One Man Army: Helldivers 2 Devs Knew Some Might Hate Its Galactic Overlord

One Man Army: Helldivers 2 Devs Knew Some Might Hate Its Galactic Overlord

Many Helldivers 2 fans have probably already heard about Joel, the D&D-style game master behind the game’s galactic war. He’s been equal parts praised and cursed by players, particularly in the wake of the fall of Malevelon Creek (A.K.A Robot Vietnam). Some in the community are still on the fence about his role in dictating campaign difficulty. The game’s developers say they knew having a human game master as opposed to automated events would be “divisive,” but think being able to respond in real-time makes gameplay “feel more like a real war with real stakes.”

Arrowhead Game Studios community manager Katherine ‘Baskinator’ Baskin took to the Helldivers 2 official Discord to talk about Joel’s role within the game, as well as player reactions to the news. “Most live service games have something like a game master, but it’s a series of automated events,” Baskin said (via GamesRadar+). “Buffs/debuffs/events are activated automatically according to some schedule… instead of what we’re doing here, which is a person who can analyse the campaign as it’s happening and make more sensitive choices. We knew it would be divisive! But we hope overall that people enjoy it.”

Baskin added that Arrowhead accepted that “some players won’t like this. That’s why we announced it before release [of Helldivers 2] and tried to do our best to explain that this is like playing a D&D campaign with a human being. He’s the dungeon master for millions.” 

“This was a very big experiment for the studio, really, and it’s something that a video game has never done before,” she said. “I would love to see the GM’s decisions roll into the overall narrative worldbuilding of [Helldivers 2]. To me, this makes it feel more like a real war with real stakes, even though it’s just a video game.” 

Some players have taken issue with Joel’s role for the changing difficulty of certain areas in Helldivers 2, seeing it as a way to punish players despite successful missions. Baskin says the depiction of the game master as “working against players” is “unfair.” “That’s not really the best way to think about it,” she said. “It’s more like he’s trying to respond to the natural push/pull of players in certain areas and either raise the challenge or lower the challenge, depending on how he reads the data.”

Despite the rumblings of discontent amongst some players at the concept of a single person directing the war in Helldivers 2, overall the reception to Joel and the direction of the game’s overarching war narrative has been overwhelmingly positive. Plenty of players have been getting behind roleplaying the game’s galactic war and committing to the bit, with narrative beats like the fall of Malevelon Creek showcasing just how involved in the game the community is. 

While having a single person driving the flow of an in-game war spanning the galaxy might not be par for the course for a live service game (as opposed to automation), Helldivers 2 seems to be on to a winning formula so far. The game continues to go from strength to strength with astronomical player numbers and a very dedicated community (likely thanks in part to the feeling of personal involvement in spreading democracy). As the first month since launch draws to a close, it looks like players can look forward to more twists and turns in their mission to liberate the cosmos – with mechs a hot contender for the next Super Earth strategems to join the fray.

Image: Arrowhead Game Studios

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