The team over at EA was gracious enough to send me a PS4 review code for Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order as part of an accessibility study they were running. I have fond childhood memories of playing Star Wars: Jedi Knight, another melee combat game for the PC, so I eagerly jumped at the chance to try out this title. Unfortunately, for players with most physical disabilities, it is almost completely inaccessible.
The best accessibility experience in Jedi: Fallen Order is for players with hearing disabilities. The game features comprehensive narrative subtitles with both adjustable size and adjustable letter boxing opacity. The only slight gripe I have was that in their default setting, the subtitles can be difficult to read, which may result in missing a few of the opening statements if the player doesn’t remember to manually adjust them at the beginning of the game. It would be nice to see the subtitles set for maximum readability from the get-go and allow players to walk it back as needed.
The case is significantly worse for players with visual impairments. While there’s nothing in the game that seems to be communicated strictly through color, there is little excuse for the faded gray on black color scheme of the in-game text in addition to its small size. Even with my relatively healthy vision, I often found myself squinting my way through menus trying to find specific options to make the game more accessible. Combine that with the fact that the games holographic map system is hard to read at the best of times, and the case worsens. It’s clear that there was a concerted effort towards accessibility in some areas of JFO, but barriers like these seem to indicate that at best the accessibility was left unfinished.
This becomes abundantly evident when looking at the fine motor accessibility. Before I get into details, I want to be clear: Jedi Fallen Order plays like a Dark Souls game. It is meant to be fine motor intensive and require precision and timing to progress. This is not what makes it inaccessible. What makes it inaccessible are the hidden barriers that the player reasonably would not expect. Barriers like incredibly timing intensive traversal segments or Zelda-like puzzles that require timing so precise that they’re impossible to complete if the player suffers from any kind of muscle-lag like I do. What’s more, Jedi: Fallen Order features a candidate for the worst hidden barrier I’ve ever seen in a third person action game. Every time your character has to jump to a climbable wall, to initiate the climbing sequence, the player has to tap a button to avoid falling once they’ve made contact with the climbable surface. This in essence turns every instance of climbing into a quick-time event. To make matters worse, the easiest way to overcome this barrier would be to map the ‘climb’ button to the largest button on the controller, in my case, the PS4’s touch pad. Due to a bug, this was impossible. By default, the touch pad is used to access the map, and the controller customization menu allows for its dual mapping to both ‘climb’ and ‘map.’ However, when remapped in this manner, the map access is inexplicably absent, which is confusing since all other remappable buttons in JFO support multiple functions based on the context. The controller remapping in Jedi: Fallen Order appears extensive, allowing you to remap any function to any button on the controller (apart from ‘option’ and ‘share’), but after running into this bug, it’s unclear how actually comprehensive it is.
I want to be clear, its apparent that EA and Respawn tried to make Jedi: Fallen Order accessible. The accessibility of the combat is helpfully enhanced by a difficulty system that displays exactly what variables are being manipulated when you adjust it, such as incoming damage and the length of the timing window to parry and reflect blaster fire, but it does little to improve the overall case of accessibility. Players who pick this game up should be prepared by the game’s marketing for it to feature fine motor intensive combat. What many players won’t be prepared for is the fine motor intensive nature of the traversals and puzzles. In essence, what Respawn seems to have done, is use accessibility to undercut the game’s main selling point, its combat, rather than making it easier for players to enjoy the combat by ensuring that the less critical aspects of the gameplay are more accessible. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: Accessibility is not about difficulty, and making a game easier does not inherently make it more accessible. As a result, I can’t recommend this game to any but the most hardcore disabled Star Wars fans out there who are willing to slog through hours of difficult traversals, combat, and puzzles, with help, in order to fully experience Jedi: Fallen Order.