Arrowhead CEO says Helldivers 2 balancing patches have 'gone too far' recently: 'It feels like every time someone finds something fun, the fun is removed'

helldivers 2
(Image credit: Arrowhead Game Studios)

I don't envy the folks at Arrowhead charged with balancing Helldivers 2 guns fans have grown attached to. Arrowhead has rolled out a handful of sweeping balance patches in the game's first few months, all of which I believe made the game better by both buffing guns with untapped potential and, less often, nerfing a weapon that's dominant to the point of being boring.

But there's an argument to be made that balancing shouldn't be taken so seriously in a purely PvE shooter like Helldivers 2, and that it's ok if one gun is dealing more damage than the rest. Replying to a player on Twitter who said recent patches have made the game "unplayable," Arrowhead CEO Johan Pilestedt conceded that he's not satisfied with his studio's current balancing approach.

"Hey, yeah I think we've gone too far in some areas. Will talk to the team about the approach to balance," he wrote. "It feels like every time someone finds something fun, the fun is removed."

In a followup tweet, Pilestedt says he's seeing "a bit too much balancing using damage instead of other measures such as recoil, reload speeds, accuracy, projectile speeds and equip speeds. Just tweaking damage numbers is a blunt tool."

The exchange was not in reference to any specific nerfs, so it's hard to pin down exactly what Pilestedt has in mind here. The last sweeping balancing patch deployed in late April could be described as 'too many damage tweaks,' but many guns also received non-damage alterations like magazine size, recoil, and recharge time.

(Image credit: Arrowhead Game Studios)

The Eruptor of it all

It's possible Pilestedt is thinking about the main subject of yesterday's 1.000.302 patch, the Eruptor rifle. What's interesting about the Eruptor, a new primary rifle, is that it was nerfed because it was too dangerous for everyone around it. The patch notes read:

  • Increased explosion damage by 40 and removed shrapnel from the explosion: This is to avoid cases in which players would randomly one-shot themselves or their teammates in a huge radius around the explosion

Let's zoom out for some context: The Eruptor is a primary gun added in last month's Democratic Detonation warbond. It doesn't fire bullets, but rather micro missiles that deal AoE explosive damage on impact. Until yesterday, impacts would also shoot out waves of "shrapnel" in random directions that dealt additional damage. It's these shrapnel waves, which had a tendency of bouncing toward and instantly killing helldivers, that Arrowhead has removed and replaced with more direct explosive damage.

While Helldivers 2 players are accustomed to wielding power guns capable of backfiring when used improperly, the Eruptor's shrapnel crossed a line of inconsistency for Arrowhead—its unpredictable behavior was causing frustrating deaths that, for a few days, had the community convinced there was a larger problem with ricocheting rockets.

(Image credit: Arrowhead)

Clearly something had to be done about the haphazard shrapnel mechanic, but some fans on Discord and Reddit aren't happy with Arrowhead's compromise. Without shrapnel, the post-patch Eruptor has noticeably smaller explosions, and isn't as good at clearing out swarms of small bugs. The tradeoff is more damage dealt at the point of impact, which means it can still make fairly quick work of Chargers and Spewers (good marks for any gun that you can carry by default). I tested the Eruptor on a few missions today and, while it still gets the job done, I agree its puny explosions don't make it stand out the way it used to. It should tell you how high the bar is set for Helldivers 2 guns that a micro-missile-firing, bolt-action scoped super rifle is only somewhat interesting.

To the credit of Arrowhead's balancing squad, they're listening to feedback on the updated Eruptor.

Just tweaking damage numbers is a blunt tool.

Johan Pilestedt, Arrowhead CEO

"We can't bring the shrapnel back the way it was," wrote senior game designer Alexus Kravchenko on Discord yesterday. "We don't want it to one-shot chargers, and we don't want it to have a chance to kill you or your teammates (we have a cluster eagle for that). I still strongly believe that the Eruptor benefits from dealing less damage more consistently. So: it's a net minus if you're lucky or are using an exploit, and net plus otherwise."

(That "exploit" Kravchenko is referring to was an unintended consequence of the shrapnel damage that'd allow players to aim Eruptor shots under large enemies like Chargers and Spewers, centralize all the shrapnel damage in one place, and kill them instantly.)

"However we're still investigating if this change has affected any breakpoints against medium enemies, and we will look into that. I won't promise that it will definitely be buffed, as the weapon in its current state is still absolutely viable. But it's always on our radar."

A new batch of guns to scrutinize is set to arrive soon in the Polar Patriots premium warbond, but in an unexpected move, Pilestedt is letting the community vote on delaying the release to put more distance between the whole PSN account linking controversy and asking for $10 from players.

Morgan Park
Staff Writer

Morgan has been writing for PC Gamer since 2018, first as a freelancer and currently as a staff writer. He has also appeared on Polygon, Kotaku, Fanbyte, and PCGamesN. Before freelancing, he spent most of high school and all of college writing at small gaming sites that didn't pay him. He's very happy to have a real job now. Morgan is a beat writer following the latest and greatest shooters and the communities that play them. He also writes general news, reviews, features, the occasional guide, and bad jokes in Slack. Twist his arm, and he'll even write about a boring strategy game. Please don't, though.