Invisibility With Drawbacks

It's very common for the power of invisibility in video games and other media to have some inherent drawbacks that limit it to only being situationally useful.

The most common drawback is that the invisibility stops working when the character attacks or prevents attacking while active. The most limited form even only works when the character is standing still. This is often introduced by game designers to prevent it from becoming a Game Breaker and keep invisibility balanced with other options. In other media it's often used as a plot point which the hero can exploit.


  • The One Ring from Lord of the Rings grants extremely good invisibility, even so far as to make dust and mud and carried objects invisible too. However, it also eats away at your soul.
  • ''Star Wars: The Thrawn Trilogy'' had Grand Admiral Thrawn discovering the Emperor's secret cloaking technology early in the first book. His initial plan is to use it to cloak the Empire's ships, however, it's discovered the invisibility, which in this novel works by bending light around the cloaked object instead of letting it go through, renders the ship totally blind. Thrawn, being Thrawn, instead puts the cloak to alternative use: he straps a bunch of cloaking devices to small asteroids which he then dumps in Coruscant's orbit, effectively grounding the planetary defenses.

Live-Action TV
  • Klingon warships in Star Trek have extremely effective cloaking devices, but cloaking takes up so much power that they can't fire any of their weapons while cloaked.
  • Discussed and subverted in Stargate SG-1 episode "200". When the writer of a show based on the SG-1 team finds out that one of his actors has pulled out of production, the members of SG-1 suggest that he could continue to use the character by making him invisible, leading to a montage of scenes from an otherwise off-screen incident in which Colonel O'Neill was rendered invisible. The writer is wary of using this particular technique as it gives the character a little too much power. Carter points out that he can always invent drawbacks. She then subverts the example with O'Neill's own invisibility. She implies it did not have any drawbacks, but they came up with some to convince him to return to normal because, well, it's Jack O'Neill.

Tabletop Games
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • The invisibility spell has retained the same drawbacks in most rules editions, which were specifically designed with warriors, rogues, and evocation spellcasters in mind. Objects the target picks up remain visible (unless placed in an invisible pocket or bag), and the spell is broken when the target attacks or casts an offensive spell.
    • The higher-level version, improved invisibility, allows the user to attack but leaves a trail of sparkles so that enemies at least know which square to attack (but they still suffer a penalty to hit the invisible target).

Video Games
  • In most Halo video games, active camouflage is less effective while moving, and the user becomes completely visible for a few seconds whenever a weapon is fired. Melee attacks don't break the invisibility, but Covenant energy swords remain visible even when the wielder is camouflaged.
  • In Team Fortress 2, the spy's cloaking ability has several drawbacks:
    • Cloaking is on a timer and has to recharge.
    • You can't attack while cloaked.
    • You make a distinctive hissing noise and emit smoke particles when cloaking and uncloaking.
    • Touching enemies and taking damage will make you visible for a short time and make you flash your team color. Being set on fire or soaked with jarate or mad milk effectively neutralizes it for a while.
    • You can collide with enemies while cloaked, which is even easier to notice than the flashing.
  • Although it isn't explicitly stated, observation of the Chozo Ghosts in Metroid Prime makes it clear that they have to become visible to throw those projectiles.
    • And all invisibility is simply shifted visibility. No enemy is invisible to all the visors, after all. Said Ghosts are always visible to the X-Ray Visor; the Cloaked Drone is only visible to the Thermal Visor; the second form of the Metroid Prime itself is only visible to one Visor at any given time, but which one that is changes... Once you have all the visors, you'll need to switch them from time to time, but that's it for enemies being able to hide completely.
  • In Final Fantasy VI the invisibility status effect makes the target able to dodge all physical attacks, but also makes them 100% susceptible to magic. This led to a bug that let you one-shot bosses with normally unreliable insta-kill spells.
  • The Elder Scrolls' version of the Invisibility spell is automatically lifted whenever you attack or interact with an object. The related Chameleon spell only turns you partially invisible and has a higher cost, but has no such restrictions, making it particularly potent when combined with custom spells or enchanting.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic, you can't attack without breaking stealth, nor can you use it sneak past most droid opponents. In Star Wars: The Old Republic, stealth is limited to a handful of classes (Operative, Scoundrel, Shadow, Assassin), you won't be able to sneak past higher-level enemies, you can't use objects or attack while stealthed, and you have to keep a certain distance from enemies at all times to avoid detection. This is not to say a good Shadow or Operative can't learn how to use a combination of hit/stun/run/stealth to handle missions they shouldn't be able to solo.
  • Invisibility in BioShock is only active when you stay completely still and takes a few seconds to recharge whenever you move or attack an enemy.
  • In Avencast: Rise of the Mage, the powerful Shadow Walk spell can only be activated while no one is watching.

Real Life
  • The Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk stealth aircraft was practically undetectable to Cold War era radar. Even with heavy upgrades and software modernization, which allowed limited detection but not active tracking of the F-117, anti-aircraft radar couldn't "lock on" to the plane until it opened its weapon bay doors to attack, which reduced its electronic invisibility enough to make them vulnerable. The plane could not attack and be stealthy simultaneously. This is how the Yugoslav shot them down, and the fatal flaw convinced the USAF to retire its entire fleet of them to redistribute funds for the far superior B-2 and F-22. note 
  • Early versions of the B-2 and F-22 became detectable when the skin of the aircraft got wet after flying through the rain. Rumors claim it was because the stealth coating washed off or beading water droplets reflected radar signals (perhaps even both). Whatever the cause, the USAF claims the weakness was eventually solved, and both aircraft are all weather combatants: rain or shine.