Originally released for the PS4 back in 2018, Santa Monica Studio’s God of War reboot saw the titular character, former God of War Kratos, attempt to provide a better and safer life for his son, while journeying to deliver his wife’s ashes to be scattered from a distant mountaintop.
Released a couple of years before The Last of Us 2, which saw Sony’s first party studios considerably step up the level of accessibility seen in their titles, the 2018 God of War honestly features very little in the way of accessibility features, beyond some incredibly bare bones settings offerings.
This is in part why it was really exciting to hear, back in the summer of 2022, that the sequel, God of War: Ragnarok, was going to feature more than 60 accessibility features and settings on release day.
Now, both PlayStation, and Santa Monica Studios, have been unfortunately tight-lipped about exactly which settings are, and are not, making the cut for Ragnarok in the run up to the game’s release. However, I have recently received an early review copy of the game, and as such can now give you an in depth breakdown, and review, of the settings you’ll be able to find in the game on release day.
My initial thoughts after a couple of days with the game? God of War: Ragnrok is a huge step forward in accessibility for the series that pushes PlayStation first party accessibility forward in some key ways, without quite doing enough to become a new benchmark title for accessibility standards.
There are a few settings that are missing that I would have liked to see implemented, or a few settings whose implementation wasn’t quite perfect, but this title still stands head and shoulders above 99% of what the mainstream video game industry is currently accomplishing in terms of accessibility standards.
So this week, on Access-Ability, we’re going to be breaking down all of the major accessibility settings found in God of War: Ragnarok. We’re going to talk about which settings are present, which settings are missing, and which settings are implemented in ways that definitely leave room for improvement.
When first booting up God of War: Ragnarok, it’s clear that Santa Monica Studio have taken a lot of inspiration from the accessibility settings offerings implementation seen in The Last of Us Parts 1 and 2 from fellow PlayStation studio Naughty Dog, while pushing forward a few positive optimisations of their own to streamline overall user experience.
When first booting up Ragnarok, players will be met with a simple screen, allowing for one of two setup experiences on first boot.
Players who don’t need any accessibility settings switched on can opt to simply calibrate their screen and jump right to the main menu without delay, while gamers with accessibility needs can opt for Guided Setup, a pathway that, much like The Last of Us, takes players through a series of in depth menus to calibrate their accessibility experience on that first boot up.
This pair of optional paths allows for the “accessibility customisation from first boot” support that was seen in The Last of Us, but manages to also offer a quick skip solution for players who want to get quickly to the game with its default settings, a really smart compromise.
Screen reader support is switched on as default for this first menu screen, with a single button press allowing for the setting to be switched on permanently going forward throughout the setup process.
If you select Guided Setup, players will first be greeted with a series of common settings choices, many of which are useful for players outside of those with a disability, or those who may not think of their particular needs as being accessibility needs.
These common settings cover things such as text and speech language, User Interface text size (which is separate from subtitle and caption text size, and guarantees a minimum size for all text found anywhere in the game), subtitle settings which are on as default, inverted vertical look control, the ability to switch repeated button taps into holds, some lock-on camera options, traversal assist options, and auto pick up settings.
I want to dig into a few of those settings in a bit more depth before we move on, because the degrees of support offered are important to dig into.
Lock on camera, as default, allows you to lock onto an enemy, but breaks that lock when an enemy target dies, when the player starts aiming a weapon, or when enemies use certain special moves. Auto Target, the next setting up, changes things so that lock-on persists and switches to a new target after an enemy dies. It also reaquires that lock-on if it’s broken by a move, and allows flicking between enemies to lock onto using your analogue stick. Lastly, Auto Target+ adds off screen enemy targeting to the mix, allowing you to always find the next target available to fight.
This example of tiered accessibility support persists across a lot of the settings found in Ragnarok, with a default setting, a next setting up that improves accessibility within conventions of other video games in similar genres, with a final top end option which goes further than that, and maxes out the accessibility offered.
The same degrees of support are also seen in Traversal assist, which at the top end maps vaulting, mantling, jumping gaps, descending ledges, crawls, presses, and climbs all onto the left analogue stick, and auto pickup, which at the top end picks up health and rage stones, hacksilver, resources, and loot drops automatically.
Then, after the common settings, God of War Ragnarok offers players a series of accessibility presets, covering Vision, Hearing, Motion Reduction, and Motor categories, each with detailed explanations of the settings they impact.
However, in another area where this exceeds The Last of Us, each accessibility preset comes in two varieties, “Some”, and “Full”.
If you, for example, need some support due to a motor control disability, but not every single option set to full, there is a partial preset which you can look through, and see if it might be more useful for your specific needs.
From there, if you want to fine tune your accessibility settings, or simply find your needs change from one play session to the next, you’ll be happy to know that, alongside allowing you to dive into a dedicated and in depth set of settings menus to manually tweak your options, you’ll also find that there is an accessibility presets option directly on the main menu screen, allowing for quick swapping between presets without having to find that option buried in settings.
Honestly, I really think that God of War: Ragnarok does create a new standard for how AAA video games should be onboarding players, where possible, with accessibility settings offerings. Setup is skippable for players who want to get quickly into the experience, but laid out clearly and cleanly on first boot for those players who need them.
A variety of common settings and layered degrees of preset are available, but you’re not expected to dig through every single deep dive setting to get to the main menu screen, if the presets already meet your needs. It’s a really elegant setup solution, and I really hope that other games look to this for inspiration.
With that out of the way, let’s dig into the main settings menu, and see what settings are on offer, for players looking to fine tune their accessibility experience.
Starting in the gameplay settings menu, players can switch on aim assist of varying degrees, either for combat, or separately for puzzle objectives that require aiming throws. Puzzles reliant on timing can be slowed down, camera lock-on can be tweaked as previously discussed, and camera behaviour can be altered, to do things like tracking groups of enemies when strafing.
There are also a whole host of granular gameplay tweaks available, from automating item pickup as earlier mentioned, to making menu button hold prompts faster, minigames can be switched from precision analogue stick movements to simple button presses, repeated button presses can be switched to holds, skill tree navigation can be switched to directional button presses, traversal can be mapped entirely to the left analogue stick, tutorials can be altered in density, and weapon sheathing can be mapped in different ways.
However, there is one setting in this menu I want to discuss in more depth, navigation assistance.
Navigation Assistance is a setting introduced in The Last of Us 2, that was pivotal in allowing partially sighted and sightless blind players to better navigate that game. Players could click the right analogue stick to be pointed toward plot progress, with modifiers allowing them to instead be navigated toward enemies, or collectables.
Players could click in the stick, be pointed toward progress, hear a ping to confirm that they had turned, then walk forward, hearing a distinct separate ping when they’d walked far enough in that direction, and needed to orient themselves again to walk in a new direction.
Navigation Assist in God of War: Ragnarok works similarly, but is inferior in a couple of key ways.
Firstly, the setting only navigates the player toward plot progress, and does not feature a way to selectively navigate instead toward collectables. Additionally, this implementation of Navigation Assist does not feature the distinct second audio ping, to inform the player when they’ve walked as far as needed in the assigned direction.
Without that second ping, players will either need to regularly ping as they walk to keep themselves oriented correctly, or rely on a degree of partial sight to navigate, so that they know when they need to reorient themselves. The system is fundamentally similar to the one seen in The Last of Us, but is clearly not designed to facilitate the same degree of sightless blind player support.
In addition, the quality of the pathfinding for navigation assist in Ragnarok is inferior to its implementation in The Last of Us, and is a lot more prone to trying to navigate the player as the crow flies, leading to at times getting stuck on geometry if relying exclusively on the feature for orientation on a path toward progress.
To be clear, the setting is still going to be very useful for a lot of groups of players. I myself find it really useful as a player with aphantasia to help keep track of where I am in an environment, but the feature is less fleshed out here than it is in its closest comparison titles.
From there, we move into touchpad shortcuts, a feature I’m really glad to see returning.
Players can assign four different touch-pad cardinal directional swipes to control High Contrast mode toggling, HUD visibility toggles, navigation assist, as well as game commands such as Spartan rage activation, quick turn, and shield strikes. I will get into High Contrast Mode in a bit more depth later, but the important thing to know for now is that it can be mapped to touchpad swipes, unlike Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart at release, and functions in all cutscenes if desired, not just during gameplay.
Lastly for the gameplay section, Ragnarok features a series of HUD customisation options, including visual indicators for where certain thrown objects will bounce, controller visualisation (which shows an outline of a controller on screen and highlights buttons and sticks being pressed or rotated in real time, for players who benefit from visual confirmation of their inputs being correctly recognised), a persistent and customisable centre screen dot of varying sizes and colours, and customisable HUD elements.
Moving to Graphics and Camera, players can reduce film grain and motion blur, as well as reducing the degree and severity of full screen flashing effects in game. Ragnarok does not make any promises of fully removing full screen flashes, simply reducing them.
Rotation speed and aim sensitivity can be tweaked, and both ambient camera sway, and camera shake, can be reduced
For players who find motion controls personally more comfortable, or easier than analogue sticks, motion aiming is an option that’s available, with several degrees of customisation.
Moving onto the Audio and Subtitles menu, players can manually tweak the volume of dialogue, music, sound effects, and controller speaker sounds. Additionally, options exist to adjust the balance of panned audio, for players with reduced hearing in one ear like myself, or to turn all audio to mono, for players with complete hearing loss on one side. Dialogue can be set to centre pan, to make sure it’s never panned to an ear with reduced hearing, and can be boosted in the audio mix overall, to help make it clearer and cleaner in the overall mix, at the potential detriment of music and sound effects losing a little clarity.
Subtitles and captions are available as separate settings toggles, with a really nice degree of customizability. Subtitle dialogue colour can be customised, separately from speaker name colour, and non-dialogue caption colours, allowing for players to at a glance differentiate between all three different types of information that a line of text on screen might be conveying. There are also options for direction indications, subtitle size alteration separate from and larger in size than UI text, subtitle and caption background opacity, and whether or not the game blurs behind captions. You can also see ALL of these settings changes preview in real time as you make those changes, which really helps with getting these settings choices correct at first setup.
In the Text and Colour menu, players can tweak UI text size, Icon Size, turn on a high contrast HUD, select colour blindness filters, alter the colourblindness filter strength, and change the colour of UI elements to colours that are more friendly to colourblind players of varying kinds.
This is also the menu where we first encounter High Contrast Mode properly, which comes with a whole host of pros, and a couple of cons, compared to other implementations of the feature.
God of War: Ragnarok features a number of different presets for high contrast mode, designed for different kinds of users. There is a general default setting, three different presets designed for colourblind users, one focused on highlighting collectables, one that primarily highlights dangerous enemies, and one focused on supporting players for whom changes in game lighting present visibility challenges.
God of War: Ragnarok does allow for really nice degrees of granular tweaking of colours for high contrast mode game elements, with choices of 14 different colours available, and high contrast mode can be set to be active during cutscenes, with the ability to toggle on and off with a touchpad swipe, which is all really appreciated features.
However, the game also features the least vibrant, and dare I say least high contrast, implementation in any first party PlayStation title.
It’s tricky to articulate quite what about this implementation differs from other PlayStation titles. At first, I thought the colours chosen were less vibrant, but I don’t think that is actually the case. The colours are, if anything, just a lot more susceptible to lighting changes in the world, while not being placed on as dark of a contrasting backdrop. They are not consistently lit, independent of the scene or location of the character, meaning that in dark scenes, the high contrast character models will appear a lot more dark, and in light scenes they will be a lot brighter.
This causes some colours, such as the default high contrast colour for NPC companions, to appear at times washed out and hard to see against bright grey backgrounds, or causes darker shades, such as the deep blue default for the player character, to become hard to see when in shadow.
There were times playing God of War: Ragnarok where it was genuinely easier to see characters by momentarily switching off high contrast mode, as their default appearance was easier to see, a situation which ideally should never occur with this setting. Thankfully, being able to toggle high contrast mode on and off with a touch-pad swipe helps to mitigate this, but it’s still unfortunate.
High Contrast Mode’s inclusion in Ragnarok is undoubtedly a step forward for the series, and I am glad it’s here, but its implementation doesn’t stand toe to toe with other PlayStation titles that include the feature.
God of War: Ragnarok’s Controller Remapping menu, as expected, contains full controller remapping support, as well as a series of alternative presets, and multiple custom slots, so that you can sawp betwen different control presets without messing up one that you’ve previously made.
Ragnarok’s accessibility menu largely consists of settings found across the above mentioned menus, with a smaller selection of accessibility focused settings collected together into a singlular menu, alongside the game’s preset options.
There are, however, a few unique options in this menu.
Audio cues can be switched on by navigating to this menu, as well as screen reader support if not previously selected, with both able to be audio level customised.
Evasion style can be altered, with an option to add additional invincibility frames while evading, on all but No Mercy and God of War difficulties. You can also get mid miniboss checkpoints on all but the top two difficulties, which function similarly to those found in Pokemon Legends: Arceus. If you can get a miniboss down to a set health threshold, before dying and restarting, that progress will be maintained on restart. For example, if you die while a miniboss is at half health or lower, you may restart to find it still at half health.
Beyond that, the game contains a glossary of audio cues, for partially sighted blind players to learn individual sound effects, an admittedly bare bones recap of the original 2018 God of War, and five difficulty mode options, which can be altered once you’ve already begun playing, each described by how they balance combat difficulty compared to story priority.
In terms of last things to note, while God of War: Ragnarok did recieve one audio described trailer prior to release, the finished game does not feature audio descriptions. As limited as The Last of Us: Part 1’s implementation of this feature is, that level of support is not yet seen in Ragnarok.
However, in one area where Ragnarok does outdo The Last of Us, with audio cues turned on, any time an in game prompt requires an analogue stick to be pushed in a specific direction, the game will use text to speech to inform the player which direction, even if text to speech itself is not switched on as a general setting, which is really useful.
While I’ve certainly not had time to finish playing through God of War: Ragnarok at the time of making this video, I have had plenty of time to get a sense of how I feel about the accessibility settings on offer, and the quality of their implementation in game.
Put simply, God of War: Ragnarok is a huge step forward in accessibility for the series. The level of accessibility support seen in this game easily puts it in similar company to games like The Last of Us: Part 2, and Spider-Man: Miles Morales, head and shoulders above most of this industry’s output, even if it’s not quite positioned to replace The Last of Us: Part 1 as my AAA accessibility reference point.
There are things that Ragnarok, right now, does better than any other game in terms of its accessibility support. Its onboarding process is basically perfect, accessibility presets on the main game menu are wonderful to see, and degrees of preset are really nice additions to the formula that Naughty Dog established, but the game lacks in a few places, mainly in the vibrancy of its high contrast visuals, the less in-depth implementation of navigation assist, and the lack of newer features such as Audio Descriptions.
When talking about God of War: Ragnarok’s level of accessibility support, I want to put it in proper context. Sure, the game will be more accessible down the line if it gets ported to PC and opened up to controllers such as the Xbox Adaptive Controller, and it’s not doing quite as much as our current industry benchmark in terms of supporting sightless play, but when those are the biggest complaints that I could find to levy, that still puts Ragnarok right up their with the handful of key examples that other game developers should be looking toward for inspiration on how to be more accessible.
There are places that the game could be improved post release, but Ragnrok is still an incredibly impressive leap forward for the series, bringing many accessibility standards to the forefront, and pushing forward new standards I hope other developers learn from.