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Why is Helldivers 2 so popular?

The team at Arrowhead may be familiar with magic, but they aren't wizards. So why on Super Earth is Helldivers 2 so popular?

A Helldivers marine takes center stage as a horde of fanged and horned alien creatures amass behind him.
Image credit: VG247

Okay, so even if you were hyped for the launch of Helldivers 2, it's safe to say that no one anticipated how popular it has become. Only yesterday, it hit a concurrent player cap on Steam of roughly 333,000 players, and that's not taking into account PlayStation users either. Helldivers 2, somehow, is the game right now.

But why? Let's get the obvious out of the way first. Helldivers 2 is dope. It's a lot of fun, and for a particular age-group of players it very much does harken back to the golden age of Xbox 360 multiplayer than anything modern. One could argue that Helldivers 2 has more in common with Halo 3: ODST firefight nights with the gang, or Horde mode in classic Gears of War. There is still gold in those hills, and the team at Arrowhead has wasted no time in digging it up.

So the game is fun. Great, but that doesn't make Helldivers 2 unique. There are plenty of fun games out right now. Tekken 8 is fun. Counter Strike 2 is a blast. The Finals is fun too! We're in a pretty lush spot for games right now, and that's removing the catalogue of ongoing multiplayer games that are still very much alive and kicking. No, Helldivers 2 has some of that special sauce - a rich french dip you and your mates can soak an evening in.

One point that has been pointed out by many, a point that is amplified by Palworld's success earlier this month, is that Helldivers 2 is cheap. £30, compared to the staggering £70 of Skull and Bones or £60 for Modern Warfare 2 is a no brainer. Putting aside the eternal truth that a lower price means a lower barrier to entry, we're also in a recession right now. Money is tight, and for less than a return train ticket to London you can buy a co-operative multiplayer game with the capacity to last.

Okay so, fun and a low price point. There's the base of Helldivers 2's success that anyone could figure out. So what else is there that spices things up a little? Well, Helldivers 2 is an overwhelmingly player-friendly game. In the age of microtransactions and player retention mechanics, Helldivers 2 doesn't gouge you for cash. It doesn't lock anything game-changing behind paywalls, and what it does lock away can be obtained through good ol' fashioned resource farming.

It's also funny. Damn Helldivers 2 is funny, as expected for those aware it was crafted by the same wizards responsible for the excellent Magicka series. Experts at sorcerous slapstick, the team at Arrowhead has modernized their wit and whimsical approach to blowing your own legs off in a way that I strongly believe may be universally appealing. You could compile a clip of helldivers 2 ragdolling and horrific fumbles by desperate players and it 'll extract a chuckle from just about anyone. Pair this with a healthy serving of sarcasm and satire - a tone so strong it has led to an online revival of Starship Troopers discussion - and Helldivers 2 is practically rolling out laughs like a chuckle factory. Powered by freedom and democracy, obviously.

So many fantastic moments have come from the recent push against the robot menace. | Image credit: Arrowhead Game Studios, PlayStation

But let's say that you're a dedicated warrior from Super Earth, and you're browsing online for like-minded soldiers. Helldivers 2 has fostered an incredibly passionate community of players, willing to create their own call to actions when a certain aspect of the war effort isn't going too well (cough cough, Automaton defence missions). This started with Arrowhead nurturing the fledgling flame of community and giving it room to grow, adding kindling when needed through short but sweet in-universe update videos promoting the latest development in digital galactic war. It's dope, and makes it so easy to hop into the collective Helldivers player base.

This paired alongside Arrowhead's willingness to communicate with its community, especially during the servers buckling under the sheer number of interested players, has resulted in a masterclass in social media and communication management. A quick look at LinkedIn shows that Danielle Dwyer and Katherine Baskin are Arrowhead's social media and community managers. Great fuckin job you two, as well as everyone who is a part of Helldivers 2's fantastic online presence.

There are perhaps more nuanced ways to express the merits of Helldivers 2. Some writer out there, one who wears a beret, and drinks wine while writing immaculate prose on the latest developments in the video game industry. I am not that writer. All I can leave you with is this: Playing Helldivers 2 reminded me of playing video games with my childhood friends after school, before MOBAs and live service games hexed me eternal with incurable mental illness. For that, it has earned a soft place in my heart, and a hard-fought residence in my head.

Why is Helldivers 2 so popular? Because Arrowhead has given me the game I've secretly wanted for years, without the BS. Now Sony, please throw a billion dollars at them. Thanks.

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