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Helldivers 2's armoured bugs and terrifying tanks can crush you flat, but that's why I love them so

 Helldivers 2 best weapons - Soldier with a rocket launcher.
Helldivers 2 best weapons - Soldier with a rocket launcher.

Helldivers 2 has been out for just over a month now, and the conversations around the meta have lingered mostly on one particular issue: gee, those tanky enemies sure are a pain in the butt.

In case you haven't been fighting for Super Earth, let me explain. Enemy armour in Helldivers 2 doesn't just reduce damage, it entirely nullifies it—if you're using the wrong gun, that is. Bullets will ricochet off your foes, laser cannons will spark gloriously against sheet metal and chitin, and you'll get a handy little reticle marker to let you know just how screwed you are.

Though a patch this morning ramped down the presence of these enemies considerably at higher difficulties, the mechanic still remains. If you're facing down a flamethrower hulk, and you don't have the right weapon for the job? You're screwed. Much like the game's reinforcement system, this is a big difference when placed side-by-side with other horde shooter games—especially Left 4 Dead 2 and Warhammer 40k: Darktide.

Plink, plink

Helldivers 2 warbond
Helldivers 2 warbond

Darktide—and Vermintide 2, to an extent—both make use of heavy armour. Often, enemies will waltz up with riot shields and suits, but their weak spots are typically something you can aim at. You also tend to have a good tools to deal with them baseline, it's just about execution.

Conversely, Left 4 Dead's biggest, baddest threat—the Tank—is beefy and intimidating enough that its iconic theme is stamped into my brain. But it's still just a sack of hitpoints. You have to use an awful lot of gun to bring the bugger down, but at least you know that every shot you take has an impact.

Helldivers 2, meanwhile, is content to say "no, you don't actually get to do anything here." While most of its heavily-armoured enemies do have big, shiny weak spots, they also tend to turn on a dime. You can run circles around the Automaton hulk if you get lucky, but it'll usually be accompanied by bots saturating the air with bullets. Similarly, the Terminid charger has a fleshy backside. But if it's focused on you, you're only likely to get a couple of potshots in before it about-faces and makes you take a dive again.

Fighting a Left 4 Dead Tank or one of Darktide's boss enemies is a scary, tense affair—but you're usually only overwhelmed if your moment-to-moment decisions are bad. In Helldivers 2, however, you only really lose fights with tanks if you're underprepared. 

It owes this, in part, to the fact that it's also an arcadey take on the military sim, where preparation and squad tactics are a requirement. Still—not having the right weapon on you, the correct loadout selected, or a spare stratagem to-hand decisions you make quite a few minutes before that bile spewer melts your face off.

If a player can trace their steps back to a choice they made and say 'yes, this is my fault' while their bones turn to steaming goop, I think this design choice rules. But in making that choice, Arrowhead's riding a very narrow line between fun and frustration.

One tank, ah ah ah! Two tanks, ah ah ah!

A horde of automaton bots from Helldivers 2 marchers mercilessly on.
A horde of automaton bots from Helldivers 2 marchers mercilessly on.

The beefcakes of Helldivers 2 do not care for setpieces. In other horde shooters, boss enemies will usually clear the room over the course of the encounter—either due to AI director wizardry or because they wind up swatting their own guys.

This isn't a hard-and-fast rule, of course. But even if you're swarmed, you can usually use corridors, high ground, and smart play to corral them into a more manageable area. Not to mention, the smaller guys are easier to mow down and less spread out.

In contrast, Helldivers 2 isn't afraid to surround and overwhelm you. Its hulks, tanks, bile titans and chargers don't announce themselves with their own theme music—they just show up, often with back-up and sometimes in batches. The amount of times I've said "oh come on, another one?" Too many times.

The mad scramble to pull something FUBAR under control is awesome when you actually have ways to do that. I think, however, that it's very telling how most player complaints after the fall of the Railgun followed the tune of 'can an Arrowhead Dev tell me what I was supposed to do here?'

That question was often accompanied with a screenshot of five bile titans, crowded around a corpse like a flock of seagulls tearing into a dropped portion of chips.

A giant bile titan, a towering insect from Helldivers 2, lets out a vicious scream as it stomps over the landscape.
A giant bile titan, a towering insect from Helldivers 2, lets out a vicious scream as it stomps over the landscape.

At risk of repeating myself—Helldivers 2's way of doing things only really works if, the majority of the time, it's the player's fault they're up bug creek without an orbital paddle.

Hindsight being what it was, I think the issue of tank saturation became such a problem because, without the Railgun's ease-of-use and economic ammo count, players were just running out of pebbles to sling at their goliaths. The same story goes for those heavy-hitting stratagems, with long cooldowns made worse by mission modifiers at higher difficulties.

The heavily-armoured nightmares of Helldivers 2 genuinely elevate the whole game, even if the balance hasn't quite been struck yet. That being said, I hope Arrowhead's continued changes don't tip the scale too far in the other direction—because the sheer hopelessness you get to feel dying to an Automaton tank, is only matched by the rush you get moments afterwards, when you angle your drop-pod to land perfectly on its turret, scramble to the back, and dump your entire mag into its heat vents for Super Earth.