Helldivers 2's first big war isn't suffering because of tough evac missions or medal-hoarding farmers—it's the pass-or-fail reward structure that's spoiling the fun

A horde of automaton bots from Helldivers 2 marchers mercilessly on.
(Image credit: Arrowhead Games)

I've been enjoying Helldivers 2 a whole lot—specifically, I've loved the feeling of being that disposable, fragile grunt in the middle of a large-scale galactic war. That feeling that there's something bad happening at every turn is a whole lot of fun. It's why every other day there's a TikTok of some Helldiver ducking and weaving, barely making it into a Pelican on a razor's edge.

I also adore the concept of adding piddly little percentage points to planet defences. At least, in theory. In practice however, the current major order has a few issues—ones that are solvable, now that Arrowhead Games' HQ doesn't have unending server problems distracting it. 

It seems like Arrowhead  wants to make battles feel hard-won, but one of Helldivers' core design principles is getting in the way: If you mess up a mission completely, you get zilch.

Stolen valor

helldivers 2

(Image credit: Arrowhead)

Let's get something out of the way—yes, people might be mucking up the numbers by farming.

The larger wars of Helldivers 2 have four layers we need to think about: the major order (defend eight planets), campaigns (defending a single planet), operations (a batch of missions, which contribute to the campaign), and the missions themselves. Let's start with the campaigns and operations.

Expecting players not to farm in a game with a well-established unlock treadmill feels, to me, like expecting electricity not to follow the path of least resistance.

The current major order is to win eight defence campaigns against the automatons. The issue is, one of the best farming methods in the game for medals does not do that. Only a successful operation will contribute towards the defence of a planet—and while a dev mistakenly confirmed that abandoned operations will add ticks to the bot's red bar of doom, later comments busted that myth.

While we don't suggest bailing on the operation entirely when doing this, some players are still loading up for an operation with the Eradicate Automaton Forces mission in it, blasting through a quick 10-20 minute romp, grabbing their medals, then bailing to dodge the deadly evac and drawn-out exploration missions. Rinse and repeat. This has been upsetting a lot of people.

I'm going to risk undemocratic speech here by saying: I don't think players farming these missions are even being jerks, really. It's a little uncooperative, sure, but not everyone who plays video games is going to be invested in some overarching narrative.

An image of an automaton from Helldivers 2 comically stealing a baby away from its mother in a little jog.

(Image credit: Arrowhead Games / PlayStation)

Helldivers 2's rewards structure is currently at war with itself. It wants you to care about larger-scale war efforts, but it also wants you to feel satisfied gathering medals, requisitions, resources, and XP. Expecting players not to farm in a game with a well-established unlock treadmill feels, to me, like expecting electricity not to follow the path of least resistance. You can get mad at electrons all you like—you're still getting zapped. 

As an aside, I will say that this whole situation is super fitting in-universe. The core thrust of Helldivers' worldbuilding is that Super Earth inherently makes every single problem it faces so much worse by trying to nuke it—those bugs you're fighting, for example? They mutated and evolved because researchers were experimenting on and harvesting them as a source of oil.

A squad commander deliberately hamstringing the bigger war effort by rocking up, putting in the bare minimum, and then bouncing so they can brag about how many medals they earnt in the war is super apt, and kinda funny in isolation. It just sucks for the players who want to win. 

But what if you think the problem's been overblown? Sure, these glory hounds aren't contributing anything, but there's a substantially bustling discord server with a lot of troops dedicating themselves to the cause. They can just complete the missions, right?

Actually, no

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

(Image credit: Arrowhead Games)

Every single defence operation has at least one civilian evac mission in it, and they're damn hard. The difficulty problem, in my experience, is that they're either a cakewalk because me and my squad mates manage to keep pace with the bots, or we fall behind and just keep stumbling. See, dying doesn't stop the bot drops from coming—and the longer we take to kill the bots already there, the more bots arrive. This makes clearing the bots even harder, and on and on it goes.

I just spent 30 minutes struggling tooth and nail, and I was given the exact same rewards I would've gotten if I'd just quit. Something's wrong here.

There are some nifty ways to do these missions without risking that, though. One popular technique that's emerged asks three squad mates to cause a ruckus out in the countryside, while one stealth commando slips into the evac centre and ushers the civilians to the escape pod. I love that this is possible, but it's a level of coordination you just can't expect randoms to have.

Normally, I wouldn't actually have a problem with this. Helldivers 2's non-Newtonian difficulty spikes and its propensity to spill into utter, flashback-inducing chaos works brilliantly in its other missions—but there's one key difference. In every other mission type, you can fail to extract and still get some rewards as long as you fulfil your primary objectives, you just miss out on your samples. This lets you push your luck and beef it without feeling like you'd just wasted a bunch of your time.

Helldivers 2 screaming man from intro

(Image credit: Arrowhead Game Studios)

This came to a head over the weekend where, in a defence mission, I had a right laugh losing. I spent most of the mission running away from tanks, desperately scrabbling for some kind of advantage, and occasionally clawing back ground in moments of cool heroism—only to meet my demise. From a gameplay perspective, it ruled. 

But seeing the rewards screen at the end read goose eggs just tainted the whole affair. Take my medals, take my glory—take my samples, even. But I just spent 30 minutes struggling tooth and nail, and I was given the exact same rewards I would've gotten if I'd just quit. Something's wrong here.

It all comes back to rested XP

Helldivers 2

(Image credit: Arrowhead Game Studios)

It's an old tale, but it's still relevant today: Did you know that in World of Warcraft, rested XP was initially an XP penalty, one which kicked in if you were playing for too long? Playtesters hated the snot out of it. One bright spark at Blizzard had the idea to change it from a penalty to a bonus and it became a staple of the MMORPG genre.

Helldivers 2 has a similar issue, though its problems are a little more concrete. In these evac missions, you get a penalty every time a civilian dies to friendly fire—which doesn't feel great. Instead, what if you started at zero, then snagged a bonus for everyone that escaped?

You could extend this to the mission objective itself. Rather than having a minimum amount of civilians required for success, have a relatively achievable floor, then give the players a bonus for every civ they're able to extract past that. Like other missions, the core order is pretty straightforward and achievable—but you can still rake in the rewards for exemplary service.

I'm sure that changing the underlying code of these missions is a lot of work, especially with how much sweat and tears Arrowhead's had to put into expanding its server back-end. But on paper, I think fixing these evac missions is actually pretty simple.

An image of a citizen of Super Earth giving a PSA, holding his hands out in a calming manner while the word: INVASION is stamped in block-type over a screaming man crying for sweet liberty.

(Image credit: Arrowhead Games)

Let's go one step further and apply this to the wider campaign, too. What if, instead of getting zero contributions for ditching an operation, you got a stacking contribution based on how many missions you did complete, similar to warbond medals? Even if a single mission only gives you a sliver of a contribution without the stacking modifier, you still won't feel like you just spent 20-40 minutes helping nobody. 

Similarly, even if 12,500 requisitions isn't actually a great reward, players are gonna be upset if we fall short by one measly planetary defence campaign and get nothing. Having community milestone rewards for this sort of thing would be great.

Ultimately, Helldivers 2 shines the brightest when you're allowed to be a scrappy moron, somehow overcoming unthinkable odds—and the rest of the game enables this. The process of losing a civilian evac mission (and by extension, an operation) is actually pretty fun—it's the reward structure that's demotivational, and it doesn't have to be this way.

Image

Helldivers 2 weapons: Best guns of Super Earth
Helldivers 2 stratagems: Understand the ordinance
Helldivers 2 loadouts: Finest kits for bug-killing
Helldivers 2 armor: Which suits to wear
Helldivers 2 medals: Where to claim more currency

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.