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Helldivers 2: Rousing success, a cautionary tale, and one of 2024’s best games

Published Mar 7th, 2024 7:37PM EST
Helldivers 2 is one of the breakout hits of 2024.
Image: Arrowhead Game Studios

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Shortly after reviewing Helldivers in 2018, I promptly forgot about it. 2018 was the year of Red Dead Redemption 2, Marvel’s Spider-Man, God of War, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. The year was just loaded with games. But more than five years later, Helldivers 2 is the breakout hit dominating headlines and attracting legions of fans. That has been both a blessing and a curse for the small team at Arrowhead Game Studios.

What is Helldivers 2?

Helldivers 2 is now available on PC and PS5.
Helldivers 2 is now available on PC and PS5. Image source: Arrowhead Game Studios

Much like the first game, Helldivers 2 tasks a squad of up to four Helldivers from Super Earth with liberating planets throughout the galaxy from alien invaders. The soldiers are armed with light and heavy weapons as well as stratagems they can call down from their ships in orbit to eliminate enemies. But the biggest difference between the two games is that the sequel is a third-person shooter with massive 3D environments to explore.

Helldivers 2 also leans into the live service model much more than its predecessor did. Other than paying $40 for the game upfront, you can acquire everything simply by playing. But if you want to speed up the acquisition of Super Credits, which are used to acquire the game’s battle passes (dubbed Warbonds), you can buy them with real money.

This is not only one of the least predatory live service games on the market, but it’s also one of the few taking full advantage of the controversial model. Helldivers 2 has a Game Master pulling the strings to keep the galactic war balanced and engaging. There is also a new objective every few days that all players need to work together to complete, and the latest involves liberating a planet to unlock the game’s first mech suit for everyone.

A Helldiver looks over a planet in need of liberation.
A Helldiver looks over a planet in need of liberation. Image source: Arrowhead Game Studios

Helldivers 2 launched for PS5 and PC on February 8, 2024. Two weeks later, Arrowhead CEO Johan Pilestedt seemingly confirmed on X that the game had sold around 3 million copies. We aren’t sure exactly how many copies of the first Helldivers have been sold, but we can take an educated guess that the sequel has been exponentially more successful.

If you want proof that Arrowhead could never have anticipated this degree of success, you only need to look at two numbers. The first is the all-time peak concurrent player count for Helldivers on Steam: 6,744. The second is the same figure for Helldivers 2: 458,709.

That is a 6,800% increase from the first game to the second. No wonder the servers were being pushed to their limits right after the game launched. There was virtually no way for Arrowhead or even the game’s publisher, Sony, to account for that level of interest.

On February 20, Pilestedt even went as far as to tell people not to buy the game yet:

Those issues have since been resolved, and Helldivers 2 can now support its enormous player base, but it undoubtedly required long hours and late nights from the team. Arrowhead only has around 100 employees (Epic Games just laid off nearly 9x that amount), and the hard work they put in to stabilize the game is being rewarded, with player counts consistently reaching 300,000 every day on Steam. But they hit another snag after their first balance patch.

Wading into the muck

On March 6, Arrowhead rolled out the first Helldivers 2 balance patch. A few of the game’s most popular weapons and stratagems were “nerfed” (made less powerful), while multiple underused items were buffed. The backlash was sudden and fierce.

Naysayers bombarded the Helldivers Discord server with complaints about the changes. Twitter and Reddit were flooded with posts about how Arrowhead had ruined the game. In other words, pretty much par for the course for any online game community.

But rather than let the community inevitably tire itself out and move on, some (likely exhausted) Arrowhead employees chose to push back:

Unsurprisingly, this triggered another wave of fury from the game’s most vocal players. Pilestedt suddenly had another fire to put out. He did so quickly by releasing a statement condemning the remarks as “inexcusable behavior” and revealing that the company had “taken action internally to educate our developers on how to represent the organization.”

What does the future hold?

Despite the many roadblocks Arrowhead has encountered since launching Helldivers 2 a month ago, this game has an exceedingly bright future. In the next few days, the community will likely unlock the EXO-45 Patriot Exosuit, which will be the first new stratagem added to the game. On March 14, the new Cutting Edge Warbond will be made available, giving players access to new primary weapons, armor sets, utilities, and, most importantly, victory poses.

Plus, the team has made it clear that it’s listening to player feedback about the spawn rate and difficulty of large enemies. Arrowhead associate community manager Spitz revealed on Discord that the team is “looking at changes to the spawn rates and health pools of heavy enemies, and will be attempting to spread them out more to prevent large spikes of tougher mobs appearing at the same time, as well as making them a bit easier to bring down.” The change will be made in a future hotfix, but Arrowhead isn’t ready to share a date just yet.

There have clearly been ups and downs for players and developers alike as both have learned to deal with the unlikely and colossal success of Helldivers 2. All of the real-world drama, though unplanned, has also given the game an even bigger reach than it might have had otherwise. But it’s the in-game drama — the unending war between Super Earth and aliens (and Game Master Joel) — that will determine how long the game stays in the spotlight.

Jacob Siegal
Jacob Siegal Associate Editor

Jacob Siegal is Associate Editor at BGR, having joined the news team in 2013. He has over a decade of professional writing and editing experience, and helps to lead our technology and entertainment product launch and movie release coverage.