Call of Duty: Warzone is suffering from an altogether different epidemic than what is keeping so many of us confined to our homes.
Being able to entertain ourselves and keep in touch with friends without meeting in person is more important than ever, and yet one of the most popular battle royale games is basically unplayable for most. Cheating in Warzone has become even more common, not less.
As the free multiplayer battle royale component of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare has gained popularity - the game had over 50 million active players as of the 10th of April - cheating has also started to become an increasing problem. Hackers utilize aimbots, wallhacks and mods that let them see the exact location of every other player all the time, as well as other cheats, to gain an unfair advantage over everyone trying to enjoy the game.
This problem has become increasingly severe as the playerbase keeps growing and growing, with larger numbers across the board increasing due to social distancing. However, a few features baked into Warzone certainly aren't helping, even though on paper they are meant to make the game better.
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One of these is how easy it is to join servers hosted from other regions. Many games require complete restarts before you can log into a different region's servers - if they support it at all - while this is much simpler in Warzone. Statistically speaking, the overwhelming majority of hackers are based in Asia, but they have easy access to European and American servers as well.
The other main culprit seems to be Crossplay.
Crossplay allows players on PC, PS4 and Xbox One to play together seamlessly, meaning that friends need no longer stick to the same platform if they want to play with each other. Crossplay, in theory, is great - it breaks down system boundaries and is a boon for accessibility and consumer-friendliness.
The problem is that hacking is infinitely easier to achieve on PC than on either current generation console, but Crossplay means cheaters on PC affect everyone. Turning Crossplay off would be a simple solution, but Warzone doesn't let you, depending on the platform.
On PC, you cannot turn Crossplay off at all. On Xbox, turning Crossplay off in the game settings also prevents the game from connecting you to any server, so you can't actually play. Some players have found a workaround in system settings to bruteforce Crossplay off while still letting them play, but a game shouldn't make you run extra laps for something so simple.
PlayStation 4 is the only platform that lets you turn Crossplay off and continue to join matches, but it makes sure you know how unhappy it is about the whole affair.
Pop-ups that you can't turn off keep asking whether you're absolutely certain about turning Crossplay off, and when finding a match takes longer - which it inevitably will, since you can only play with other PS4 players who also turned off this feature - it will keep interrupting the search with that same pop-up.
Features are nice, but only when there is choice involved. Not too long ago Crossplay was a very rare feature, something many talked of with the hope that it will show up in their favorite games, but now we can't get rid of it and it's causing issues.
To their credit, Activision and Infinity Ward have been trying to tackle the issue. Over 70,000 players have been banned for cheating and the developers published a blog post highlighting the importance of reporting hackers when you encounter them. The only issue is, you can't report players who are playing on a different platform, even if you are in the same match.
As the problem has worsened, help has come from an unexpected source - another hacker.
A user who self-admittedly uses mod menus in Grand Theft Auto Online and used to employ hacks in Battlefield 4 shared some tips. DeclanH23 noted that specific weapons are more receptive to aimbot software than others, and that simple stat-tracking could help the developers combat cheating.
Simply put, if a completely new account has unnaturally high K/D ratios, ridiculous kill numbers in a match and a headshot rate way above average, the account needs to be reviewed. Other suggestions mirror techniques employed in other competitive shooters. Some fans suggest forcing players to verify accounts with a phone number, so getting banned for hacking would have actual consequences. Another suggestion is to enable console-only Crossplay, which would alleviate the situation on PS4 and Xbox One at least.
We hope Activision and Infinity Ward will look into these suggestions. They have been receptive to criticism regarding their playlist choices in the past, and the cheating problem is hurting the game, so it's likely that action will be taken shortly.