Helldivers 2’s persistent campaign echoes one of World of Warcraft’s greatest triumphs

Three Helldivers attack the gates of Ahn’Quiraj
(Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment / Arrowhead Game Studios)

Helldivers 2 isn’t technically an massively multiplayer online (MMO) game, but it sure feels like one. 

In Arrowhead Game Studios’ co-operative third-person sci-fi shooter, you play as a Helldiver, a frontline trooper fighting for a dystopian regime against hordes of aliens and robots. You’ll drop to a planet, clear out some objectives, call in an orbital strike, and head home for tea and medals. Easy peasy. 

However, no mission undertaken by any Helldiver occurs in a vacuum. As you sit in your starship between missions, you’re able to look out across the horizon of the world you’re orbiting. There, you’ll see dozens, sometimes hundreds of other Helldiver ships, each representing another real-life player nearby. What’s more, mission selection takes place across an impressively large campaign map. Each sector of the galaxy contains a bunch of planets and each planet has a liberation level marking how close the regime of Super Earth is to bringing the world in question under the heel of ‘managed democracy’. Successfully complete missions and you’ll help that number tick up, ever closer to that elusive ‘100% Liberated’ goal.  

Groups of players are encouraged to team up, focusing on specific battlefronts and theatres. There’s a ‘Major Order’ that refreshes every few days, giving the Helldivers 2 community a common goal to work towards, with the promise of lots of goodies and rewards should they be successful. To play Helldivers 2 is to immerse yourself in a worldwide campaign alongside other players, all in the pursuit of a common objective. It’s impressive, captivating, and more than a little intoxicating.

Echoes of war 

Adventurers approach the gong that will open the gates of Ahn'Qiraj

(Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment)

Back in 2006, a community of gamers was united in a similar purpose. In the run-up to its first-ever expansion, fantasy MMO World of Warcraft (WoW) set a challenge to every one of its servers. Working together, players were tasked with opening the magically sealed gates of Ahn’Qiraj, a mysterious city home to an ancient evil. Open the gates, and your server could take the fight to the city’s denizens in the form of two hard-as-nails raids.

To open the gates, players not only had to embark on a challenging questline to reconstruct the Scepter of the Shifting Sands, but they also had to raise enough resources to equip an entire army to besiege Ahn'Qiraj itself.  

Even my lowly level 15 Gnome Mage could contribute

The quest to assemble the scepter required cooperation from large player-run guilds, sending ripples throughout chat channels and forums across the internet. However, it was the struggle for war supplies that really brought servers together. Even humble, low-level players could contribute, bringing their chosen faction closer to its goal. At the time, I’d only just started playing WoW, but even my lowly level 15 Gnome Mage could play a small part by mining copper and donating bandages.

Every little helped, too. Between us, our faction needed to amass millions of items including 800,000 Linen Bandages and 90,000 Copper Bars. Small contributions from inexperienced newbies like myself weren’t liable to turn the tide, but they still helped speed things along.  

Despite being just one of thousands who banded together to open the gates of Ahn’Qiraj for the denizens of the Aerie Peak server, I couldn’t help but feel like I’d played a role, however small, in a great, momentous event. 

I’m doing my part 

Three Helldivers in armor from the Cutting Edge Warbond

(Image credit: Arrowhead Game Studios)

Fast forward to 2024 and this magic is alive and well in Helldivers 2. Though not an MMO in a technical sense, the shared campaign narrative shared by every Helldivers player fosters a sense of camaraderie and continuity. 

In recent weeks, the community has been obsessed with the struggle for Malevelon Creek, a heavily contested planet in Automaton territory. Our sister site, PC Gamer, reported on the “Massacre of Malevelon Creek”, the mourning observed by the community, and the memes that followed. At time of writing, the planet is still hotly contested.   

Building on this, the folks at Arrowhead Game Studios have upped the ante with an Ahn’Qiraj of their own. Though the arrival of mech suits has been teased for a while now, on March 5, Arrowhead announced that “Patriot Exosuits are in full production in the factors of Tien Kwan. However, I recently learned that Tien Kwan is currently under attack. All players received a briefing stating: “If we fail, the Automatons will steal the Exosuit technology for themselves, and deployment of this powerful weaponry will be severely delayed.” If Helldivers want this new equipment for themselves, it looks like they’re going to have to fight for it.  

The war map in Helldivers 2 showing the battle with the Automatons

(Image credit: Arrowhead Game Studios)

Gating a powerful, game-altering feature behind success in the ongoing campaign is a bold choice for Arrowhead, but speaks to the studio’s desire to foster a genuine sense of community and conflict. It’ll be up to every Helldiver to do their bit to capture Tien Kwan - from fresh cadet to veteran diver, everyone can help out.

No matter which way the conflict goes, the results of this element of the campaign will become etched into a collective history shared by Helldivers 2 players. “I was there,” veterans will say, knowingly, as new recruits listen to their tall tales. These sorts of shared narratives are the glue that binds online communities together. Whether or not we win Tien Kwan, Arrowhead has built something truly special, giving players a means to join something bigger than themselves.

Want more community-driven games? Check out our lists of the best co-op games and the best MMO games.  

Cat Bussell
Staff Writer

Cat Bussell is a Staff Writer at TechRadar Gaming. Hailing from the crooked spires of London, Cat is an experienced writer and journalist. As seen on Wargamer.com, TheGamer.com, and Superjumpmagazine.com, Cat is here to bring you coverage from all corners of the video game world. An inveterate RPG maven and strategy game enjoyer, Cat is known for her love of rich narratives; both story-driven and emergent.