Helldivers 2 balancing has been “removing the fun”, Arrowhead CEO frets – “just tweaking damage numbers is a blunt tool”

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I spent this morning being pseudo-profound about Animal Well and pseudo-elegaic about Tango Gameworks, so now it’s time to get back to the Real Business – being a pseud on the subject of videogame gun balancing.

The game in question is cheery co-op shooter Helldivers 2, over which Aunty Sony recently upended a can of furious worms by abruptly insisting that Steam players have a PSN account for security reasons and so, blocking players in regions where PSN isn’t available. Sony have subsequently walked back the requirement following a backlash of truly hellish proportions, though I understand that the game remains unavailable on Steam in certain regions. By comparison, Arrowhead CEO Johan Pilestedt’s remarks overnight that the developers might have been “removing the fun” with their gun balancing seems pretty innocuous.

“Hey, yeah i think we’ve gone too far in some areas,” Pilestedt told a Xitter user yesterday. “Will talk to the team about the approach to balance. It feels like every time someone finds something fun, the fun is removed.” He added in the subsequent thread that Arrowhead have done “a bit too much balancing using damage as well instead of other measures such as recoil, reload speeds, accuracy, projectile speeds and equip speeds. Just tweaking damage numbers is a blunt tool.”

In particular, Pilestedt suggested that the game’s heavy machinegun could do with a more substantial rework, observing that “I think the HMG needs a tripod with an ammo box that it can be mounted on as part of team play mechanics. …but it’s a bit too ambitious as a balance adjustment”. Elsewhere, he defended a few of Arrowhead’s more contentious balancing adjustments, commenting that the game’s railgun was “way OP” next to the recoilless rifle and EAT-17 anti-tank stratagems.

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Arrowhead have been pretty upfront about the process of balancing Helldivers 2’s arsenal, with individual developers dipping into threads and sometimes getting themselves into hot water. In a blog from March, head of product testing Patrik Lasota attempted to conciliate player misgivings about the unhallowed practice of “nerfing” guns while acknowledging that nobody wants to see the life drained out of their favourite rifle.

“I have since the game released seen many who say “Don’t Nerf, only Buff” and other similar ideas,” he wrote. “However as a designer I can tell you this is not a great idea, but I understand where the sentiment comes from. All too often in the games industry the core fantasy, and what makes a weapon feel good and fun, is ignored for the sake of Balance.

“I believe players are scared of Nerfs, because it will ruin the fantasy of a weapon, ruin their fun. It is extra important to us to tread carefully so that we don’t ruin fantasy and fun when we do nerfs. We hope you, our players, will tell us when we cross that line inadvertently.”

As he often does, Pilestedt fielded a few suggestions in yesterday’s thread for new Helldivers 2 features, such as being able to switch up the loadout of the Pelican dropship. “That’s a super cool idea,” he wrote. “We had it on the wish list way back, where you’d get to customize it properly with various guns, rocket pods, loudspeakers etc. Lets see if it makes a return.” The mention of loudspeakers puts me immediately in mind of this scene from Vietnam War movie Apocalypse Now, which is very much on the same wavelength of Helldivers 2 and its key influence Starship Troopers.

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In the meantime, the fallout from Sony’s abortive PSN security decision continues. Among other things, Helldivers 2 players are trying to get a community manager reinstated after he was seemingly fired for egging on the people review-bombing the game.

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