15 years ago, Helldivers 2’s core was born in Arrowhead’s Magicka

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Helldivers 2 is one of 2024’s biggest hits on PlayStation and PC. With a max concurrent count of over 400,000 players on Steam alone, Arrowhead Game Studios has struck gold with its blend of tactical third-person combat and rock-solid cooperative elements. We praised its approach to in-game currencies as well in our Helldivers 2 review.

Arrowhead recently celebrated its 15th anniversary on social media, prompting me to reminisce about the developer’s stable of games. Their first game, Magicka, was a student project submitted to the Swedish Game Awards in 2008. It ended up winning Game of the Year and was released in 2011. Magicka is an isometric twin-stick co-op shooter where wizards mix and match elements to create spells in combat. If mashing button combinations under pressure sounds familiar, that’s because stratagem summons work the same in Helldivers 2. 

I spent a lot of time in Magicka when I was in college. Despite its complex controller scheme, its loony plot, and creative bosses, it helped some of my friends enjoy their first step into gaming. One key component of Magicka’s tense battles was friendly fire, a heirloom that’s been passed on to Helldivers 2. While the right spell combinations could deal absurd amounts of damage, firing one at an ally or worse, yourself, could be lethal. Blowing a friend up was absolutely hilarious, especially in couch co-op. You could also accidentally heal enemies, grant them shields, or make the terrain work against you (wizards can’t swim). 

According to an interview with Polygon, the game’s development nearly broke them, with 70-hour weeks being the norm before publisher Paradox stepped in. Some team members dropped out of college and their first base of operations was a girlfriend’s kitchen. It’s a miracle that Magicka launched to positive reviews and set the foundations for something far greater.

An image of wizards using assault rifles and RPGs in Magicka: Vietnam. Image from Arrowhead Game Studios.
An image of wizards using assault rifles and RPGs in Magicka: Vietnam. Image from Arrowhead Game Studios.

Magicka had a bucketload of expansions. And Magicka: Vietnam’s assault rifles and RPGs are a glimpse at the direction that Arrowhead would take. This success with isometric titles helped Arrowhead secure publishing deals with WB Games and PlayStation for Gauntlet (2014) and the original Helldivers (2015). While Magicka 2 (2015) wasn’t an Arrowhead title, it expanded on key aspects like the spell system and friendly fire. 

These two core pillars in addition to fair monetization help Helldivers 2 stand out from the competition today. In my review, I recalled moments like finishing a Machine Gun reload as a friend stood guard and being dropped on an enemy factory as a human missile. While I’ve dealt with toxic comments from other communities, mistakes were opportunities to share a laugh with strangers in Helldivers 2. Friendly fire improved the experience and held us back from using our strongest weapons without caution.

An image of players fighting an alien horde in Helldivers. Image from Arrowhead Game Studios.
An image of players fighting an alien horde in Helldivers. Image from Arrowhead Game Studios.

Helldivers 2 makes calling in stratagems like orbital strikes, sentry turrets, or deadly supply weapons a challenging task. While you don’t have to memorize button combinations, try looking at instructions when a bug the size of a building is trying to stomp you. This adds even more tension to a challenging mission, especially with hordes of weaker enemies angling to get a shot at you. Helldivers 2 also has a mini-game that tasks players with quickly mashing button combos. 

Arrowhead has come a long way from Magicka’s whimsical charm with an interplanetary conflict that every Helldivers 2 player takes part in. As each operation impacts the war between humanity, Automatons, and Terminids, I can’t help but admire Arrowhead’s incredible journey. We need more cultural phenomena fueled by ideas that started as cool projects from minuscule teams. By leveraging lessons from their past, Arrowhead now has a glorious future to tend to as Helldivers 2 continues to receive updates at a steady pace.

About the Author

Antony Terence

Antony Terence is a Guides Writer for VideoGamer. While he is particularly fond of city-builders, shooters, and strategy titles, he won’t turn down a good JRPG or a turn-based roguelike.

Helldivers 2

  • Release Date: February 8, 2024
  • Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 5
  • Genre(s): Action, Shooter, Third Person
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