The secret to Helldivers 2's success? The Last of Us and God of War designer points to immersive element "I don't see people talking about enough"

Helldivers 2 intro cutscene helldiver thumbs up
(Image credit: Sony)

Helldivers 2's popularity continues to be immense, and one senior game designer at Naughty Dog has been gushing about what they believe to be the main reason why – its focus on immersion. 

Derek Mattson has been credited with a number of huge Sony Interactive Entertainment-published games, including being part of the narrative technical design team on God of War Ragnarok and serving as a game designer on The Last of Us Part 2. The designer has been discussing how Helldivers 2's immersive design contributes to players feeling like real Helldivers, keeping us all coming back for more, even if it's a factor "I don't see people talking about enough," particularly regarding multiplayer games.

"They remove as many barriers as possible between you and living the fantasy of being a Helldiver," Mattson says. "You are on the stick controlling your Helldiver as soon as the game can let you. No main menu, instead you are on your ship. You are not a player. You are a Helldiver."

The designer points to the war table and its 3D holographic map and how Helldivers are instructed to get into their Hellpods to begin missions as examples of details that draw players in, noting that "even the loading screen commits to immersion." Mattson explains: "The theme song kicks in as we watch the appropriate number of pods drop from the ship for our player count. We are singing the theme song in the chat. [...] We are Helldivers and no one can tell us otherwise." 

Being a bit more critical for a moment, Mattson says it can be argued that the screen that pops up when you're choosing your loadout is a bit less immersive, but "my brain fills in the blanks" with the idea that it could be an interactive screen within the Hellpod.

"I can't understate how all of this (on top of some choice [multiplayer] gameplay design) is what adds up to a cohesive experience that players keep yearning to come back to over and over again," Mattson continues. "It's also why you see a commitment to roleplaying of a Helldiver in and out of the game."

Even these design choices aside, there's also Helldivers 2's evolving narrative to consider, since the lore shifts and changes as we complete (or fail) the various Major Orders. We've got galactic Game Master Joel to thank for a lot of the twists and turns in the war, of course, and he certainly knows how to keep it interesting.

To wrap up the thread, Mattson acknowledges "the argument" to prioritize "responsiveness over immersion" in games, saying that "it is a balance we all have to strike." However, "ignoring immersion altogether for the sake of responsiveness clearly leads to losing out on something special," the designer adds. 

This week, Helldivers 2 players were given a number of fresh upgrades to unlock. Be sure to check out our guide to all the new Ship Module upgrades and what they do.

Catherine Lewis
News Writer

I'm one of GamesRadar+'s news writers, who works alongside the rest of the news team to deliver cool gaming stories that we love. After spending more hours than I can count filling The University of Sheffield's student newspaper with Pokemon and indie game content, and picking up a degree in Journalism Studies, I started my career at GAMINGbible where I worked as a journalist for over a year and a half. I then became TechRadar Gaming's news writer, where I sourced stories and wrote about all sorts of intriguing topics. In my spare time, you're sure to find me on my Nintendo Switch or PS5 playing through story-driven RPGs like Xenoblade Chronicles and Persona 5 Royal, nuzlocking old Pokemon games, or going for a Victory Royale in Fortnite.