Helldivers 2 is a fantastic game—but something has to change, because it'll only get harder to balance, maintain, and fix while Arrowhead burns the candle at both ends

helldivers 2 balancing
(Image credit: Arrowhead Game Studios)

There's a lot of reasons Helldivers 2 has quickly become the new hotness—though part of its continued relevance, even months beyond launch, is the blistering pace of its updates. All the stealthily-added new enemy types and surprise stratagem drops have really made it feel like a game that delivers on the elusive live-service promise: an ever-changing story that lives and breathes as you play it. 

Arrowhead's been going so full-pelt, however, that signs of weariness are starting to show—both from its developers and its increasingly-rowdy players. As community manager Twinbeard recently noted, the entire dev team's still been playing "catch-up"—meanwhile, CEO Johan Pilestedt has shared concerns over balance problems. Which raises the question: is Helldivers 2 burning too bright, too fast?

I do want to be clear, since I hate to get all doom and gloom about any game—I think Helldivers 2 has a promising future, one that'll only get better as Arrowhead improves at maintaining it. I also think, however, that the good ship Arrowhead is slowly (but surely) headed for a massive game design iceberg, and something's gotta give before it gets there.

War! Bonds! What are they good for?

helldivers 2 polar patriots warbond

(Image credit: Arrowhead Game Studios)

Warbonds, on paper, sound great. Monthly batches of weapons that never expire, and you can get 'em with $10 worth of earnable in-game premium currency? That's a lot more appealing than cosmetic-only battle passes that disappear forever if you can't complete them in time.

There's some design fine-print here, though, which is already rearing its ugly head. As PC Gamer's Morgan Park noted, the balance of new weapons doesn't always miss its mark. The AR-61 Tenderizer was particularly vexing for him. Morgan wrote: 

"So by my best estimation so far, the Tenderizer is a Liberator with five points less recoil, lighter magazines, and slightly better tracking… cool I guess? … It's that lack of distinction that's bothering me most. It's uncharacteristic of Arrowhead to make a gun that doesn't have a clear identity."

Granted, the Tenderizer was the first time Morgan's noticed a weapon that had completely baffled him. 

Other warbond candidates have had problems after their release. Take the R-36 Eruptor for example, a weapon that was an instant favourite—but had to receive nerfs because its special "shrapnel" damage was randomly killing players. The whole shrapnel mechanic was scrapped, and now the Eruptor is a lot less interesting.

I don't want to harp on too much about past design hiccups, though, because the truth of the matter is that no matter how good Arrowhead Games  gets at designing and balancing weapons, no matter how skilled these devs become at fixing and preventing bugs, Helldivers 2, at its current pace, will reach a critical mass of guns, grenades, and boosters that'll be difficult to maintain. 

Since launch, Helldivers 2 has received three new premium warbonds, with each adding four new weapons to the game. Let's just do the back-of-the-napkin math on that for a second.

A year from today it'll have 48 new weapons on top of that number. In another year, it'll have 96, for a total of 108 new guns since launch.

That's 12 new weapons in three months—nine primaries, and three sidearms. If that pace keeps, a year from today it'll have 48 new weapons on top of that number. In another year, it'll have 96, for a total of 108 new guns since launch. Even the best developers in the world are going to struggle with having over a hundred plates to balance and keep spinning.

Granted, Arrowhead Games might not necessarily want to keep up a pace for that long and, like all live service games, there will come a point where the engines need to spin down. Helldivers 2's concurrent player base is on a steady "decline" from its hundreds-of-thousands peak back on release. This is very normal for any live-service title—some players get their fill and move on, some burn out and return later.

helldivers 2

(Image credit: Arrowhead Game Studios)

We've also seen Helldivers 2's most vocal Reddit and Discord communities follow a predictable trend of live service games. As the most hardcore players rack up hundreds of hours with a game, their patience lowers, their expectations get higher, and their rumblings  grow angrier as more content is added, rather than calmer. 

A measly armoury of a few dozen weapons has been enough to launch a thousand Discord ships—never you mind 48 more guns over the course of the next year. For Arrowhead's already-beleaguered developers, the list of things that can go wrong is only growing, and that's just in terms of balance and community relations.

A measly armoury of a few dozen weapons has been enough to launch a thousand Discord ships—never you mind 48 more guns over the course of the next year.

In terms of bugs, Helldivers 2 has had a list of known issues that lengthens and shortens with every patch for some time. Few of these bugs, save a rash of crashes last month, are actually game-breaking—but they add up. Misaligned scopes, heads-up displays showing incorrect weapon info, enemy spawns being all skewed—sometimes even going against stated design goals. The more you pay attention to this stuff, the messier it all feels. 

Each warbond just introduces another domino that could be knocked down at-random—to a point where it's barely Arrowhead's fault if one falls, even if it's their responsibility for plonking them there in the first place. 

A helldiver, obscured by a halo of white light, stands victorious against a Super Earth flag in Helldivers 2.

(Image credit: Arrowhead Games)

There's also the ever-elusive new player experience. Heck, even, as an existing player, the deluge of new guns to unlock feels like a lot to handle—not to mention, keeping up-to-date with all the balance changes. Helldivers 2 is already a very different game, and it will only grow more complex—and bloated—in time. Ultimately, I think Arrowhead is going to have to hit a point where it says "alright, we've added enough new toys". 

Or the devs could pull a Destiny and start vaulting gear, but that wasn't exactly a popular choice, even if it was the healthier option. There's no easy fix, but I can't help feeling like Helldivers 2—just as it was suffering from success—is buckling under the weight of its rampant updates. As the old saying goes, you can always have too much of a good thing.

Harvey Randall
Staff Writer

Harvey's history with games started when he first begged his parents for a World of Warcraft subscription aged 12, though he's since been cursed with Final Fantasy 14-brain and a huge crush on G'raha Tia. He made his start as a freelancer, writing for websites like Techradar, The Escapist, Dicebreaker, The Gamer, Into the Spine—and of course, PC Gamer. He'll sink his teeth into anything that looks interesting, though he has a soft spot for RPGs, soulslikes, roguelikes, deckbuilders, MMOs, and weird indie titles. He also plays a shelf load of TTRPGs in his offline time. Don't ask him what his favourite system is, he has too many.