The Helldivers 2 dev who got downvoted to oblivion is right: We need to chill out about balance in a 4-week-old game

For some, it’s safe to say the Helldivers 2 honeymoon is over. Yesterday Arrowhead released its first balance patch, which finally made orbital strikes more consistent and the Flamethrower a legitimate powerhouse. It also nerfed the most popular equipment in the game, the Railgun and shield backpack. Guess how that went down with players who’ve been rocking the overpowered loadout for a month?

The nerfs sparked backlash from the vocal Helldivers subreddit and Discord server, who argued that, without the killer combo, Helldivers 2’s highest difficulty levels are now unmanageable. Things got heated when an Arrowhead dev pushed back about the nerfs “ruining” the game, and a Discord mod also got trolly in a long series of responses. CEO Johan Pilestedt later apologized on behalf of the studio, saying “this is not a message that the studio stands behind.”

While the Discord mod comments were immature, I hope Pilestedt stands behind at least the spirit of the Reddit discussion, because that Arrowhead dev was absolutely right. It’s encouraging to see someone from the studio confront the snowballing sentiment that Helldivers should be viewed through the lens of a competitive shooter—that feeding a “meta” is an all-important goal for a goofy co-op shooter about slaughtering bugs and robots.

We’ve had just 24 hours to sit with these changes, and some have already decided Arrowhead screwed it all up. My impression after a few hours of helldivin’ last night: The Railgun is still highly lethal, I now worship at the altar of the Flamethrower, and I’m glad taking on Chargers and Bile Titans now calls for more risk and finesse.

A few thoughts on this mini controversy as Helldivers 2 enters its second month:

(Image credit: Arrowhead Game Studios)

What are we actually complaining about?

Reading through a lot of angry feedback on Discord and Reddit, it’s interesting how many players seem to be having a bad time because they refuse to play on anything but the highest difficulty levels. They argue that, without a Railgun that can kill anything in three shots and a backpack that ignores most damage, max difficulty is now basically impossible. 

Shouldn’t it be? We’re talking about parameters literally labeled “Extreme,” “Suicide Mission,” and “Impossible.” It should be a miracle to survive a dive that intense.

Many players seem to be having a bad time because they refuse to play on anything but the highest difficulty levels.

Post-patch, we’re probably experiencing what the highest level of Helldivers 2 is supposed to feel like for the first time, and the game offers us all the tools we need to tune our experience and play at a difficulty we enjoy. If the game’s harder now, then bump the difficulty setting down a few notches to find a sweet spot. For my friends, it’s between 5-7 at the moment. Yes, that means slightly fewer Medals and Req—a blow to people who want to optimize every single second they spend in the game to earn more, more, more—but it’s something new to strive for, and sets the stage for what’s next. 

THIS IS NOT A DRILL! Our factories are under attack, halting all output. Helldivers have been deployed to liberate Tien Kwan! 7, 2024

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Read the room: We’re about to get a major, mech-sized upgrade

By all accounts, we’re hours away from unlocking a powerful, permanent addition to the Super Earth arsenal: mechs. Once every helldiver has access to an exosuit armed with shoulder-mounted missiles and miniguns, the power curve is changed forever. It’s almost as if those higher difficulties are supposed to be unreasonably hard without this new tier hardware.

Further down the road, leaks suggest, are vehicles that will increase our mobility tenfold. An armored APC with three mounted turrets, a buggy that can cross a map in a minute—these transformative tools on the horizon have me wondering if Arrowhead will eventually have to introduce levels 10, 11, and 12.

Trying to “beat” Helldivers 2 robs it of its best qualities

If this is how every Helldivers 2 patch is gonna go down, we’re on a path that makes the game less interesting. Helldivers’ magic comes from its mystery—we don’t know the full picture of Arrowhead’s expansion plans, galactic war updates, or even what’s up with all those hidden gun stats. And I don’t want to know. I’ve spent the last eight years pouring over roadmaps and counting down until the scheduled end of seasons in countless other multiplayer games, and I’ve forgotten how fun it is to be in the dark.

I’ve forgotten how fun it is to be in the dark.

Helldivers 2 is putting the “live” in live service in a way we haven’t seen since the early days of Fortnite. It feels like anything is possible right now, but as Arrowhead reels from its first significant dust-up with fans, you can see things going another way—”careful” updates that won’t rock anyone’s boat, unpopular changes immediately reversed to avoid controversy, a content schedule to appease players demanding more.

(Image credit: Arrowhead Game Studios)

In one of those downvoted Reddit replies from an Arrowhead dev, one part stood out to me:

“We haven’t nerfed anything into the ground, I just think it’s a little too early to pretend like the game is figured out… The game is only a couple of weeks old, so before we start making sweeping changes we want everything roughly where we intended from the start.”

They were talking about gun balance, but it applies to how we choose to enjoy Helldivers 2, this once-in-a-decade co-op shooter that checks every box of a classic in the making. We can choose to post, proclaim, and cry “buff” until Arrowhead contorts Helldivers 2 into fun-by-consensus, or we can embrace the uncertainty of a young game with surprises up its sleeve and trust Arrowhead to be the dungeon master. In turn, it’s also up to Arrowhead to not kowtow to the angriest voices in the room and trust itself to make good on its goal to “surprise and delight.”

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