Helldivers 2 Doesn’t Need A Campaign, But I Still Wish It Had One

Players are writing the story of the galactic war, but I wish I’d been given more to chew on before being martyred for the cause

Helldivers 2 Doesn't Need A Campaign, But I Still Wish It Had One

I’ve never been into shooters, and I’ve never gotten sucked into a live-service game without a campaign to ease me in first. I love strong writing and poignant narrative themes, while killing stuff tends to feel more like a chore than anything. It doesn’t make sense for me to like Helldivers 2 as much as I do, but here we are. After playing through the tutorial last night, I managed to find friends who’d already been playing to shepherd me through my first few fights against the Terminids and Automatons threatening the safety of Super Earth’s empire, and I was immediately hooked.

After a couple of hours, once the clock had struck midnight, one friend finally said that he was logging off to go to bed, and I said I would do the same. Then I stared at my television screen for two minutes, talking myself out of playing just ‘one more game’ that would turn into another two hours, because I had to work the next day. I woke up today, and I immediately considered jumping into a game or two before clocking in for work. It is taking all of my discipline to be normal about Helldivers 2.

But because I am who I am, I immediately craved a story campaign. After getting familiar with the game’s anti-fascist roots, I wanted Arrowhead to continue the story and flesh out the game’s universe further. I knew going in that there wasn’t a real campaign, but I was hoping for more lore in the story, for there to be hints of plot in the missions. Instead, I was treated to a brief intro cutscene, a tutorial that established the satirical, cynical tone, and then I was thrown into the fray to die over and over again. There are little bits of lore here and there, but battle is often so frenetic that there isn’t any time to stop and read it.

This didn’t feel like a bad thing, necessarily. Helldivers 2 doesn’t suffer for the lack of a campaign, partly because the gameplay is so fun, and partly because the story of the galactic war the Helldivers are fighting is being written in real time. Players can see which sectors of space are under threat and which planets are close to being overtaken by either the Automatons or Terminids, and there are even game masters who tweak enemy strategy in real-time to react to how the community is faring in certain areas.

For example, right now, the game’s Major Order &- essentially a community goal &- says that the Automatons launched a surprise attack against “our innocent civilian populations” and that our priority right now is to “Win at least 8 Defend Campaigns against the Automatons”. However, on the Discord, we can see deeper into what’s going on in the war. Super Earth High Command, the game masters, are sending dispatches based on the liberation or loss of specific planets in a sector, directing players to specific planets to push back enemies and take back control. This mass strategic coordination is in itself a kind of storytelling, making players feel like the community’s action as a whole can really control the fate of the galaxy.

That’s a very cool method of storytelling, but as of right now, I’m not confident the meta-narrative being told will go as deep as I want it to. The game’s only been out for a few weeks, to be fair, and there’s a chance I’ll be proven wrong &- either way, there’s a good chance I’ll be playing this game for a while, and I want to see if Helldivers 2 can really build a strong story over time.

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