The Helldivers 2 meta is a symptom of a much larger problem, and nerfs don't fix it

 Helldivers 2.
Helldivers 2.

The long-awaited first Helldivers 2 balance patch finally came to the co-op PvE shooter on Wednesday morning, but it didn't include the changes that many players were hoping for. By and large, most players have been clamoring for lots of buffs; we did get a few of these, but nerfs to the game's meta equipment — the Breaker shotgun, the Railgun, and the Shield Generator Pack — came down as well.

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To be clear, these items weren't gutted by the update, and are arguably still the best options overall. The Breaker just has some slightly higher recoil and three less rounds in its magazines now, the Railgun deals a bit less damage-per-shot but feels the same otherwise as long as you switch it over to Unsafe Mode (don't charge your shots for more than three seconds), and the Shield Generator Pack takes an extra second to regen your energy shield if it gets knocked out.

Alex Kravchenko, a game designer at developer Arrowhead, explained the reasoning behind the nerfs in the official Helldivers Discord server: "Sure, you will have your own favorite [item], but it should come from your personal preference, not from the universally agreed knowledge of which gun is the strongest." And I agree — ideally, all of Helldivers 2's weapons and stratagems should feel viable.

But here's the problem: the Breaker, Railgun, and Shield Generator Pack aren't meta because they're overpowered. They're meta because in the game's hardest difficulties, they're often the only items that can reliably keep you alive against the ridiculous number of enemies that spawn when you run into a patrol or reach an objective, including swarms of heavily armored elite units. And I'm far from alone in thinking this, as evidenced by several of the top posts in the r/Helldivers subreddit right now:

A single Terminid Charger or Automaton Hulk can be threatening enough to throw a wrench in your squad's plans, so when a bunch of them spawn at once alongside Bile Titans, Tanks, and hordes of weaker foes any time you dare to get into a big skirmish, you're all but forced to use the select few items that have the firepower, ammo reserves, and reload speed needed to keep up (or the shield backpack, which counters all the infuriating slowdown effects the bugs spam at you).

This is a regular occurrence at Tier 7-9 difficulty, and while stealthing around helps, mission objectives force you to openly engage Liberty's enemies at some point. And sure, as Arrowhead's Head of Product Testing Patrik Lasota wrote yesterday in a blog post about the balance patch, "you need to rely on your stratagems" — but the most powerful of these have long cooldowns, and on harder difficulties, modifiers extend these cooldowns, make stratagems come in slower, or scramble their codes so you can't even reliably call in what you need when you need it.

"You need to rely on your stratagems" has quickly become something of a meme as a result, with many pointing out that individual Orbital Railcannon Strikes or Eagle 500kg Bombs don't help much when they're only able to kill one or two Tanks or Bile Titans before they go on cooldown while the other 10 are bearing down on your fireteam. You could try using weaker stratagems that have more uses and shorter cooldowns, but these lack the firepower to punch through tough armor.

Helldivers 2 gameplay
Helldivers 2 gameplay

Now, I get that missions on the highest difficulties are supposed to be incredibly tough, and I don't want that to change. I love a good challenge (I'm addicted to FromSoftware games), but the best challenges are fair — and relentless hordes of Chargers and Bile Titans are not. Their spawn rates are unreasonably ridiculous, and by nerfing the only tools we had in the sandbox that were capable of dealing with them, Arrowhead has made that more apparent than it's ever been.

In a vacuum, I wouldn't have an issue with the nerfs at all, and I suspect most players wouldn't, either. They're definitely felt, but even so, they're small adjustments, and haven't made meta items "useless" like many are arguing hyperbolically. But we're not in a vacuum, and it's important to recognize that insane high-tier enemy spawns are why the meta exists. Lowering the power of the Railgun doesn't raise other options into relevancy; it just makes the one solid option we had feel worse.

Overall, the big takeaway here is that on Suicide Mission, Impossible, and Helldive difficulty, Helldivers 2 either needs to chill out with the elite unit spam or make other anti-armor weapons like the Recoilless Rifle and Autocannon more effective. Oh, and for the love of all that is democratic, please rework those stratagem modifiers. Trying to request an airstrike for over 30 seconds because the scrambler keeps changing my call-in to something I don't need makes me want to yeet my keyboard across the room.

Helldivers 2
Helldivers 2

The good news is that Arrowhead is aware the Railgun "rose to prominence as part of other anti-tank weapons not being as convenient or efficient in comparison," though the fact the studio is "monitoring the situation closely" and plans to "adjust more based on how this change [the Railgun nerf] plays out" baffles me. If the alternatives to the only good support weapon at higher difficulties are understood to be too weak, what does waiting to buff them accomplish? I suppose mechs are about to drop and shake things up a bit, but still.

Yes, you can always lower the difficulty to Hard or Extreme for an arduous, but not absurd challenge where many more items are viable (though you won't be able to get Super Samples for late game ship module upgrades). And also, it's only been one month since launch, with this being the first of many balance patches that will hopefully get Helldivers 2's endgame into a better state. For that to happen, though, Arrowhead has to address the core issues with the game's enemy spawns and sandbox instead of nerfing the meta they facilitate.

Helldivers 2 is available now for $39.99 on both PS5 and PC, and so far, it's one of the best PC games of the year. Notably, the game also supports cross-platform play between PS5 and PC.

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