Helldivers 2 devs "knew it would be divisive" to put one real person in charge of the war: "It's something that a video game has never done before"

Helldivers 2
(Image credit: Arrowhead)

Many Helldivers 2 fans were surprised to learn that the game's wars are being directed by a D&D-style game master named Joel, and some still aren't sure how to feel about it. The devs behind the game say they knew the system was going to be divisive, but it adds a very unique dimension to the battle against the bugs and bots.

"Most live service games have something like a game master, but it's a series of automated events," community manager Katherine 'Baskinator' Baskin explains on the game's official Discord. "Buffs/debuffs/events are activated automatically according to some schedule... instead of what we're doing here, which is a person who can analyze the campaign as it's happening and make more sensitive choices. We knew it would be divisive! But we hope overall that people enjoy it."

Baskin has been responding to community concerns about that system ever since it started generating controversy, saying that "we accept that some players won't like this. That's why we announced it before release and tried to do our best to explain that this is like playing a D&D campaign with a human being. He's the dungeon master for millions."

The key difference between Helldivers 2 and a D&D session - besides the number of players - is that you don't get a direct line of communication with your GM, so it can feel less like you're collaborating with someone to tell a story, and more like somebody is just pumping the enemy numbers up. But the devs want to change that, to at least some extent. "The in-game part of it is something we're actively working on," Baskin says.

"This was a very big experiment for the studio, really, and it's something that a video game has never done before. I would love to see the GM's decisions roll into the overall narrative worldbuilding of the game. To me, this makes it feel more like a real war with real stakes, even though it's just a video game."

Regardless, it's not Joel's goal to simply punish players with unending waves of enemies. "I think it's unfair of some of the journalist pieces about the GM to say that he's working against players," Baskin says. "That's not really the best way to think about it. It's more like he's trying to respond to the natural push/pull of players in certain areas and either raise the challenge or lower the challenge, depending on how he reads the data."

Since Joel's name has become something of a rallying cry - or perhaps more accurately, a target - for frustrated players, Baskin says she's aiming to "protect his safety as best I can." But she says Joel still loves the community and was watching excitedly as millions of Super Earth soldiers died in the nail-biting campaign on planet Mort, which the galactic GM called "a thing of beauty."

Helldivers 2 needed its own D&D-type game master because the co-op shooter "is going to run for a long time, we'd love to see it go for many years."

Dustin Bailey
Staff Writer

Dustin Bailey joined the GamesRadar team as a Staff Writer in May 2022, and is currently based in Missouri. He's been covering games (with occasional dalliances in the worlds of anime and pro wrestling) since 2015, first as a freelancer, then as a news writer at PCGamesN for nearly five years. His love for games was sparked somewhere between Metal Gear Solid 2 and Knights of the Old Republic, and these days you can usually find him splitting his entertainment time between retro gaming, the latest big action-adventure title, or a long haul in American Truck Simulator.