FromSoftware games are notoriously difficult both in their gameplay and lack of notable accessibility options. They reward patience and persistence while simultaneously punishing players for making mistakes. Traditionally, these titles are filled with insurmountable barriers, especially for physically disabled individuals, but Elden Ring marks a notable shift in physical accessibility within the Souls series. Despite not featuring a plethora of togglable options, Elden Ring’s use of inclusive design makes it one of the most entertaining and physically accessible open-world games I’ve played in years.
In keeping tradition with FromSoftware titles, Elden Ring’s story and objectives are relatively vague. As a newly created Tarnished, players must collect Great Runes to restore the titular Elden Ring and bring peace to The Lands Between. Throughout your adventures, you will explore beautiful and haunting landscapes while defeating grotesque monsters. Even though this game features a new setting and new enemies, the objectives remain the same as previous entries: kill monsters, level up your character, find powerful items, and be prepared to die repeatedly.
As for traditional accessibility offerings, Elden Ring’s selections are admittedly underwhelming, especially when customizing controls. While I can rebind my keyboard keys and mouse buttons for most inputs, Elden Ring prohibits any function from being placed onto the ‘Tab’ or ‘Caps Lock’ keys. Because of my limited reach due to Spinal Muscular Atrophy type II, a neuromuscular disorder which progressively weakens my muscles over time, I can only use nine to 10 keys on the left side of my keyboard. By restricting the capability to rebind actions onto two of those keys, I lose roughly 20 percent of functioning buttons. To further create complications, players are only able to access their inventory, equipment, or craft items by pressing the ‘Escape’ key. And while certain actions feature double inputs, like ‘Shift’ and the ‘Scroll Wheel,’ any attempt to rebind them to two different keys or buttons will not work, meaning that physically disabled players will need multiple individual keys or buttons to perform moves or actions if they, like me, cannot regularly reach ‘Shift.’
Thankfully, Elden Ring helps to alleviate physical exhaustion from the inability to fully rebind inputs by offering a fantastic targeting system. Locking onto enemies is crucial in any FromSoftware game, and Elden Ring offers an option to automatically target a new enemy after the current foe is defeated. Players can also toggle an option to target enemies as soon as they land an attack. This feature especially helps to remove an extra input, though it’s not recommended for ranged abilities like magic. Furthermore, players can seamlessly target a different enemy by simply shifting the camera. Not only is this beneficial for ranged classes, but this system can also offer immense assistance for blind/low vision players, especially in incredibly dark areas like caves. However, its sensitivity when selecting new enemies can create confusing scenarios, especially when engaging large groups.
Aside from those options, Elden Ring offers standard subtitles, but only for spoken words and the ability to increase the brightness level. These options alone are not enough for people who are deaf/hard of hearing or people who are blind/low vision – though I cannot properly comment on their shortcomings because these disabilities are not part of my experience.
Yet, it’s Elden Ring’s accessibility for physically disabled players that truly shines – not within a menu, but through its overall gameplay and world. Elden Ring has some of the most inclusive design I’ve experienced in an open-world game. Yes, I’ve died an egregious number of times, but the amount of choice this game offers drastically reduces my levels of fatigue and exhaustion, especially with regards to customizing your character’s fighting style.
Like most Souls games, players are encouraged to design a character based on their gameplay preferences. Because I am unable to perform fast movements and properly execute parries, I opted to play as an Astrologer, and I’m continuing to use spells and upgrade my Intelligence as I level up. Magic is by far one of the friendliest sources of damage for physically disabled Tarnished like me. Not only do spells not require immense combos, but they also deal a large amount of damage at a safe distance. With the previously mentioned targeting system, I rarely need to make rapid movements when fighting because my character automatically targets the next enemy. Even though I use a shield, it’s nothing more than a last resort if an enemy happens to get too close.
When certain areas or bosses are too challenging, I often summon friends or AI companions called spirits. Unlike previous games, summoning is incredibly easy and usually encouraged by the game itself. From small caves to sprawling dungeons, Elden Ring by design expects the player to have some form of outside assistance. Part of the sheer joy I experienced while playing it was when my friends and I discovered sprawling underground regions or decrepit castles. And because I’m playing a traditionally lightly-armored and physically weak character, my friends or AI companions can soak up most of the damage while I do what an Astrologer does best — shoot things from afar with powerful spells. Yes, enemies and bosses still target me, but the added muscle makes inevitable deaths sting that much less. I know I will die, but I also know summoning gives me an accessible advantage by significantly reducing physical exhaustion and strain.
Elden Ring’s inclusive design shines most brilliantly in its open world. Traditionally in Souls games, players follow a relatively linear path with few places to explicitly train and level up. If a physically disabled individual like me dies along the path, sparse checkpoints mean I need to trek through the same route and risk dying to the same enemies.
Elden Ring has no explicitly set path. I spent the first 15 hours of my playthrough exploring completely optional areas, allowing me to collect powerful items, spells, and character upgrades like levels and spell slots. By the time I battled my first main story boss, I beat him in under 30 seconds on the first attempt. This level of power was virtually unachievable in previous Souls games. Yes, I’m spending hours grinding, but each new area I discover has its own objective and rewards, meaning there’s always a purpose in exploration. And if I happen to die during an optional area or boss fight, Elden Ring removes the unnecessary backtracking by adding checkpoints known as Stakes of Marika. By eliminating the need to backtrack, I have considerably more energy to continue playing and discovering the secrets of The Lands Between.
Elden Ring is incredibly inaccessible for a wide array of disabilities. But as a Souls veteran, its gameplay and world suits my needs and limitations more than most open-world games I’ve played in years. It demonstrates that accessibility is so much more than a menu riddled with options. I may die repeatedly, but its excellent implementation of inclusive design ensures I will become intimately familiar with the often unparalleled satisfaction of clearing one of its enormous areas or defeating a challenging boss. While it should be rightfully criticized for its accessibility blunders, it should also be praised for reinforcing the narrative that options alone do not make an accessible game.