Helldivers 2 is a third-person horde shooter developed by Arrowhead Games and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment. Photo provided by Arrowhead games and Sony Interactive Entertainment. | THE ALL STATE

Helldivers 2 knows what it is. Released February 8, 2024, the third-person-shooter is a sequel to the twin-stick original, and follows an elite squad of soldiers known as “Helldivers” who battle alien menaces.

I say that the game knows what it is, because it wears its inspirations on its sleeve. The Helldivers as an organization worship ideals of freedom and military service à la Starship Troopers. 

The Terminids, bug-like hostile aliens, are reminiscent of the bugs from Starship Troopers and the Tyranids from the Warhammer 40k Universe. And the androids Helldivers face? You might as well call them T-800s.

The game doesn’t bother with much story, instead providing a satirical atmosphere for you to simply fight back waves upon waves of enemies. It’s a horde shooter, a subgenre wherein the player completes objectives or just tries to survive in the face of an ever-growing, endless supply of enemies. 

For its lack of a story, players are instead treated to just plain fun. An unrestrictive loadout, simple objectives, excellent multiplayer (when the servers aren’t full) and an array of shock-and-awe weaponry options, the game lets you focus on just having fun.

Injury and death are handwaved with a satirical focus on the honor of dying for one’s country, and jokes are made out bypassing the necessary forms to call in an airstrike. These are both playful jabs at the military industrial complex, but also keep the player enjoying themselves. The game doesn’t even have a story mode, and yet the writing and dialogue is still funny.

But we know the game is fun. It’s been out for two weeks and the servers are still nearly always at capacity. The game’s monetization is another cause for analysis.

Some gamers will cry foul at a game retailing with an AAA priced premium edition containing microtransactions, and I understand why. But studio executives will continue to demand these features, and if we must get them at all I’d prefer them to be like Helldivers 2.

The game reminds me of one of my favorite games, Deep Rock Galactic, being a bug-hunting horde-shooting experience. Deep Rock introduced a “Season Pass” structure a few updates ago, reminiscent of a battle pass.

A Battle Pass is shorthand for a monetization structure that involves selling access to a collection of items that must be earned in a limited time, such as a month. 

This means purchasers can pay for the pass, but must still play frequently in order to get the items. This encourages compulsive play because any item not earned is value lost on the consumer’s purchase. 

In addition, these structures prey upon fear of missing out, or FOMO. Items inside the passes are usually never available again. Deep Rock introduced a free season pass, promising any items would not disappear but instead be attainable as part of the game’s random loot pool.

Helldivers 2 took this pro-consumer approach one step further. The game awards the player items in “Warbonds” essentially a battle pass structure that comes in a premium and free variant. The catch? War Bonds are planned to simply persist forever. Even the premium war bond can be unlocked by achieving significant progress on the free version or through earning premium currency. 

This simple change means that players don’t have to worry about FOMO and can dedicate their time to the game in different ways, prioritizing what is fun rather than what grinds through a Battle Pass quickest. This simpler, less predatory structure is promising, and I hope that more studios allow developers to take approaches like these.