Helldivers 2 players are arguing over playing casually or sticking to the 'meta,' and they're both right

Helldivers 2
(Image credit: Arrowhead Game Studios)

Is Helldivers 2 a competitive game? It's a fair question to ask about the surprise smash hit of 2024, and one its burgeoning community doesn't fully agree on. Some are diving deep into its arsenal to suss out the most lethal guns, destructive stratagems, and best mission types to farm for medals and Req. They see Helldivers 2 as a puzzle to be cracked with the perfect meta.

Others argue that Helldivers 2 isn't meant to be taken so seriously, and that we should focus on the simple fun of surviving, or very much not surviving, the bug and automaton wars.

Of course there's no "right way" to play Helldivers 2, but I think that has to apply both to the defenders of casual fun as it does to the meta chasers. The game is interactive slapstick comedy, but it's also a deeply challenging co-op shooter. It's full of contradictions that create the tension we're now seeing between different types of players.

Helldivers 2's entire premise is unserious satire

We're fighting for Super Earth, but take a peek at Helldivers lore and there's no question that we're the baddies. Managed democracy, Super Earth, liber-tea—Helldivers 2 is openly mocking extremist fascist ideology and expects us to laugh alongside it.

…and yet its galactic war is anything but a joke

It's kind of fun to be the baddies, or at least roleplay as them. Helldivers 2's galactic war simulation, along with its narrativized interventions has created an environment where players know planet names by heart, get invested in their liberation, and mourn their losses. Our shared station as lowly, expendable helldivers breeds genuine comradery that's reinforced when a sector is liberated thanks to collective effort. It's not serious, but we take it seriously. For some, chasing "the meta" might come from a genuine desire to play their part in this pretend war.

Helldivers 2

(Image credit: Arrowhead Game Studios)

Arrowhead CEO says not to sweat gun stats

Helldivers 2 doesn't want you to think too hard about your loadout: the only information we're given about guns are their damage, recoil, capacity, and fire rate. Arrowhead CEO Johan Pilestedt says it's holding back information on purpose (around 47 hidden stats, actually), commenting multiple times now that the best Helldivers 2 gun is "the one you like the most."

I like that mindset. I'm not competing against anyone, and Helldivers 2 doesn't have a kills leaderboard, so what does it matter how "good" a gun is as long as it serves me well?

…but there are gun stats, and discovering Helldivers 2's hidden depth is part of the fun too

Honestly, I wanna see all those hidden stats. I don't want to figure out the statistically strongest gun and then only use that, but I do want to learn more about Helldivers 2's surprisingly deep combat. Discovering hidden hidden mechanics, like the day/night cycle, is part of the fun.

But the game also obfuscates information that really oughta be represented somewhere, like how explosive ammo looked terrible on paper until Pilestedt tweeted out its hidden 2X damage multiplier to weak spots. The stats are there, they do matter, and I don't blame players (especially those trying their luck at level 9 difficulty missions) for wanting to know more about them.

Helldivers 2

(Image credit: Arrowhead Game Studios)

Helldivers 2's war is a story, not a puzzle

Arrowhead sees Helldivers 2 as one massive Dungeons and Dragons campaign it's playing with millions of party members. The campaign has a dungeon master named Joel, and he doesn't always play fair. Like any good DM, Arrowhead can and will fudge the rules to tell a better story, like when it juiced the Automaton reinforcements at Malevelon Creek to slow Super Earth down.

It was discouraging to watch Super Earth lose its first defense campaign, but as participants in the story we should embrace the drama that losing creates and let it make the next victory all the sweeter. 

…except players are encouraged to win against tight deadlines

We didn't only lose control of a sector when the defense campaign failed, we missed out on resources that players grinded for over a week to get. I thought it'd be fun to lose, but I really wanted that XP and 15,000 Reqs. My friends and I fought more bots than we really wanted to because of the Major Order in place,  with some pretty brutal deadlines on some planets, and now I feel like we wasted our time.

Helldivers 2

(Image credit: Arrowhead Game Studios)

Years of "live service" has only taught us one way to enjoy shooters

In the live service era, multiplayer games tend to be seen as collaborative products that we can lobby to change. Players demand balance updates, roadmaps, and weekly additions, and can feel cheated when they don't get them. As a $40 PvE game with limited content, I'm not sure that Helldivers 2 is meant to be balanced over years of updates, or even grow that much larger.

…but Helldivers 2 is a live service shooter, kinda

Pilestedt is hesitant to call Helldivers 2 a live service game, but admits that it technically is one. It has microtransactions, FOMO skins, and a premium battle pass (that never expires). If you can continually invest in a game, it's reasonable to expect continual updates too. Balance is a dubious concept for PvE, but the studio is planning to tweak the stats of guns in the future.

Arrowhead is being careful about what it's promising, though—the team recently went back to the drawing board on its roadmap after the game's unexpected success. I'm excited that a lot more is coming, but I kind of hope Arrowhead never puts out a full roadmap. Mystery is fun and I want to be surprised by Arrowhead's efforts, not compare its output to a list of outdated promises.

A proud citizen of Super Earth looking mightily confused, from Helldivers 2.

(Image credit: Arrowhead Games)

To me, it's a good sign that this unexpectedly popular shooter is making us grapple with complicated feelings—Helldivers 2 is an interactive story with no defined ending, a stage for improv comedy, a competitive shooter we're supposed to lose sometimes. It's messy.

The game speaks to those who want to be the best and those who just want to be along for the ride. There's originality in those contradictions, and I think they'll keep people coming back to Helldivers 2 for a long time.

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.