Arts, Review

‘Helldivers 2’ Presents A Case Study of Community

Quickly taking the gaming world by storm, Helldivers 2 is the newest release from Arrowhead Game Studios and has been making its way into the libraries of gamers across the country. 

Helldivers 2 is a third-person player vs. environment shooter, currently playable on both PC and PlayStation—sorry, Xbox players. It follows a relatively simple gameplay loop of loading onto various levels and surviving hoards of aliens varying in both size and combat mechanics. 

The story is not much more complex than that—players represent a soldier of “Super Earth,” the capital planet of a galactic human society, and in order to protect “Super Earth,” they must invade, conquer, and liberate surrounding alien planets. 

So, why is this game so popular right now? Helldivers 2 is not shaking up the gaming world with untold stories and original gameplay, and it isn’t the pinnacle of graphical performance. In fact, the game suffers from continuous server issues and lag. What about this game has gripped the attention and time of over a million players, reaching peaks of 450,000 concurrent players across its two platforms

The answer lies in the game’s community. In recent years, game developers have realized that no matter how good or bad a game plays and feels, it is nothing without a strong community. There is no better example of this phenomenon than Arrowhead’s Helldivers 2

Despite only being able to play parties of up to four, the player feels as though they are part of a much greater army, just as the main character is in the story. Arrowhead achieves this in a simple, yet genius, way, using its community to perpetuate its success even as players consume all the current content in the game. 

In Helldivers 2, players choose among a variety of levels that will contain a menagerie of enemy combatants to kill. These levels are divided across a plethora of planets, with groups of planets falling into the marked territories of a specific enemy type, namely the Terminids, killer space bugs, and the Automatons, killer space robots. 

While on an individual player scale, players simply work through the levels and complete their objectives, Arrowhead introduces a much grander, macro-level scale to operations on each planet with a simple indicator: every single planet players visit and fight on has a meter that designates the percentage of the planet that has been liberated. This meter, however, is not the result of the players’ efforts alone, but rather is the collective result of all successful level completions across the entire playerbase. Individual failure sets everyone’s success back and individual successes push everyone’s success forward. Players are thrusted into a much wider community, the very army their characters are fighting as a part of. 

The simple decision to include this community gameplay indicator is what sets this game apart from every other major title right now: It intentionally and successfully establishes and unites the Helldivers 2 community. A game without a community is a dead game no matter how many downloads it gets. 

One look at the social media presence of Helldivers 2 players is all it takes to see the fruit of the interactive community that Arrowhead Studios has put together. The community is able to grow and create its own narratives based on its shared progress. For example, a single location, called “Malevelon Creek,” has become a hilarious point of “trauma” among the community, as almost all squads that have set out to liberate the planet have failed, and the overall liberation percentage remained at under 1 percent for a considerable amount of time.

It even comes down to how the community interacts back with Arrowhead Studios. Rather than just request the company add the game to Xbox, the players have taken to X, TikTok, and other platforms to request “reinforcements” to aid them in their quest to liberate “Malevelon Creek,” a planet that has been one of the greatest challenges for players to liberate. 

Helldivers 2 presents the perfect example and model of how to tend and grow a community. Flashy mechanics and original gameplay can be important to a game’s development, but it is ultimately the game’s community that will decide what that game becomes and what its identity will be.

March 14, 2024