Helldivers 2 dev reveals how the game's most confusing mechanic works, but only kind of: "Honestly I don't know either"

Helldivers 2
(Image credit: PlayStation Studios)

What you need to know

  • Helldivers 2's armor penetration mechanic is rather confusing, as several weapons have the same "Light Armor Penetrating" or "Medium Armor Penetrating" tag even though some of them punch through armor better than others that have the same classification.
  • In a post, CEO of developer Arrowhead Game Studios Johan Pilestedt has explained that armor penetration (AP) is a value between 0 and 10, and is measured against an enemy's armor value (AV).
  • If AP is higher than an enemy's AV, the weapon does 100% damage. If AP is equal to AV, the attack deals 50% damage. If the AP is lower than the AV, rounds from the weapon will ricochet off the armor.
  • Weapon AP and enemy AV aren't shown anywhere in-game, as Pilestedt says "it was deemed [too] complex for players." However, he also noted that the decision to hide these stats "might have been a bad call," suggesting they could be made visible after a future update.

While the majority of the gameplay systems in Arrowhead Game Studios' PvE co-op shooter Helldivers 2 are straightforward and easy to understand, one that's quite confusing — and also very important — is armor penetration. You'll need guns that can punch through the armor of certain Terminid bugs and Automaton bots to damage them effectively, but while the penetration capabilities of stratagem support weapons are made pretty clear in their descriptions, the same can't be said for workhorse primary and secondary weapons.

All of them are simply given a vague "Light Armor Penetrating" or "Medium Armor Penetrating" label, even though some of them are far more capable of actually dealing with armor than others with the same tag. For example, the P-4 Senator revolver is a light armor penetrator, but is powerful enough to pierce Hive Guard leg plates that deflect rounds from other guns with that classification. Another notable case of this is with the JAR-5 Dominator, which is strong enough to damage light vehicle armor that the AR-23P Liberator Penetrator can't, despite the fact that both rifles are medium armor penetrators.

These inconsistencies make it hard to tell which weapons can or can't get through different types of armor without trial-and-error testing, and many have looked to Arrowhead for a clear explanation of how armor penetration works. Luckily, we now have one thanks to a new post in a thread about weapon stats from the studio's CEO Johan Pilestedt.

"Armor pen is a value between 0 and 10 — if the AP is equal to the enemies armor value the damage is 50% if the AP beats the armor you do 100%," he wrote in reply to a question about the mechanic. "If AP is less than the AV the bullet ricochets."

The Automatons often deploy armored enemies that require good armor penetration to damage, though they have less-protected weak points as well. (Image credit: PlayStation Studios)

"I don't know what the light ap condition is," he continued. "I think it might be if AP is 2 or less. But honestly I don't know either. 🤣"

That clears up how penetration works and why some weapons are better at it than others despite shared classifications, though specific values for enemy armor and each gun's armor penetration aren't actually visible anywhere in-game. When asked why the developers chose to hide them, Pilestedt seemingly hinted they may be made visible soon: "Yeah in retrospect it might have been a bad call. It was deemed [too] complex for players 🤔"

Elsewhere in the thread, a fan noted that "[User experience] can get very clunky if you show everything," to which Pilestedt responded: "Exactly this. It just becomes overwhelming at some point. It's trying to strike a balance." 

So, essentially, Arrowhead believed the nitty-gritty of Helldivers 2's armor penetration system was too complicated to show in detail, and opted to represent it with simple traits instead. Based on Pilestedt's tweets, though, it seems like the developer may be reconsidering that decision.

The default Liberator assault rifle has low armor penetration, often forcing you to aim for weak spots when fighting tankier foes. (Image credit: PlayStation Studios)

I can definitely see where Arrowhead was coming from when it chose to not display these values — messy, overly complex menus are frustrating to use, after all — but given how important armor penetration is in Helldivers 2, I think there should at least be an option to look at details like these. Perhaps the simple tags that exist currently can remain for those that just want a basic explanation, while an "Advanced Stats" page could be added for players to review granular specifics if they want to.

I'd also love to see a codex that details each enemy unit's armor value, which is something the original 2015 Helldivers had but the sequel lacks. That, paired with the ability to see each weapon's armor penetration value, would make it much easier to understand what each weapon is capable of and put together effective loadouts. Notably, Pilestedt agreed with someone who suggested having more "crunchy numbers" could lead to too much of a focus on defining a meta, but I'm hoping Arrowhead will ensure a diverse array of weapons are viable with balance patches.

Speaking of balance, big Helldivers 2 balance changes are on the way, which should shake up the Breaker, Railgun, Shield Generator Pack, and 500kg Bomb meta that's formed for the game's higher difficulties. Also, now that its server capacity issues have been taken care of, too, the developers have shifted "to focus on improvements" like big armored mechs that'll freshen up the sandbox as well.

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.

Helldivers 2 — $39.99 at GMG (Steam)

Helldivers 2 — <a href="https://greenmangaming.sjv.io/c/221109/1219987/15105?subId1=hawk-custom-tracking&sharedId=hawk&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.greenmangaming.com%2Fgames%2Fhelldivers-2-pc%2F" data-link-merchant="greenmangaming.sjv.io"" target="_blank">$39.99 at GMG (Steam)

Battle aliens, robots, and other beasts in humanity's quest to spread democracy through an unforgiving galaxy. It's 4-player co-op at its absolute best, and its most refined.

Also at: <a href="https://target.georiot.com/Proxy.ashx?tsid=8428&GR_URL=https%3A%2F%2Famazon.com%2FHelldivers-2-PlayStation-5%2Fdp%2FB0CJGPSXG4%2F%3Ftag%3Dhawk-future-20%26ascsubtag%3Dhawk-custom-tracking-20" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"" data-link-merchant="greenmangaming.sjv.io"" target="_blank">Amazon (PS5, Physical) | <a href="https://goto.walmart.com/c/1943169/565706/9383?subId1=hawk-custom-tracking&sharedId=hawk&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.walmart.com%2Fip%2FHelldivers-2-Playstation-5%2F5040310252%3F" data-link-merchant="goto.walmart.com"" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"" data-link-merchant="greenmangaming.sjv.io"" target="_blank">Walmart (PS5, Physical)

Super Citizen Edition: <a href="https://target.georiot.com/Proxy.ashx?tsid=8428&GR_URL=https%3A%2F%2Famazon.com%2FHELLDIVERS-Standard-Online-Game-Code%2Fdp%2FB0CLYZD4X2%2F%3Ftag%3Dhawk-future-20%26ascsubtag%3Dhawk-custom-tracking-20" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"" data-link-merchant="goto.walmart.com"" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"" data-link-merchant="greenmangaming.sjv.io"" target="_blank">Amazon (PC, Digital) | <a href="https://greenmangaming.sjv.io/c/221109/1219987/15105?subId1=hawk-custom-tracking&sharedId=hawk&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.greenmangaming.com%2Fgames%2Fhelldivers-2-super-citizen-edition-pc%2F" data-link-merchant="greenmangaming.sjv.io"" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"" data-link-merchant="goto.walmart.com"" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"" data-link-merchant="greenmangaming.sjv.io"" target="_blank">GMG (Steam, PC, Digital)

Brendan Lowry

Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.