Elden Ring is a masterpiece, and that’s putting it mildly. Tight, addictive game design, haunting visuals and soundtrack, and an open-world system that’s downright compelling will probably mean it’s one of the greatest games of this generation, which is why it’s so heartbreaking seeing the levels of toxicity coming from corners of the game accessibility movement. Once again, some are screaming about easy modes and attacking From Software for supporting their vision instead of embracing one simple fact: Elden Ring is the most accessible game in its genre ever made.
Now, the bar on that previous statement is incredibly low. In fact, most gamers with fine-motor impairments should probably stay away from Elden Ring unless their conditions are slight. The reality is this game still relies on your ability to dodge, twitch timing, and other fine-motor intensive input methods. But, Elden Ring compensates for this, not through the implementation of Naughty Dog-esque features, but through intentional, flexible game design. My original plan when building my character was to go for a high-dexterity stealth and archery build whose main goal was to never stand toe to toe with an enemy, but this is only one path you can take. There’s casting, summoning, or even making your character so tanky that most bosses can barely scratch them. The key difference here is that Elden Ring is an open-world game where the other Soulsborne games aren’t. You can sit and grind and avoid a huge number of the available bosses to over-level to the point where you’re basically playing on a defacto easy mode. That kind of flexibility is exactly what these games needed.
To be honest, I deliberately reviewed this game on PC to give it the best chance of being accessible for my needs, and I was shocked to find out that not only is Elden Ring incredibly flexible, it also has almost completely remappable controls. This feature is not just relegated to the PC version. Based on my research, it appears you can remap almost all of Elden Ring’s controls, no matter what hardware you are on. The remappable controls and the wide amount of flexibility go a long way towards making this experience accessible for some gamers with fine-motor impairments. In fact, well-known voices in the movement like Grant Stoner are praising this game, not because it breaks new ground, but because it shows how From Software is trying, and that is something that should be praised.
The visual style of Elden Ring is bleak and gruesome, but again, here unfortunately, most gamers with visual impairments should probably steer clear. I found a lot of critical text to be too small and unscalable, but there’s still hope. One of the biggest criticisms by more extreme accessibility trolls was that Elden Ring hid information from you by not tracking quests or NPCs. Well, it appears that From Software has listened, because in a recent patch, they included an NPC tagging system that makes the game much easier to navigate for cognitively impaired players or even players who are just suffering from fatigue. If the developers are willing to patch that in, I could see in a future update some sort of text scaling system, but for now, I would suggest most players with low vision steer clear. On the other hand, nothing that I saw relied on the ability to see color, so this game shouldn’t pose a problem for players with colorblindness.
Deaf and hard-of-hearing players will have a very similar experience to other players with impairments in that it’s very clear that From Soft is trying. All the dialogue that I ran into is subtitled, but given the lighter nature of some of the game’s environments, the lack of letterboxing in favor of a simple dropshadow that blends into the bottom of the screen may make it easier for some players to lose some text. Combine that with the reality that some of the game’s best encounters require you to hear inanimate objects asking for help, and I could definitely see players with auditory impairments losing out on some of Elden Ring’s best moments.
The bottom line is that Elden Ring is not very accessible, but that’s not the point. The point is that From Software is trying, and that is laudable. It’s a game that I would recommend everyone try if they could, because it might surprise you, just as it surprised me.