RuneScape's newest skill, Archaeology, has turned six months old and it is overdue for a full accessibility review. This review will focus on low vision and blindness accessibility. Contrary to popular belief only about 20% of blind people are completely blind. This means the vast majority of blind people do have some level of vision. There are plenty of gamers in this group and this review is to give them a fair assessment of what they can expect from an accessibility level from Archaeology. The criteria being used is widely accepted as the standard for assessing visual accessibility and comes from organizations like Special Effect, Able Gamers, and Can I Play That. Each criterion is evaluated on a ten-point scale with .5 increments. There is a lot to cover so let's jump right in and take a look at our broadest category, visual characteristics.
The largest and most encompassing category up for review is visual characteristics. In this category, we will be looking at contrast, lighting, movement tracking, and clutter. In this sense, the visual characteristics are one of the most appreciated aspects of Archaeology. Its art style is somewhat different from older models in the game however newer content like Anachronia and the new quest, Desperate Measures, are more in line with the art style. The Archaeology skill covers multiple types of terrain and biomes. That means there are differences between the specific dig sites at which a player will be working. Kharid-et and the Infernal Source are both examples of dig sites that do use lighting to emphasize the environment. Luckily, I haven't found anywhere that is too dark to comfortably be able to do any of the activities therein. The three other dig sites, Everlight, Stormguard, and Warforge all use distance more so than lighting to enhance their visual characteristics. At all the sites there are plenty of assets that help build the setting but are not too prevalent to make it feel cluttered. Even the Warforge that is built with a claustrophobic feel to it gets it right by adding just enough without overwhelming and distracting the eye from the actionable content. Overall, the visual characteristics of Archaeology are very sound. Lighting is used to enhance the setting in some dig sites but not to a taxing or difficult level for visually impaired players and brightness can be adjusted in menu settings. As for clutter, there really isn't any that gets in the way of the gameplay. There are places where it feels cluttered; however, this is internal and does not take anything away from being able to play the skill. I give the visual characteristics a solid 8 because of all the reasons listed, however, there is room to grow and improve. One area of improvement could be making the pathing easier and more noticeable by adding the dotted line tracks that are present in the tutorial.
The next category is accessibility features. These features or options are primarily designed to help players but are designed to not have an impact on the difficulty of the game. In the case of Archaeology, I'm sad to say there are no specific accessibility features. That being said that doesn't necessarily mean there aren't any features that can help you make it more accessible. One of the best accessibility features in Archaeology but carries through to the entire game is object outlining. This plays a crucial role in helping a visually impaired person to know where the click-box is. This feature came to be through the development of RuneScape mobile but was brought to the main game where it has been very beneficial from an accessibility perspective. That is a perfect example of how accessibility features have made it into RuneScape, they primarily serve another purpose but it ends up helping disabled players. Another feature that is not exclusive to Archaeology but can be used to help provide contrast or other filters is the adjustable sky-box. This can be helpful in Archaeology if you need to adjust your color scheme or brightness, and it can even give you options like gray scaling. Overall, I have to give Archaeology a middle of the road score of 6 in this category primarily because while the features we have are helpful they were not intended for disabled players and much more could be done. Again, a system to help you navigate the dig sites like with large easy to see dots would be great.
The next category is assist modes. These modes do have an impact on the difficulty. RuneScape in general does not utilize assist modes in its general play, so it's not surprising there are none in the skill of Archaeology. The closest RuneScape gets to these are the boss practice modes but there is no adjustment of mechanics or anything more of a lessening of the punishment if you die. Therefore, we'll move on to non-visual cues as our next category. Non-visual cues are essential to visually impaired gamers. There is one prominent mechanic in Archaeology that uses non-visual cues. Time sprites are small bouncing white balls that dance over the excavation site. These time sprites move from excavation site to excavation site and they are important to follow in order to get the best XP rates. They have a very wispy sort of sound when they move. It can be faint and you do need to be paying attention to hear it. Time sprites are part of the core game loop of excavating objects restoring them and sifting soil. That is why the non-visual cue that's the time sprites make is insufficient. It needs to be much more noticeable and if possible use dynamic sound to tell which direction it has left in. Unfortunately, Archaeology receives a 4 in this category because while it is present the only non-visual cue is a core mechanic and it is not loud or noticeable enough.
Something many disabled players want to know is are there any handheld options and how does it perform on an accessibility level. To start this category I must say this is typically more applicable to the Switch but because RuneScape now has a mobile version, we'll touch on it here. The mobile offering is good in the sense that it has everything that the main game does. Things like sky-boxes and filters are still changeable on mobile. The gestures are easy and so far, on IOS at least the zoom-in feature works with the app. Voice over will also work when it comes to typing in a user name but then must be turned off to interact with the app. The field of view is small and that could pose a problem for some players. The icons and X's are also very small and hard to interact with precisely. A long time player will have a familiarity with the game that will help them but I highly recommend skilling activities only for visually impaired people on mobile. The fact there is a mobile option is great and I give it a solid 5 because it does need some improvements like enlarging the buttons to make it better.
Of course, the elephant in the room is the game's readability. Normally this is determined by two categories, having decent fonts and the necessity of text. On the question of decent font right now the answer is no. The font is not a typical font like what is best for most visually impaired people. That being said it's not the worst either. It's not like a Gothic style, calligraphy, or anything like that. It has hints of an old English type of look but not to the point of being unrecognizable. It is also important to note that there is an interface-scaling beta, which will greatly improve the overall readability of the game. As for the necessity of text, I'm afraid that is another matter. There are parts of the Archaeology skill that must be read. One mechanic of Archaeology is to send out researchers to do research. This is all done through interfaces and dialogue boxes. If you are not using any of the assistive technology I'll talk about later then this will be difficult for a visually impaired person to navigate. There are also mysteries that take place at the different dig sites but rely on dialogue boxes to convey the information. While Archaeology can be completed in the respect of achieving a level 99 or 120, it would feel much emptier if you are not able to access the story of Archaeology through the dialogue boxes. Interface scaling will help but another solution that would work even better would be to include a native screen reader within the larger game of RuneScape itself. Overall, this is the poorest score of any category with a 2.
Now let's look at precision and controls. The first part is straightforward. RuneScape is a point and click style of game. Archaeology follows RuneScape controls scheme as point and click. Once again, without any assistive technology, this can be challenging. Hunting down the mouse pointer can be difficult and would be best served if players had options to increase the pointer size. The level of precision on the other hand is accessible. Precision in this sense is not referring to the Archaeology mechanic precision but rather how precise your mouse clicks have to be. Clicking in Archaeology is easy to see because of object highlighting and the hit-boxes are large. Overall a solid job and worth and 8 on our scale.
The new skill Archaeology does some things well on an accessibility level. There are also places where it could greatly improve. In the meantime, here are some suggestions of different assistive technology that could improve your overall experience in RuneScape. First, use the Windows magnifier. It will be your lifeline through just about anything but especially dialogue and time sprites if you can't hear them. Another good item to use would be some sort of OCR device. Unfortunately, I haven't found a screen reader that would work for RuneScape; however, there are many free apps that have OCR capability and they'll help tremendously with dialogue boxes. I recommend Seeing AI for an app or if you have an OrCam device that will work well too.
Well, there you have it everything you need to know about accessibility in RuneScape's newest skill, Archaeology. I hope that this has been informative. We'll be back later this month for another article. Until next time, Happy RuneScaping.