The team at Guerrilla Games has released patch 1.21 for Horizon Forbidden West in the lead-up to the release of the Burning Shores DLC. The patch adds some neat quality-of-life updates including a sorely needed auto item pickup feature and the ability to increase subtitle size for increased legibility. But perhaps the most interesting feature coming with this patch is the addition of a thalassophobia mode.
Thalassophobia, simply put, is the fear of deep water. Throughout Forbidden West, Aloy has the opportunity to do some deep-sea diving in the postapocalyptic San Francisco Bay and elsewhere. There’s a point in the story where she can develop essentially a scuba tank for extended periods of underwater exploration. Thalassophobia mode, according to the developers, “aims to ease thalassophobia symptoms by improving underwater ambient visibility and allowing you to breathe indefinitely, regardless of story progression.”
Video games are slowly getting better with their accessibility features. First-party Sony games, in particular, are known for the wealth of options designed to meet individual and specific needs, like high-contrast modes for people with low vision and an audio cue mode that triggers a sound whenever there’s an interactable object nearby.
But accessibility means more than meeting folks where they are with different physical abilities, and some games are also taking into account things that wouldn’t necessarily be considered a disability but are nevertheless a barrier to entry for some players. Grounded, the Xbox exclusive about kids shrunken down to the size of ants and forced to survive in their backyard, features an Arachnophobia mode that turns the game’s spiders into harmless-looking blobs. The yet-to-be-released Final Fantasy XVI features equipment that makes combat, dodging, and quick-time events much easier to execute. Meanwhile, Amnesia: Rebirth, an entry in a franchise that’s known for its scary-as-shit atmosphere, has an Adventure mode that turns up the lights and takes out the monsters.
It’s neat to see that the team at Guerrilla is thinking beyond physical ability when designing accessibility features for games. It’s something I wish Nintendo had done for misophonia sufferers like myself regarding Splatoon — all those ink splat sounds make the game a no-go for me.
But as cool as thalassophobia mode is for Horizon Forbidden West, there is some part of me that wishes there were an inverse mode to make the sea even scarier. The rolling waves in Forbidden West were so incredible and lifelike that I remember feeling queasy during my playthrough. And though Forbidden West isn’t a horror game, the idea of plumbing the inky-black depths with a Sonic-like air timer counting down seems like it’d give the fun but relatively tame game the touch of thrill it needs.