Helldivers 2’s community-wide orders build on the legacy of MMOs

Helldivers 2’s community-wide orders build on the legacy of MMOs
Antony Terence Updated on by

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Helldivers 2 is one of the biggest gaming hits of 2024. It’s not an MMO but by pairing story progression with community-wide goals, it channels the genre’s greatest strength – writing history together. Sure, you’re working for an imperial regime as you bury enemy robots and bugs in lead and laser fire. You do it to earn medals and feel the warmth of a 500kg bomb as the stratagem decimates a planet’s topography. But even on solo missions, Helldivers are never truly alone.

And I don’t mean that as a metaphor. As hundreds of Destroyer ships orbit a planet, every mission success brings it closer to liberation. Spreading ‘managed democracy’ is a net result of each action on that planet, giving players free reign over which planet to save first. Zoom out on your Galactic War console and you’ll see thousands of players on other planets, main mission be damned. While incentives like mech production and major orders can pull players toward certain planets, the spoils of war are shared with every Helldiver. These tussles are often shaken up by a human Game Master at Arrowhead Game Studios, adding another layer of challenge to Helldivers 2.

By giving players common goals to work towards, Helldivers 2 succeeds in bringing its community together to share its losses and victories. Losing Malevelon Creek stung because you weren’t the only player responsible for its downfall. By the same token, winning Tien Kwan to restore mech production was a shared liber-tea party. The mission quickly spread through internet forums and influencer channels, encouraging players to take up arms against a common cause. Sneaking mech drops into random player arsenals as ‘leaks’ helped Arrowhead drip-feed the taste of victory among its players, guiding them toward a satisfying outcome. 

It’s a remarkable sight in a live service game, a genre known more for FOMO battle passes and costly customization over teamwork and shared stories. It follows in the vein of several success stories in the MMO space, wins that were earned against AI factions or even other real-world players. In 2006, World of WarCraft players banded together to collect materials and open the magic gates of Ahn’Qiraj before two intense raids.

An image of the Battle of Lumbridge from RuneScape. Image via RuneScape Wiki.
Image via RuneScape Wiki.

And in 2013, I woke up at 4 AM to support the god of order Saradomin against the chaos god Zamorak in RuneScape’s Battle of Lumbridge. Players were tasked with collecting Divine Tears, a resource that could be mined, earned by fighting, or other activities. This could then be used to vote for exclusive rewards amid events to push your faction closer to victory. Moderators from developer Jagex would even join the fray as elite followers with a healing aura and some serious combat buffs. The battle ripped through in-game buildings and structures with rebuilding efforts and new NPC dialogue marking this dark chapter in RuneScape history.

Other MMOs sparked faction-wide wars like Champions of Regnum (2007) and Planetside 2 (2012). The latter could accommodate thousands of troops (won a Guinness World Record) as sci-fi vehicles and laser fire peppered its battlefields. EVE Online (2003) is infamous for its galactic-scale spaceship combat between coalitions and rival factions. And The Lord of the Rings Online (2007) let you engage in a constant conflict between the Free Peoples and monsters like Uruks, Spiders, and Wargs in its Monster Play mode. 

As a player who has enjoyed these larger-than-life conflicts, I hope Arrowhead keeps its player base on its toes with unique Helldivers 2 events and content drops tied to liberating planets. It’s refreshing to see ‘doing my part” become a gaming staple again. Here’s to more events that will make veteran divers tell cadets ‘I was there when Malevelon Creek fell.’