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Why Friendly Fire Is Always On, According To Helldivers 2’s Devs

Image: Arrowhead Games / Kotaku
Image: Arrowhead Games / Kotaku

Arrowhead Games’ massively successful co-op shooter, Helldivers 2, is different than a lot of other games out there right now, challenging players with tough enemies and hard missions. However, one element of Helldivers 2 has drawn a lot of discussion: friendly fire. Why is it always on? Well, according to the game’s creative director, it’s all about making the world feel believable—and adding some laughs to dark moments.

Helldivers 2 is one of the biggest success stories of 2024, with so many players trying to hop into the intense third-person sci-fi co-op shooter that the servers kept collapsing on PS5 and PC. It’s easily one of 2024’s best games so far thanks to its dedication to making combat feel both satisfying and dangerous. You never feel truly safe in Helldivers 2, no matter how many big guns you have or players in your squad. In fact, those other players can often be your biggest enemy, thanks to the game’s use of friendly fire. One random grenade, airstrike, or shotgun blast from a friendly squadmate could take you out in a second. That might seem like a frustrating feature, yet Arrowhead Games insists it’s a core part of its design philosophy for the sequel.

In a March 12 interview with PlayStation Blog, Johan Pilestedt, CEO and creative director at Arrowhead Games, said that when making games the most important thing for the studio is “believability” and friendly fire is a big part of that philosophy.

“Things should be consistent in the game world and therefore, we must have friendly fire,” said Pilestedt. “If your bullets can kill enemies, and the enemies can kill you, then logic dictates that your bullets must also be able to kill your friends.”

Pilestedt further explained that this kind of game design is “inherently systematic,” which means every part of the game is affected by each rule and choice the developers made. So, for example, because the supply pods you call in for ammo can damage enemies, they can also kill your friends. This means you have to be strategic about when you call them, where you place the beacon, and warn nearby squadmates of what’s happening. And if this happens in the middle of a battle, it can lead to one more layer that makes everything more intense and chaotic. And that’s the point.

“What this [design philosophy] does, and maybe most clearly noted by friendly fire, is create a complexity to the gameplay where players have to actively think during combat sequences – not in a “solve the puzzle” way but instead in a very primal creative problem-solving way,” said Pilestedt.

Helldivers 2 is a dark comedy about war

But there’s another reason friendly fire is always on in Helldivers 2: It’s just funny when you kill your friends in some random accident during a mission.

“The chuckles that happen when you accidentally carpet bomb your friends allows for a playfulness that in reality would be a tragedy—but within the self bounds of games we can explore the dark humor of these situations,” added Pilestedt.

“And finally, the friendly fire element makes the players a true interactable part of the game world that plays a great part in positioning and helps with team play,” said Pilestedt.

And that last part is very true. Sometimes when I play online games that don’t support friendly fire, I stop thinking about my squadmates or friendly NPCs. Instead, I just chuck grenades and bombs anywhere I want. Sometimes, you can even use this to your advantage in games without friendly fire. In Helldivers 2, this is never the case. Throwing a bomb into a small enemy-filled area to save a friend is a big risk that will likely get them killed. These moments make it impossible to ever relax on a mission, which does mean some nights I can only play for like two hours before tapping out, but it’s a memorable experience that produces war stories I’ll tell for weeks.

I know some players have suggested turning the friendly fire off for lower-difficulty missions, but I think that would strip Helldivers 2 of a lot of what makes it so good. And it would train players to not think about friendly fire, which would then have to be untrained later on. Better to suffer early and learn to not shoot friends in the back.

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