God of War has a major accessibility problem
God of War is one of the best games to come out this year so far. Its graphically beautiful, has an amazing soundtrack, a gripping narrative, and its mechanics walk a fine line between strategically deep and mindlessly fun. Sony Santa Monica Studios did an amazing job and we hold it in high regards. It’s a shame, then, that there is an entire group of people out there who will never be able to enjoy it.
You see, God of War is yet another modern game of the 4K era that is reducing its accessibility for the sake of graphical fidelity. What I’m referencing here is its text. Whenever we take a step up in resolution it means that, technically, designers can include smaller fonts while still making them readable. This is something that all 4K enabled games seem to be doing, and for a good reason. Smaller text means less of the action on screen is obscured, so it should make the game more immersive.
This would be fine if we were all playing God of War on 4K monitors or big screen 4K TVs, but we aren’t. Some of us are still playing it on modest 1080p TV sets in their living room. Sitting this far away from the screen makes God of War’s tiny text nearly impossible to read, especially if your eyesight is less than perfect.
It’s a shame because it’s clear that the design team thought long and hard about how to make their game as accessible to as many people as possible. There’s even an accessibility options menu that can tweak everything from the difficulty of quick time events to the way the controller rumbles.
A recent patch added in the ability to make the text larger. Unfortunately, as Kotaku points out, this doesn’t really increase font size. It just magnifies the text, and only slightly.
Judge for yourself. Here is a screencap at default settings.
And here is a screencap at maximum magnification.
It’s not much of a difference, certainly not enough to help anyone with a vision problem.
Granted, the PS4 itself has accessibility options that allow you to zoom the screen whenever you like, but it’s incredibly tedious to read each and every bit of text in the menu that way.
What’s particularly annoying about this problem is that it’s a problem that we introduced into our games for really no good reason. When we weren’t capable of displaying games in high resolution we made text larger just so that it could be readable. Text has only gotten smaller because we have been able to make it smaller, which seems backward.
It’s not as if there isn’t space for bigger text either. Look at those screenshots again. Look at all the blank space on the page. Look at all the blank space in the menu boxes. Increasing the font size a bit wouldn’t ruin the layout.
However, this isn’t going to be easy to patch either. Accessibility options like this usually have to be considered early on in development. Without creating a system that allows for an easy font size increase, lots of aspects of the menu system could break.
An industry issue
So I’m not ragging on Sony Santa Monica for not fixing this in a patch. I’m ragging on them for making this an issue in the first place.
Granted, I shouldn’t single-out God of War here. Almost every game build for 4K resolution has had the same problem. Ni No Kuni II, for example, has barely readable menus and even worse in-game subtitles. Since not every line in this game is voice acted, the tiny text makes it very easy to miss important plot points.
Far Cry 5, another blockbuster release of the year had similarly small text both in subtitles and menus. Though, it didn’t have quite as many stats to worry about as God of War does, it’s still a shame that central part of the U.I. is unreadable.
We have seen this problem once before. In the PS3 era, many games reduced their text size to the point where they were readable in 720 and 1080p, but unreadable on CRT monitors. This put economic pressure on gamers to upgrade their TVs for an enjoyable gameplay experience. I would argue, however that this type of economic pressure isn’t exactly ethical, especially because it exploits people who are visually disabled.
It’s usually at this point where I start theorizing about ways that the game industry could fix whatever problem I just ranted about, but there’s really nothing to theorize here. We have the technology to increase font size without breaking menu layouts. We have made menus with large font sizes for ages, stretching back to the early days of the NES. This isn’t something we need to fix. This is just something we need to not break.
Unfortunately, I have to recommend playing God of War on a PS4 Pro with a 4K TV if you are going to get any enjoyment out of it. Either that, or play it on a monitor that you can sit very close to. Even then, you are in for some massive eyestrain.
Though it says something about the quality of God of War that I can enjoy it, even though I have to get up from my couch and walk closer to the screen any time I enter the menu or read a piece of lore.