With the Automaton invasion, Helldivers 2 proved failure is part of the point

Helldivers 2 was compared to Starship Troopers when it was first released, but since then, the squad-based third-person shooter has become closer to the post-Judgment Day future in Terminator. While the first mission order, to retake territory from bugs called Terminids, was a success, things went downhill once the game introduced the Automatons, the much harder-to-kill robots that attack Super Earth planets.

Just this week, players lost the planet Malevelon Creek to the Automatons while just barely liberating Mort after around 10 million Helldiver deaths, according to a post in the official Helldivers 2 Discord (via Gamesradar). Despite some gains, the Automatons have pushed back Super Earth’s forces for now. Starting Thursday, players will see a message stating the major order to liberate planets under Automaton control has been a failure, and players should change course:

Despite the valorous efforts of the Helldivers, Automaton marauders have invaded Super Earth territory. Patriotic citizens mourn as their sufficiently-sized homes burn to the ground. Super Earth citizens demand justice, and they will receive it. But for now, the Terminid Control System is ready for activation.

While players can still fight on Automaton worlds, most will likely shift their priorities to Terminid territory, starting with Veld, which features a hive that “eluded detection and has been gestating un-Democratic vermin for weeks.”

Helldivers 2 launched with the Terminids, and while they proved to be a challenge, players banded together and were able to complete the first major order and reap the rewards. That was not the case with the Automatons, which proved to be way tougher than their organic bug brethren. Besides the fact that even the smallest units are covered in tough-to-pierce armor, the game introduced missions that required way more strategy and teamwork than previous ones. Along with some surprise real-time work from Arrowhead Game Studios devs, the failure was inevitable.

A screenshot of the Helldivers 2 map menu that shows a text box that says, “Failure: Despite the valorous efforts of the Helldivers, Automaton marauders have invaded Super Earth territory. Patriotic citizens mourn as their sufficiently-sized homes burn to the ground. Super Earth citizens demand justice, and they will receive it. But for now, the Terminid Control System is ready for activation.” Image: Arrowhead Game Studios/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

The mission type that specifically threw players for a loop was escort missions, which required Helldivers to help researchers and other citizens trapped on planets being invaded by Automaton fleets escape into an extraction point. Sounds easy enough on its face: Follow some unarmed civilians as they run from one side of a relatively small area to another. It was a common objective with the Terminids as well. However, anybody who’s played one of these Automaton missions through will tell you that after the first 10 or so get rescued, you’ll get bombarded with Automatons of all kinds. And because these missions take place in one small space with a lot of chokepoints, and the NPCs aren’t the best at self-preservation, it’s easy for players and civilians to die over and over… and over.

Players on the Helldivers subreddit have been trying to plan out strategies for this specific mission type since the campaign started. The consensus has been to have a full four-person team, with three people luring enemies into the outskirts of the mission area and one person focusing on stealth tactics to escort civilians (that means using smoke stratagems or specialty scouting armor sets). However, this only works if people are willing to constantly communicate in voice chat. Depending on your difficulty level, you still might run into some extremely heavy spawn rates that will decimate your team regardless of how coordinated you are. And with its 40-minute clock, there is a lot of time for things to go horribly wrong. Plus, players have reported bugs, like NPCs standing in front of the extraction point without entering.

I spoke with a player who identified himself to Polygon as Alessio, aka Zarrusso on Reddit, who posted a clear, comprehensive visual guide on how to tackle these missions this week, basically putting all the disparate Reddit threads and YouTube videos on the topic together. The guide suggests landing as far away from the objective as possible, along with a set of stratagems to equip.

A Helldiver shooting at an Automaton drop ship that’s exploding in flames. Image: Arrowhead Game Studios/Sony Interactive Entertainment

“On difficulty 6 [Extreme] and all of the above, the difficulty spikes greatly and we couldn’t kill the enemies fast enough and the civilians kept dying after taking one step outside,” he wrote. “So after getting some advice from YouTube and Reddit and just playing the missions, I put together that little strategy. And now I play those missions on difficulty 7, 8, and 9, and I have completed like 90 percent of my escort missions.”

These escort missions require way more strategy than others. Some Automaton objectives are nearly identical to Terminid ones (kill a certain number of enemies; launch an ICBM), so they didn’t have a large barrier to entry and therefore didn’t need nearly as much coordination between players, especially on lower difficulties. “The other missions don’t require this much strategy. On lower difficulties, you can pretty much do them without thinking but still need to bring the right weapons,” Zarrusso explained.

The Automaton escort missions, though, have been a completely different challenge for players, despite being similar to previous ones. This led to many people spamming easier 15-minute objectives instead. With this many failures on the board, it’s no wonder the community didn’t succeed in their collective fight.

But also, failure might’ve been the point all along. In a pre-release video, deputy game director Sagar Beroshi revealed Helldivers 2 would have a game master who would introduce twists and story moments, watching players as they complete missions and responding in real time. Players still have a degree of control over how mission orders go, but like in a tabletop RPG, the GM will move players in a specific direction, sometimes with a little improv. This might include something small like giving players an extra stratagem mid-round, or something much more globally impactful.

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“The enemies have goals, right? They will look at what you’ve done, respond to the ways in which you have — you as the community, that is — has behaved, and react in a way that changes the face of the galaxy thereafter,” Beroshi said.

A recent PC Gamer article features a quick interview with CEO Johan Pilestedt, who explained this dev’s name is Joel and he apparently “takes his job very seriously.”

“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 gave as an example, referring to the period where players got access to the incendiary mine stratagem for free.

Helldivers 2 will continue to surprise players with these tactics. “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,” Pilestedt said. “And as part of the roadmap, there are things that we want to keep secret because we want to surprise and delight.” This will likely be with mechs, which have been teased and have been the subject of leaks, along with other new enemies and stories. It’s all a good reminder that your best efforts might be in vain, but you can turn the tides of war, and that makes for a more complex play experience.