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The Best Sci-Fi Shooter of the Year Can’t Escape Gaming’s Worst Trend

At the farther end of your ship, you can see a glimpse of the ongoing conflict as you land on an alien planet. Outside your window are fellow combatants, represented as ships in orbit. Whenever a group fails a mission, their ship is shot down in real-time. It’s a grim yet effective reminder of the thousands of people out there cooperating toward the same goal.

Last weekend, Helldivers 2 saw over 400,000 concurrent players on Steam alone (plus however many gamers on PlayStation 5). It’s an unprecedented success for developer Arrowhead and publisher Sony. The servers can’t keep up with such an influx, and the team has been working “many late nights” since the online extraction shooter launched on Feb. 8. It is, deservedly, the game of the moment. But for how long?

Arrowhead’s latest is an engrossing and over-the-top experience. Yet, its triumphs are tainted by its live service model. Beyond all the times I was frustrated by a “server at capacity” message during the past few days, Helldivers 2 places all its bets in connectivity — both for its infrastructure and its community — to provide a sense of purpose. Right now, it’s an effective tactic. But I can’t help but wonder how long it’s going to take for the illusion to shatter.

Take Two

The moment-to-moment action is exhilarating.


If you’re one of the people who played the first Helldivers, congrats for spending the past weeks saying “I told you so” to everyone you know. The sequel is pretty much a refinement of the 2015 original, the biggest differentiator being the jump from a top-down twin-stick shooter to a third-person shooter. When the sequel was first announced, I was skeptical about the change (the Alien Swarm-style presentation of its predecessor was a clear standout). But similar to the likes of Risk of Rain 2, this change of perspective brings a refreshed sense of scale.

In Helldivers 2, up to four players band together to land on different alien planets with a fairly straightforward objective in mind (destroying alien eggs, hunting down specific enemies, or escorting civilians from point A to B, to name a few), as well as optional tasks. Each mission has a timer, which ranges from 10 to 40 minutes. Once you’re ready to leave (or forced to due to low resources), you need to hunker down and wait for a shuttle ship to pick you up.

The moment-to-moment action is exhilarating. The charm of Helldivers 2 might not be much of a novelty to people familiar with the first game. Calling for pods that fall from the sky to unleash bombs and special weapons, or seeing the global liberation progress of all players being tracked down in real-time, are Helldiver’s trademarks. The environment also plays a big part in keeping you engaged, with sandstorms, spore clouds, and rain obstructing your visibility. I do miss the more cartoonish visual style of Helldivers, but the weather conditions effortlessly blend tension with immersion to great effect.

Seeing the global liberation progress of all players being tracked down in real-time is thrilling.


When the servers actually work, playing with others is a seamless endeavor. There’s crossplay available between Steam and PlayStation 5, for which you need to use a friend code. Playing mostly with other PC players, I’ve had friends and colleagues jump into my games spontaneously. All it took was a quick emote to greet each other and we were off to the next mission together. Even with its short lifespan, there’s an ingrained communication language. Pinning enemies and locations, like in Apex Legends, is a blessing for times when your social battery runs out and you don’t want to use voice chat.

Taking on missions on your own, however, is a different story. Sure, it’s serviceable enough on lower difficulties, especially during moments when matchmaking isn’t working and your friends aren’t online. However, most of the magic of the experience is immediately lost. Playing with others encourages you to mix and match different equipment to create synergies (one team member focuses on heavy weaponry, another on support items, and so on). At times, it is flat-out mandatory to have someone alongside you — some side objectives, as well as specific vaults with loot, require at least two people. Unlike the first game, there’s no couch co-op (and no offline mode at all). Unless the right conditions are met, you’re left with a lackluster version playing solo, or nothing at all if servers aren’t working.

Warfare has changed


Playing Helldivers 2 is a constant reminder that we’re not in 2015 anymore. Very few online games with live service models — regardless of the scale of said model — offer support for dedicated or LAN servers. Sadly, the sequel isn’t part of the scarce exception, and the influence of years-long trends doesn’t stop there. The microtransactions system is tied to both an in-game shop with cosmetics (some of which offer in-game benefits in the form of passive bonuses) and your progression.

There are three main progression paths: gaining access to new Stratagems, unlocking “ship modules” that grant passive bonuses, and getting your hands on new weapons For the first two, you only need a combination of in-game items and patience to level up your rank. As you complete missions and explore the maps you cruise through, you’ll gradually get the in-game currencies you need to progress (Requisition Slips for Stratagems, Samples for ship modules). At the moment, these paths are in a nice place synergy-wise. Increasing mission difficulty also affects the loot available, which is key to obtaining rare samples. It encourages you to take on higher difficulties, a task that becomes feasible once you get your hands on better Stratagems.

The sense of accomplishment begins to crumble when it comes to gear, which can turn into a grind. At the moment, most equipment — from weapons to boosters that affect your entire party — can only be unlocked through Warbonds (aka Helldivers 2’s battle pass). In a similar fashion to Fortnite, you use a Battle Star equivalent (medals) to obtain the items you want. After spending a certain amount of medals within a page, you get access to the next batch of items. Most rewards in the Warbond are cosmetics (like emotes and visual customization options) but it’s also the only way to carry better weaponry into missions.

By live service standards, Helldivers 2 opts for a softer blow than most.


Medals, such as Samples, can be found while you’re exploring. You can also get them for completing objectives, which is a nice touch. The issue is the time commitment involved — if you want to get to page 10 of the current free Warbond, for example, you need to have spent over 1,000 medals. In over 17 hours of playtime, I’ve yet to reach 200 medals. The current premium Warbond is shorter, but the medal costs are higher. You also need 1,000 Supercredits to unlock it — this currency can be found while exploring, and similarly to Fortnite’s V-Bucks, you can get a few hundred from the free Warbond. But the latter will take dozens upon dozens of hours. At the time of publication, 150 Supercredits cost $1.99, while 2100 Supercredits will net you $19.99.

By live service standards, Helldivers 2 opts for a softer blow than most. But it’s still mired in the same compromising practices. In the original, you can obtain weapons by reaching certain ranks, making for a far more classic progression path. There’s even an upgrade system in place, something that the sequel currently lacks, which uses an in-game currency obtained solely from playing. In lieu of a season pass equivalent, Arrowhead opted to sell extra weapon and vehicle packs as DLC. Yet, these aren’t required to get better gear, so to speak, as you can simply upgrade the base equipment.

As it stands, weapons and armor are in a conflicting spot in the sequel. Arrowhead has said Warbonds won’t rotate over time, meaning that, eventually, you might get all the gear you want. A few weeks after launch, however, the sole thought of grinding toward weapons that I can’t even test before redeeming is deterring me from doing so entirely.

Playing the Long Live Service Game

Helldivers 2 thrives in its amicable learning curve.


Despite my peeves, I’m intrigued to see how Helldivers 2 evolves from here. The sudden popularity took Arrowhead by surprise — after all, it only took four days to defy sales expectations with over 1 million copies sold. The notoriety can be attributed to a number of factors, especially if we consider similar examples in recent times. Much like Lethal Company and Deep Rock Galactic, Helldivers 2 thrives in its amicable learning curve, a focus on cooperating with your teammates against increasingly harder odds, and pocket-sized matches where you can easily get lost in the “one more game” frenzy.

There’s also the virality factor, arguably the reason the game’s sense of purpose and connectivity is as strong as it is. I can’t browse my timeline on X (formerly known as Twitter) without seeing a torrent of clips from people. TikTok has been sharing the sentiment, with some users going as far as creating fictional broadcasts sharing “updates” about the current progress of each planet’s invasion. Aside from fail clips and meta accounts, there’s the undeniable attraction to Helldivers 2. Sure, the fight is against bugs and robots, and it’s dealt with satire, such as the inspiration material (1997’s Starship Troopers) does. But its element of militarization is being idolatrized in a similar vein to an entry in the Call of Duty series. “Spreading democracy” and “enlist today” have become marketing taglines. For better or worse, the speech has everyone committing to the bit.

Looking ahead, Arrowhead has plenty of material to keep on drawing from the first game, such as enemy factions and vehicles. The connectivity aspect will likely lead to special events, something that has already been put to the test with the Automatons faction launching a surprise attack, the announcement presented as reports from a fictional media outlet. The team has mentioned that the original roadmap is “very out of date” and plans have changed, starting with hiring more staff to accelerate plans. Player retention, however, will be the decisive factor.

Despite the oversaturation of the live service games, studios keep making new ones.


Despite the oversaturation of the live service model, studios continue to try to capture the spotlight. Some, like Arrowhead, come across a strike of luck. But the landscape around the model hit a grim state in 2023. Creative Assembly’s Hyenas, also an extraction shooter, was canceled before launch. Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us Online met the same fate. The servers of games that didn’t meet sales expectations or longevity from players were officially shut down, with other titles being delisted from stores altogether — Marvel’s Avengers, Rumbleverse, Knockout City. The list goes on.

The novelty of Helldivers 2, like its in-game purpose, is reliant on multiple conditions working together in synergy. Said conditions haven’t just been met but surpassed, in less than a month since launch. It’s an outstanding achievement, one that has deservedly engulfed the conversation. Yet, the commitment to a live service model comes with compromises. It’s the game of the moment, sure, albeit a fleeting one. Only time will tell how long the ships outside your window will stay in orbit — or if there’ll even be a server to queue up for.


Helldivers 2 is available now on PC via Steam and PlayStation 5. Inverse reviewed the PC version.

INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Every Inverse video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth your time? Are you getting what you pay for? We have no tolerance for endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or bugs that dilute the experience. We care deeply about a game’s design, world-building, character arcs, and storytelling come together. Inverse will never punch down, but we aren’t afraid to punch up. We love magic and science-fiction in equal measure, and as much as we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real-world context in which those games are made.
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