indicate the speaker
- Resizable subtitles (with some issues for higher resolution screens)
- Challenges with subtitle contrast in various game environments
- Good keyboard/mouse remapping
- Controller remapping functions missing
- Issues with low control sensitivity, making movement difficult