Why do Helldivers 2 players like bugs more than robots?

A giant bile titan, a towering insect from Helldivers 2, lets out a vicious scream as it stomps over the landscape.
(Image credit: Arrowhead Games)

It's hard to imagine that videogames can get better in 2024 than Helldivers 2. Arrowhead's unexpectedly gigantic shooter really is the whole co-op package—excellent shooting that marries simulation and simplicity, skyscraper-sized threats challenged by god-killing weapons, and a meta narrative that keeps us engaged without enforcing its will. It's a rare shooter that lets its clever systems do all the talking, only gently nudging the dominoes to fall in ways that produce moments of cinematic bravery, calamity, and the utmost buffoonery.

Helldivers 2 creates memories without even trying, but I bet many of us can agree that most of those memories were made fighting bugs.

There's no question about it: most players prefer Terminids over Automatons. Log in on any random day and you're likely to find double or more players in Terminid space. That's naturally the case when a major order calls for bug annihilation, but that majority persists even once those major orders are over. The community's yearn for cracked carapaces and yellow blood is insatiable.

Even right now, as a new offensive has begun against the Automatons, nearly half of the active player base is choosing bugs. Why is this preference so prevalent, and is it a problem? I don't think so, at least for now, but it's worth talking about why we're playing favorites, because it's more complicated than "bugs good, robots bad."

Helldivers 2 teaches us to hate bugs first

Part of the popularity of bugs might come down to the fact that they're introduced as the starter enemy. There are no robots in Helldivers 2's tutorial, and the first campaign you're directed to complete is always on a Terminid planet. We're eased into how bug spawners work, how bullets deflect off Hunter armor, and shown how auto turrets tear through bug breaches.

There is zero in-game preparation for the Automatons. The game doesn't even explicitly say that they exist. Going in blind, you only figure that out by clicking on a planet on the left side of the map, at which point you're thrown into the deep end of an enemy that requires different tactics.

helldivers 2 galaxy map

Super Earth says go kill bots, but most players say "nah, bugs please." (Image credit: Arrowhead Game Studios)

Robots are harder, so it makes sense they're unpopular

Dealing with a fresh delivery of Automatons fills me with more dread than any old bug breach. When it comes down to it, there are really only two types of bugs: the ones that run straight at you, and the ones that spit acid. The sentient Automaton forces have sprinting soldiers with blade arms, firing lines hurling dozens of lasers in your direction, rocket troopers, mechs with missile pods and flamethrowers, and tanks that can one-shot you from a football field away. Their bases are lined with laser turrets and guarded by three-story cannon towers. Bugs just lay eggs.

Random mission hazards are harsher on Automaton missions, too. At difficulty six and above, you're almost guaranteed to be roadblocked by a jammer that disables all stratagems, a mortar deployment, or a Detector Tower that will continuously call in reinforcements until it's dealt with. The worst Terminids can throw at you are bugs that turn invisible and, more recently, bugs that fly. 

The devs appear to have a problem on their hands: The playerbase doesn't seem to enjoy fighting bots. from r/Helldivers

A lot of guns suck against robots

When I look at the Helldivers 2 arsenal as it exists today, I see a lot of explosive launchers, lasers, shotguns, and a flamethrower, all of which excel at taking down huge, slow-moving targets and hordes of advancing critters. A Breaker shotgun can always bail you out of a bug jam by liquifying small-to-medium Terminids just before they can get a hit in. There is no one-gun-fits-all equivalent for Automatons—most of the medium-to-large robots are completely protected with armor from the front, or have really small weak points at their stomach and head. They're also more resilient to rockets that'd kill most Terminids in a single hit.

Arrowhead didn't have to convince me to join a war against giant, six-legged freaks of nature.

There are some support and primary weapons that excel against bots, but they also require more finesse than a rocket launcher: the Anti-Material Rifle can shut down even the biggest bots in a headshot or two, the Diligence DMR can rapidly snipe the heads off an entire platoon, and the post-patch Railgun will hollow out the brain of charging Hulk if overclocked to dangerous levels. EMS and smoke strikes also do wonders, but with only four slots per diver, most players don't take stratagems that can't kill on their own. It takes coordination that most randomly-made squads don't have to fully counter Automatons.

helldivers 2

(Image credit: Arrowhead Game Studios)

Bugs are the perfect object of hatred

Killing a bug is simply more satisfying than scrapping a robot—Starship Troopers chose them for a reason. Our bullets are drawn to their glowing sacs like moths to a flame. Their high numbers and low individual threat are ideal target practice conditions. When I land a rocket between the eyes of an advancing Charger, I'm not just clearing the battlefield for my buddies, I'm exacting revenge on the colony of cockroaches that made my last apartment its home. I'm getting even with the crickets who keep sneaking into my cabinets and strumming their song for hours. I'm exterminating the pincher bugs who seek warmth at my front door on a daily basis.

Arrowhead didn't have to convince me to join a war against giant, six-legged freaks of nature. I just don't have the same venom for killer robots.

helldivers 2 shriekers

(Image credit: Arrowhead Game Studios)

Helldivers 2 is better this way

Laying it all out like this, I'm realizing it's not that Automatons are bad, just that bugs are that good, and Arrowhead knows it. Terminids are the stars of Helldivers 2—they're all over the game's trailers, cover art, and marketing. Bug missions are the perfect on-ramp to a night of helldiving. They're a crowd pleaser!

But Automatons serve an important role too: they're something else to kill, and they represent an escalation. Automatons challenge squads to coordinate in ways bugs don't by having more ways to kill you in a single hit. There's a smaller margin for error with Automatons, and sometimes that's exactly what I'm looking for. I don't want the robots to be more like the bugs, or else it wouldn't ever matter which planet I pick. I do think Helldivers 2 could use a few more weapons tailored toward Automaton murder, but I have no doubt that'll come in time.

In fact, the latest warbond added a powerful tool against the nastiest bots in the game—an EMS grenade that stuns anything from grunts to Hulks for a few seconds.

It's natural to look at Helldivers 2's lopsided galactic map and believe there's something wrong with the picture, but I'd wager things are playing out just like Arrowhead predicted. We're not supposed to like Automatons as much as Terminids. We're supposed to hate them, fear them, and walk away feeling like we only narrowly defeated them. For the role they were born to play, Automatons are perfect.

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.