Helldivers 2 "Game Master" is an interesting take on in game dynamism story-building

Helldivers 2 employment of a "Game Master" is a creative spin on what it means for a game to feel dynamic and alive.
Helldivers 2 screenshot. Courtesy Arrowhead Game Studios.
Helldivers 2 screenshot. Courtesy Arrowhead Game Studios. /

Since its launch, Helldivers 2 has been mesmerizing its players and sucking them into Super Earth’s efforts to spread “democracy” across the galaxy. The game’s success cannot be understated, as the game has broken all sorts of records numerically since it’s drop in February of this year.

One of the most interesting features of the game is its use of a live game master to control the world and the struggle between Super Earth and its enemies. It was revealed in March by developers Arrowhead that a person with the role of Game Master had indeed been hired to keep the game fresh and reactive to player progress. 

The individual in question, simply named Joel, is in charge of elements such as major orders, daily orders and what part of the in game universe that the enemies target. Community manager Katherine Baskin was quoted in saying the following about this feature of the game:

"It's really intended to keep the game exciting and keep the never-ending war engaging for players… HD2 is going to run for a long time, we'd love to see it go for many years, and that means we need something more than just a calendar with automated events tied to major holidays. That's what I see in other live service games."

Katherine Baskin

Adding such a feature is a very unique concept for the current crop of games out there. Having a reactive Game Master will indeed not only keep the game fresh, but it will also very much make the players a part of the story in Helldivers 2 rather than simply making them passengers in the process.

In obtaining objectives and targeting certain planets, having a live game master allows for all sorts of unplanned occurrences that go beyond the script of any given release. As we’ve already seen with the defeat of the first Automaton Armada, giving a game master the creative liberty to highlight the first wave of automatons as a “scouting force” and continue the story in a very lively manner. We could see future decisions taken by the game master have a new foe rise in the midst of a war with either the Automatons or the Terminids spreading Helldivers efforts thin and affecting general control of the in game universe in an interesting and fluid manner.

One of the more recent examples of Joel's intervention in the story is a prime example of just how exciting this flexibility to react to player actions can be. A player strategy to counter Automaton advances in Andromeda was devised by players with the goal of liberating Charon Prime without actually entering combat. The plan, called the Martale Gambit, had players cut off Automaton supply lines on the nearby planet of Martale. It is a move, that if players had pulled off (they did not), would have been honored by Joel. This unscripted player ingenuity, coupled with a live, reactive, in-game storyteller is the only way such strategies and developments are able to take place.

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The ability to shift the trajectory of the story on a moment's notice fits in very well with the push-pull narrative that sees defended planets lost or gained based on player efforts, which adds a level of immersion and accomplishment for players to feel very much intrinsic to. Effort is rewarded with consequence, and it will likely keep players coming back to Helldivers 2 for many years to come.