Helldivers 2 has a Dungeons and Dragons-style GM behind the scenes

Today I learned there is a Dungeons and Dragons-like Game Master (GM) working behind the scenes on Helldivers 2.

His name is Joel, and his job title at Arrowhead is, well, Game Master. “We have a lot of systems built into the game where the Game Master has a lot of control over the play experience. It’s something that we’re continuously evolving based on what’s happening in the game,” Helldivers 2 game director Johan Pilestedt told PC Gamer.

This continuous evolution has actually seen Joel getting up at unsociable hours to sort out situations when the Helldivers 2 team realised the game wasn’t as balanced as it could be. “There have been some sudden moments where maybe one planet was too easy or one was too hard and [Joel] had to get up in the middle of the night to give the Automatons a bit of reinforcement so the players don’t take [the planet] too quickly,” Pilestedt said.


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The director said Dungeons and Dragons had actually been a major inspiration for the Arrowhead team. Together, they aim to replicate many gameplay elements from the fantasy role-playing game, such as collaborative efforts and reactive storytelling.

Pilestedt said while there is still a difference between creating a TTRPG campaign for a small band of adventurers and an online shooter for thousands of players (Helldivers 2 became PlayStation’s biggest Steam launch ever and currently has an all-time concurrent peak of over 458,000 players), its “still the same format”.

“It’s just that you can’t get as personal with every individual. But you can still do the same twists and turns,” he said.

Much like all good GMs, the studio also has “predictions” about how the Helldivers 2 war will play out. As such, it has created “set pieces” that the developer thinks will be important. But, as any TTRPG game master will appreciate, even the best laid plans can be scuppered by players. As well as giving the Automatons a bit of a helping hand in the middle of the night, Joel has also had to put his thinking cap on when players liberated the first batch of Terminid planets ahead of schedule, resulting in a day of “nothing happening” before the next event took place.

“So Joel, in his infinite wisdom decided, ‘What happens when a faction wins a portion of a war? Well, they mine everything.’ That’s where the incendiary mine segment came from,” Pilestedt revealed.

The Helldivers 2 team plans to keep a good dialogue open between the studio and players. It is listening to what its community is saying and reacting to, including its attachment to planets (something the game director called “significant”).

As for what’s next, recent gameplay footage of Helldivers 2 has shown off in-game playable mechs – something that isn’t currently available to users in the public version of the game. What do you mech of that?


Helldivers 2 action showing a soldier firing at large bug-like aliens

Helldivers 2 screenshot showing a player running from a strange green explosion
Image credit: Arrowhead

“With its high-chaos, high-comedy firefights, it’s a riot to play with friends,” Emma Kent wrote in Eurogamer’s Helldivers 2 review, awarding it four stars.

“Despite the issues surrounding matchmaking, when Helldivers 2 works, it’s a wonderfully slapstick co-op experience. Unexpected and memorable events seem to occur in nearly every battle, and I already have a stock of ludicrous stories from my first week with the game.”

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