Disability Game Review: Mass Effect Andromeda
In 2014 DAGERS awarded its Diamond Award to BioWare’s Dragon Age: Inquisition. Like other companies that focus on one genre of game, BioWare has 2 franchises that are stylistically different but mechanically similar when it comes to gameplay. So I was expecting that even though Mass Effect: Andromeda took place in space rather than Thedas that it would live up to the same standard of accessibility that BioWare set with Dragon Age: Inquisition. This expectation was sadly disappointed.
Before even getting into the different barriers that each type of disabled gamer will face, something needs to be said about the general accessibility of this title. For example; early on in the game players are tasked with breaking into a facility by disabling 5 generators. The generators are distinctive because of both their sound and physical appearance however I was stuck on this small segment for over an hour which should have taken three minutes at maximum since none of the generators are marked in your HUD and your quest tracker didn’t say how many you have left it activate. It turns out the game had bugged and an enemy had fallen through the ground meaning that the game did not register that I had completed all the objectives to gain access to the area that I needed. The only way I figured this out is by watching my squad mates blindly fire at the ground which then prompted me to reload my save which fixed the glitch. This is an extreme example but it is not the only example. Many reviewers have noted Mass Effect: Andromeda’s general lack of polish and unfortunately on several occasions during my playthrough what I thought were accessibility barriers were just bugs due to glitches in the games code. As a result of this lack of polish, most players, even those without disabilities will end up fighting the game rather than playing it and it has a negative effect on the games overall accessibility because when someone has to fight their body to play a video game the last thing they want to do is compound matters by having to fight glitchy code. If the bugs were the only problem, Mass Effect: Andromeda would be a reasonably accessible game but due some unfortunate design choices some disabled players are probably better off avoiding this title completely.
Those with impairments in their eyes will struggle most with Mass Effect: Andromeda. This is mainly due to a HUD system that is nearly illegible at any real distance. None of the in-game text has good contrast and most of the subtitles disappear among the light colored backgrounds of the games many alien environments. Even worse is the games compass. Not only is it confusing to use but it is also easily lost because it is made using thin lines and light colors that easily blend into the background. Combine this with the fact that icons are all roughly the same size and can pile up on each other if a player is facing a group of important locations, obscuring the one the player is looking for and it’s easy to see why all but the most diehard Mass Effect fans with visual impairments should completely avoid this game.
Unfortunately the visual problems are so severe that they bleed over into the games auditory accessibility. This is mainly due to the fact that the subtitles are hard to read even for me who does not have a diagnosed visual impairment. Players with auditory impairments may not be able to reliably read Andromeda’s subtitles even though they are thorough and do contain dialogue tags. Again, the bugs in Andromeda rear their head here. Often times subtitles popup for conversations that should not be within hearing distance. Giving the deaf player the impression that the NPCs around them are speaking when in reality they may be in the next room or area. Even some quests will be inaccessible because Andromeda uses sound and visual cues to tell the player when they are close to finding an objective but if the blinking visual indicator gets lost in the surrounding environment, players with hearing disabilities may have no way of completing some of the most important quests.
Thankfully the situation is a little better for players with fine motor impairments. Despite the games incredibly narrow controller customization, there is enough player customization that many players should be able to tailor Ryder’s skills to their needs. The players character can be built up in hundreds of unique ways with dozens of unique skills thanks to the new profile system which allows players to drastically switch playstyles by setting up different ability trees for different scenarios. However the inability to switch profiles efficiently mid-combat limits the impact this feature has on the games accessibility. The other strength of Mass Effect: Andromeda that feeds into its fine motor accessibility is the scope of its content. A player that is unable to complete one quest because of a series of complicated jump maneuvers is never at a loss for something else to do unless they get stuck very early on in the game. It’s a shame that the bugs are rather numerous and effect every area of accessibility so profoundly otherwise Mass Effect: Andromeda would be barrier free for players with fine motor impairments.
I am very disappointed to not be able to recommend Mass Effect: Andromeda especially because apart from its accessibility it’s a very fun and immersive game. For the reasons listed above I feel that this game would be a bad choice for most players with physical disabilities unless they were willing to put up with some very severe barriers.
Overall Rating: Partially Accessible
Visual Rating: Partially Accessible
Fine-Motor Rating: Thoroughly Accessible
Auditory Rating: Partially Accessible
Released For: PS4, Xbox One, PC
ESRB Rating: M