Helldivers 2 players complete another major order by the skin of their teeth, and some can't help but feel Joel's going easy on them

helldivers 2 operation swift disassembly
(Image credit: Arrowhead Game Studios)

With only hours to go, things were not looking good for Helldivers 2's latest major order. These come down from on-high with regularity, and shape the game's ongoing galactic war: in this case, Super Earth tasked the Helldivers with successfully liberating 10 planets from enemy takeover. Earlier in the week things looked a bit grim, with only three planets freed from alien tyranny, but as the finish line came into sight something remarkable happened. Call it democracy manifest if you like but, from my vantage point, it sure looked like we killed a lot of bots and bugs when the chips were down.

The reaction to this among Helldivers has been nearly uniform relief and jubilation, mainly because most had already given up. The order got off to a terrible start with two planets being lost by razor-thin margins early on, and the bot forces seemed unassailable before the turnaround. But as the dust settled further, the nature of that turnaround became its own question.

A major component of Helldivers 2's success thus far has been how invested the community is in the ongoing galactic war, and how Arrowhead is conducting the narrative. It hasn't all been plain sailing by a long shot, and the Helldivers have failed major orders along the way, but this kind of last-ditch success is the stuff that live service narrative dreams are made of. The Helldivers got caught on the hop by a whopping invasion force, lost some ground, and then grit their teeth and en masse pushed back against the tide. 

But this has left some Helldivers with a treasonous thought. Was it too simple? When things got gnarly, did Arrowhead turn the dial down and help us across the finish line? Helldivers 2's players are used to blaming game master Joel when things go pear-shaped, rightly or wrongly, but now there's a sense that he might've gone easy on us.

"I'm not going to lie, from one side I'm damn happy we got it, but from the other it feels a bit frustrating to get it on what largely was a last gasp gimme from Joel," says SpitfireSiemion. "Especially as we likely would've done it without any hijinks if we haven't lost 2 planets by about 40-50 minutes each early on.

"Oh well, in the end, one way or another we stopped the bleeding and that's the important part. Onwards."

Sweet Liberty?

There are other factors. Many pointed out that the crunch point came on ANZAC day, when Australians and New Zealanders have a public holiday, meanwhile the Italians celebrate (and this really couldn't be more appropriate) Liberation Day. There's also the fact that the Helldivers 2 community may have issues co-ordinating targets at scale, but one thing it is excellent at is throwing lots of bodies at a problem: the 24-hour peak for the game, per SteamDB, stands at just under 134,000 players, and of course that doesn't include those playing on PlayStation 5.

Whatever the truth, suggesting that Joel is going soft seems a sure-fire way to get Arrowhead throwing the kitchen sink at us next time around. But this successful major order now joins a list of impressive achievements racked-up by the Helldivers over the months since the game's release: the liberation of Tien Kwan, The Battle of Malevelon Creek, and of course annihilating two billion bugs in 12 hours.

One interesting development has been that some Helldivers are going outside of the major order themselves. The foundation for this is an incredible fan-made galaxy map that shows information the game keeps hidden, most importantly enemy supply lines, and theoretically allows for better co-ordination around completing major orders.

This went beyond the theoretical, however, with the Martale Gambit: a player-authored plan to asphyxiate the planet Charon Prime by attacking its neighbouring planet (and source of supplies) Martale. This was so unexpected that Arrowhead itself didn't have an immediate response, before that man Joel promised to liberate Charon Prime if the Helldivers could take Martale. Over the next twelve hours the Helldivers took the planet to over 90% liberation before, agonisingly, it fell at the last hurdle.

This kind of strategising is, of course, the preserve of the more invested players. The vast majority of Helldivers follow Arrowhead's orders and, like me, gormlessly run about blowing up teammates, wasting reinforcements and falling off mountains. The special sauce is that, even playing the game this casually, you're still wrapped-up in this overarching narrative of the galactic war, and feel like you've made a contribution. OK, sometimes that contribution is just going home in a body bag but hey: I was there.

Helldivers 2's next major order is yet to be announced, but the players are all waiting in expectation for one development: the emergence of the Illuminate, the original game's third faction. We don't even know if the Illuminate will still be the Illuminate, but we do know there's something else out there watching, and it's been over a month since any major additions to the game. Something in the air tells me there's a big fight on the cards, and Joel won't be going easy this time: see you there, citizen.

Rich Stanton

Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."