Helldivers 2's Automatons just handed the community its first big L, and meager rewards and bad mission design are to blame

Helldivers 2
(Image credit: PlayStation Studios)

Dedicated Helldivers 2 players decisively liberated a handful of planets infested with Terminid bugs during the game's launch week earlier this month, but Super Earth's mightiest space marines aren't faring as well against the ongoing Automaton invasions that began shortly after. In fact, we're losing — and now, with only six of the eight successful defense campaigns required to fulfill the current Major Order won and only the besieged world of Ingmar left to hold the line on in the operation's final hours, defeat seems all but certain (Update: We lost, as expected).

Admittedly, there's definitely a part of me that's been curious to find out what happens if the community fails one of the game's large galaxy-wide campaigns (as far as I can tell, the loss of the planets we couldn't defend has been the only consequence). But to see it happen so soon, even with consistent record-high player counts on the daily, is disappointing.

But how did we get here, after handily driving the bugs off Turing and Fenrir III? What went wrong? Ultimately, two key issues with Helldivers 2 are to blame: the game's lackluster rewards for completing operations, and the frustrating, tedious, and bland design of its evac defense missions.

More spoils of war, please

Once you get far enough into Helldivers 2, the importance of Warbond Medals and Super Credits drastically increases. (Image credit: Windows Central)

If you've been keeping up with the discussion on Reddit and other social media sites, you've likely seen lots of Helldivers 2 players point the finger at Warbond Medal farmers to explain why we've often failed to stymie the conquest of the bot menace. And there's certainly truth to that — many in the community are taking advantage of the fact that you can easily and quickly fulfill the kill requirements of "Eradicate Automaton Forces" defense levels with tons of sentry stratagems, earning a handful of medals and several hundred XP in just a few minutes before abandoning the wider operations the missions are part of to reset them.

Bailing on planetary operations doesn't give the Automatons a win and add to the red bar that represents invasion progress, but it also doesn't help, as only fully completed ops contribute to defense campaigns. And while it's easy to criticize medal farmers and call them commie sympathizers condemn them for not doing their part, it's important to recognize that the farming is merely a symptom of a larger problem: Helldivers 2 just isn't rewarding enough in any layer of its Galactic War.

You only get two extra Warbond Medals for every consecutive mission you play through in an operation to complete it, and when several of those are the game's open-ended 40-minute affairs, it's not surprising that many are choosing to grind out the quick and easy stuff. Though smaller amounts of medals are enough to make consistent progress through the earlier pages of Helldivers 2's battle passes, you'll need hundreds of them to get through Page 5-8. When faced with requirements like these, folks will always focus on whatever's most efficient — and right now, finishing planetary operations is not.

12,500 Requisitions? That's it? (Image credit: Windows Central)

Then, when I zoom out to the macro level and realize that all we'd get for holding off the Automatons is 12,500 Requisitions, I start wondering why anyone should bother with Major Orders at all outside of the roleplaying aspect. I might get hyped about that payout if I was a wet-behind-the-ears Cadet fresh out of Helldiver training, but I'm a level 37, and I've already unlocked all the best stratagems as well as all the others, too. In fact, my Requisitions have been capped at 50,000 for quite a while, as I have nothing to spend them on.

A nice big chunk of Super Credits, a large bounty of Warbond Medals, or some Super Samples are the types of rewards I'd actually get excited (and fight very hard) for, as these are the resources and currencies I still need for Superstore purchases, battle pass progress, and late-game Ship Module upgrades. As things are now, though, there's no meaningful incentive to complete Major Orders, and that's a problem if developer Arrowhead Game Studios wants the community to care about the Galactic War in the long-term.

Evac missions just aren't fun

Using Recoilless Rifles to blow up incoming enemy dropships is one of the only effective ways to complete evac missions. (Image credit: Windows Central)

The controversial design of the new "Retrieve Essential Personnel" defense missions that accompanied the Automatons' offensive needs some adjustments, too. In these, your squad has to hold off waves of incoming bots while ushering civilians, three at a time, to an evacuation shuttle nearby. Here's the problem, though: they're just...not very fun.

Even after Arrowhead made a tweak that reduced their difficulty, these missions are often thought to be bugged due to how hard they are. The hordes of incoming Automatons often seem never-ending, and even with the best loadouts, things can quickly snowball disastrously if everyone in your fireteam isn't on their A-game. Sure, I've found some cheesy success by working with a friend to shoot down every incoming dropship with Recoilless Rifles, and others have recommended drawing the bots into the area outside of the evac zone while one stealth operative sneaks into it and gets everyone to safety. But these are tactics that demand tons of coordination, and you're not likely to get that in matchmaking.

But even if the missions were easier, though, they still wouldn't be particularly enjoyable. Once you play one, you've pretty much played them all, as the map layout is identical every single time. On top of that, their static and repetitive nature contrasts sharply with the dynamic and non-linear structure of Helldivers 2's longer, larger levels. No two of the latter ever feel the same thanks to things like varied objective locations and intelligent enemy patrols that facilitate emergent gameplay, but the former lacks this engagement diversity. You just...babysit some doors and press a button every once in a while.

The Automatons of Helldivers 2. (Image credit: PlayStation Studios)

Oh, and this ties back into the rewards problem, too. Unlike every other mission in the game, you don't get any medals, XP, or Requisitions if you're not able to evacuate enough civilians before your team runs out of respawns. Your Requisition payout is also reduced by 250 for each civilian that dies, and in higher difficulties, those deaths are near-impossible to stop completely. So, ultimately, we're in a situation where the hardest of Helldivers 2's missions are also the least engaging and rewarding to play.

Maybe all of this wouldn't be too bad if these levels weren't part of every operation on beleaguered worlds, but they are, so there's no way to help defend a planet without playing one — and not everyone is willing to slog through. "My group was ready to quit until we took a break from evac and eradicate missions and did some traditional ones, and then we suddenly remembered how fun the game is," wrote one on Reddit. And, yeah. At least the Eradicate missions are easy (which is why they're being farmed).

Big overhauls are needed

Without some big changes in future updates, this won't be the only conflict in the Galactic War we lose. (Image credit: PlayStation Studios)

I love the concept of what Arrowhead is doing with Helldivers 2's overarching Galactic War, as game-wide, community-driven campaigns are a perfect fit for the live-service structure of the game. But right now, its planetary operations and Major Orders just don't reward participation enough, and the quality and replayability of defense-specific missions pale in comparison to the rest.

Operations need to reward considerably more Warbond Medals than they do currently, and Requisitions can't be the only thing we get from Major Orders. The pass-or-fail reward structure of evac missions should be changed, too — perhaps instead of punishing you for civilian deaths, the game could instead reward you for each one you save, regardless of whether your squad is able to rescue enough of them to complete the level or not.

The rest of evac mission design needs a rework as well, as they're not nearly as engaging as Helldivers 2's other content and seem pretty overtuned right now. At the very least, I'd love to see some further nerfs if these are going to be a regular part of defense campaigns, though what I want most from them are more interesting gameplay scenarios.

As far as I'm able to tell, these are ultimately the issues that've led to our failure to protect the western sectors of the galaxy against encroaching robot legions. And until Arrowhead addresses them in future updates, I fear the Automaton invasions aren't the only conflicts we'll lose.

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 — $39.99 at GMG (Steam)

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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.

  • gojtron
    The horror, you have to play less than ideally. A mission other than blast everything and the toddlers are stomping their feet.
  • Brendan Lowry
    gojtron said:
    The horror, you have to play less than ideally. A mission other than blast everything and the toddlers are stomping their feet.
    It's not about "blasting everything," it's about how static and repetitive it is. The missions aren't as fun or as dynamic as regular ones.
  • BadArticles
    It's not about "blasting everything," it's about how static and repetitive it is. The missions aren't as fun or as dynamic as regular ones.

    Yes it is about "blasting everything," because no matter what you do, what "build" you use, what meta you follow, you're going to be doing the same exact stuff. And obviously if you play the same thing over and over it's not going to be fun, so don't. You control your own moderation, the missions aren't mandatory, and no one cares if you don't like it, because your reasoning amounts to "I don't like this specific mission" that's not even gonna be there forever. Just play what you enjoy, FOMO is something self inflicted.