Even Apex devs agree: "wallhack" abilities don't belong in FPS games

Source: Respawn Entertainment (Edit Aaron Alford)

Tracking abilities that let players see enemies through walls are pretty commonplace in video games these days. 


Often referred to as "wallhack" abilities, these reveal mechanics have frustrated many seasoned players, who have spent years developing tactics and strategies that can be completely nullified by these very abilities. The issues with these abilities are so prevalent, in fact, that even Apex Legends own development team has acknowledged the glaring flaws with wallhack-like abilities in their own roster.


Mechanics that highlight enemies through walls nullify good positioning from enemies with a click of a button, while offering very little interesting counterplay. At its best, wallhack abilities become a crutch for players to not have to be as situationally aware, at worst these abilities undermine the decision-focused nature of tactical shooters and cheapen the experience of playing and watching competitive shooters.


“Wallhack meta” abilities are an oppressive game design trend

Apex Legends alone has two characters that can reveal enemy locations through walls: Seer and Bloodhound.


On top of that: 


  • Call of Duty Warzone recently added the Combat Scout ability that provides with literal wallhacks if they land a single bullet on a target
  • Rogue Company has Dallas’ ability that highlights the nearest enemy through walls,
  • Overwatch has Widowmaker’s Ultimate and Hanzo’s Sonic Arrow
  • VALORANT and Destiny 2 both feature various abilities that highlight enemies through walls
  • and the list goes on


In short, wall reveals are a bonafide trend in FPS titles and it has to stop.


While intelligence-gather abilities like footsteps, heartbeat monitors, and stuns grenades aren't new, the wallhack mechanics that allow you to visibly reveal enemy outlines through walls are a different story.  Wall reveal abilities are disproportionately powerful, when compared to the time and effort it takes for a player to conceal their location in the first place. 


Seer is the poster child of this observation. When he was released to Apex Legends, his reveal abilities were so powerful that he became an instant must-pick for the Apex meta. Using his passive heartbeat ability,  Seer is able to consistently spot flankers and know exactly where nearby enemies are at all times. On top of that, Seer's Focus of Attention ability, even after being nerfed, still reveals enemy health and location for 10 seconds.



In a similarly broken way to Seer, Apex Legend Bloodhound can literally snap their fingers and show nearby enemies through walls with a bright orange outline for a few moments. During their ultimate, Bloodhound gets to do this multiple times in 30 seconds!



Over in Warzone, the new Combat Scout perk presents the same problem. Once you have been hit by even a single bullet from an enemy using the perk, you are marked for their whole squad for several seconds. There are clips of people being kill through walls, or even a player being able to acquire and kill enemies while fully flashed.



These three examples only scratch the surface of this trend. While all of the different wallhack abilities have slightly different mechanics to them, they are unified in the helpless feeling produced in players who are marked by them and the overpowered nature of the intelligence they reveal.


Apex Legends developers acknowledge the cheapness of reveal mechanics

I am not the only person to contend that the "Wallhack Meta" is harmful to the tactical experience of games.


Apex Legend's developers nerfed Seer's meta-defining "wallhack meta" abilities on Monday. Along with the nerf, the developers also provided some insight into their thought process. Specifically, Balance Developer John Larson apologized for Seer's overpowered reveal mechanics, calling them "cheap" and saying the team "missed the mark" with Seer's kit.


“Something Seer has made clear that many high-level players already know with Bloodhound's success: real-time info through geo is extremely powerful in a shooter," explained Larson after the announcement of the new nerf. "A lot of players sink thousands of hours into games like Apex to develop a sense of their surroundings. Players soak in every clue they can to predict the enemy’s next move at macro and micro levels. When this is circumvented with something like a reveal, it can feel cheap."



He continued: "Players that pride themselves on their 'game sense' feel slighted, and it can actually make it harder for beginners to develop their awareness."


When even the developers of Apex Legends are acknowledging the fundamental flaws in reveal mechanics, you know something has to change.

Why have reveal abilities in shooters at all?

Traditionally, FPS titles have focused on situational awareness and using your eyesight and game sense to spot and kill enemies.


Many of the most well-respected shooting games in the world like Counter-Strike or Call of Duty’s traditional multiplayer are known for rewarding players who can have the map and intelligence awareness to know where enemies are. If you watch pro-CS:GO, a lot of the drama comes from who knows what information, since that information will dramatically affect their decision-making.


I am no game developer but I can say that there is a lot of game design space in the tracker area of gaming for the enterprising developer. Bloodhound’s passive in Apex Legends is actually a pretty good example of a well-designed tracking ability, revealing clues about where enemies have been in a place and how long ago. This information is valuable and helps players make more informed decisions without straight-up revealing an enemy location.


Bloodhound's passive tracking ability also has counterplay, since the team you are tracking could lead you into a trap. Overall, the mechanic is interesting, fair, and adds to the dynamism of player strategies for both the hunter and the hunted.


I am not calling for the removal of tracking abilities in-game, I am just asking for more creative and balanced tracking abilities that contribute to a more tactical experience.


And even the Apex Legends developers agree with me there.

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