Disabled gamer and YouTuber Steve Saylor has received backlash after claiming that Elden Ring’s difficulty was an accessibility issue.
RELATED: Bandai Namco Says They’re Working To Fix Elden Ring Performance Issues
Saylor, who is partially blind, shared his opinion during a recent conversation regarding what he saw as Elden Ring’s lack of accessibility options with journalist and fellow accessibility advocate Grant Stoner.
In the video, uploaded to his channel on March 1st, Saylor critisizes Elden Ring for having no menu narration, a text size and font that’s difficult to read, and a lack of options for making subtitles more visible.
Saylor also criticized how there are “no visual indicators for any enemy that’s attacking you from behind or the side,” and no navigational assistance. However, he later states that Grace can point to where you need to go, but that leads to “one of the toughest bosses in the game.”
He also claims item descriptions “cognitively” don’t make sense, that players can skip the tutorial completely “by accident” as it doesn’t take you through by default, the parrying system can be “finicky,” and dodging is merely “OK, but can be improved.”
RELATED: Critic Scores Give FromSoftware’s Elden Ring High Praise
Another issue Saylor had was how it’s possible that the first boss players could encounter in the game’s first area could be an “end game” boss.
“As a new player you have no idea if you are actually going to able to defeat that boss or it’s something you actually have to go through first in order to be able to get to access more of the open-world,” Saylor explained.
Assuming this boss is the Tree Sentinel, it could be argued that this boss being present in the first area is a way to teach players that the world is populated with terrifyingly powerful foes, many of whom you can come across before you’re ready to fight them or can provide an extra challenge for those who wish to tackle the battle early.
Regardless, the boss is in an open field, and players can use stealth to avoid the battle if they wish.
RELATED: The Verge’s Ash Parrish Claims Elden Ring’s Lack Of Black Hair Options “Fails Its Black Players” And “Reinforces A Culture of Exclusion”
Saylor did eventually relent that Elden Ring has an auto aim option, praising how ranged attacks hit “95% of the time” without the need to aim yourself. Though, even then, he took issue with how the lock-on can switch targets as multiple enemies run around and pass in front or behind of one another.
While the YouTuber also criticizes the map as being a “mess” that gives players no idea of where to go, he later stated that if a player does decide to explore and run into trouble, they will “have no idea if you’re hitting a wall, [whether it’s] your disabilities getting in the way, or if its just that boss is really tough and you need to go back at a certain point.”
Saylor also took issue with the lack of a quest log, arguing that he shouldn’t need to make physical notes to keep track of his progress.
As the conversation progressed Stoner then argued that, based on his prior discussions with accessibility experts from Microsoft, Ubisoft, and Square Enix, accessibility and difficulty modes are the same thing, further asserting that ‘easy modes’ are a form of accessibility tool.
In addition, Stoner championed that there should be no shame in using a game’s easy mode, nor should anyone “gatekeep it for being in a game.”
RELATED: Elden Ring Director Explains FromSoftware’s Notorious Difficulty Levels: “We Don’t Make Games Hard For The Sake Of It, We Want Players To Enjoy Overcoming Challenges”
Nonetheless, even though there are both disabled and able-bodied gamers against using easy mode, Stoner explained that the introduction of such a difficulty option would not solve all of Elden Ring’s gameplay-related accessibility issues.
According to the YouTuber, further issues include the struggle for players with cognitive disabilities to recognize patterns in boss fights, dark areas, and a lack of subtitles being a hindrance to players with sight issues, deaf or hard of hearing gamers struggling with environmental awareness, and some inputs being painful for those with physical disabilities.
Again pointing to the aforementioned interviews he conducted with industry accessibility experts, Stoner went on to admit that there is no industry standard for easy mode, as each game has its own objectives, goals, and intentional barriers.
Stoner also felt the industry should move away from Easy Mode from being the answer for accessibility options and noted that, while such a difficulty option would be nice for games such as Demon’s Souls, he personally felt that its inclusion in these titles would be doing a disservice to the individual releases.
“We as disabled players, we want the same challenge that everyone enjoys when it comes to FromSoftware games,” Saylor said. “The only thing that we ask about when it comes to accessibility is whether it’s built into the gameplay, or there’s options to be able to enable to disable. So some of our barriers can be removed, so that we can be able to play it with the same challenge.”
Saylor next claimed that a lack of accessibility options for disabled gamers was akin to how a person who was blindfolded, deafened, or had their hands tied behind their back would encounter more “challenge” playing the game.”
“[Accessibility options] removes the blindfold, unties our hands, and what you’re left with is the same challenge,” he continued. “It’s the same challenge that everyone else can be able to play and enjoy. All that’s been removed is just the barriers that disabled people face on a day to day basis. ”
As of writing, a third-party plugin reveals that Saylor’s YouTube video has an almost even like-to-dislike ratio, sitting at 725-710, respectively.
Comments on the upload have also been disabled.
Despite his apparent love of the game, just three days after publishing original video, Saylor announced on Twitter that he had returned the game, seemingly fueled by not only the game’s lack of accessibility options, but how other gamers reacted to his critique.
“I’ve sadly requested a refund of Elden Ring,” Saylor tweeted. “The lack of accessibility for me to enjoy this game and the toxic ‘Souls fanboys’ I’ve had to deal with this week alone, I’ve had enough. No game is worth that.”
Saylor later boasted that he had been “using the block button very liberally today,” adding in a subsequent update that he had ” blocked A LOT of people.”
“I honestly hate doing it,” he said. “I try to educate rather than ignore or block unless you come at my friends. But today was rough and even though I gained some peace, I still hate it.”
Ultimately, Saylor noted to his followers,“Changing who can reply to this tweet (I keep forgetting I can do that). A lot of the comments here are proving my point.”
However, as Saylor’s video and above tweets began to gain traction across social media, some took issue with his arguments.
Some seemed to feel Saylor was advocating for easier game play, with others simply asserting that he had failed to ‘git gud.’
@BazFGC sarcastically tweeted, “Games are art, but except when the difficulty is a core component in the message the developer is trying to send, then they’re just not inclusive enough.”
“It’s not rocket science,” DremGabe countered Saylor. “You are not the target demographic for this game. It’s that simple”
“I love the souls games but there’s no reason that accessibility options could not be in these games,” wrote iMatt42. “More people deserve to play them.”
“Also, do all souls fanboys play EVERY SINGLE GAME on EXTREME difficulty settings?” he further inquired. “No? Then it’s not about the difficulty is it. It’s gatekeeping.”
YouTuber Eric July criticized Saylor for frequently conflating accessibility with difficulty and asserted that some of the issues noted by the critic were encountered by all players due to actually being part of the game’s design.
Though he agreed with such actual accessibility issues as Elden Ring’s hard-to-read text and subtitles, July felt that the lack of enemy indicators for off-screen opponents was where Saylor began to blur the lines between accessibility and difficulty, declaring “That’s the f–king game!”
“The game does not give you any visual indication, that’s not what it does!” July exclaimed. “Why would it? That’s the design of it! It’s suppose to be that way.”
July then explained that while not all accessibility critics disingenuously conflate the issue with difficulty, “in a lot of cases by how they argue it absolutely does mean difficulty.”
“Basically,” he said, “with how it’s built, is that you’re not gonna get a visual indicator that your enemy is attacking you. That’s the point. If you can’t see it, you can’t see it.”
July continued, stating “When I talk about accessibility in gaming, and why I think it ruins a lot of games trying to include this demographic, I’m specifically referring to what it is this guy’s talking about with these types of statements, where he wants the game fundamentally changed for him.”
“It’s one thing to accommodate someone that is colorblind in a sense, and has a particular issue, and they can have a setting to where they can adjust the colors, I don’t know anybody that has a f—–g problem with that,” he added. “But when you’re talking about fundamentally changing the game to accommodate you, that’s what I have an issue with.”
“He’s griping with the literal concept of the game, and I’ve been critical of aspects of this game in my review, but that’s a stupid thing to be b——g about,” the YouTuber concluded. “That’s the point, it’s an open-world, and the game says ‘go figure this s–t out.'”
Neither July or Saylor discussed visual cues being used as an alternative to audio cues, or making existing visual cues easier to see for those with visual problems.
As noted by July, arguments regarding accessibility have been regularly conflated with calls for typically challenging games – FromSoftware’s Souls titles regularly finding themselves the topic of these discussions – to either feature easy modes or be made less difficult overall.
Some arguments for colorblindness options put forth making enemies more noticeable or slower, while some debates regarding the production of more unique controllers adapted specifically for disabled gamers are overtaken by solutions calling for the alteration or removal of a given’s games more challenging mechanics.
However, such calls for difficult games to change their core identity only serves to help the game appeal to a wider audience, rather than actually help disabled players who need assistance in properly engaging with the game’s mechanics.
For example, rather than demand the game be altered to make it easier for him, disabled streamer HandicapableOne has beaten such challenging games such as Dark Souls 3 and Jump King using only his chin thanks to both specially modified controllers and his own determination.
In his case – as with many others – the issue was not FromSoftware’s game design, but rather the lack of a comfortable means to control his character.
Where does helping someone with a disability end and making the game easier for everyone begin? Let us know your thoughts on social media and in the comments below.
NEXT: Western Game Devs Mocked After Criticizing Elden Ring As Poorly Designed