helldivers 2 death count
Screenshot by Destructoid

The true cost of freedom in Helldivers 2: Why its death count matters more than you might think

70 million dead for a single Major Order, and we'd do it again.

Death is a core game mechanic in Helldivers 2. No matter how you spin it, the game is built to see you die while slamming ‘diver after ‘diver at a wall of enemies in an effort to free various planets from their influence and protect Super Earth.

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Following the success of the most recent Major Order, the death count has spiraled out of control, but it’s an important statistic that means more than you might think at first glance.

Why death matters in Helldivers 2

briefing in helldivers 2
Screenshot by Destructoid

Every time I drop onto a planet in Helldivers 2, I know I’m going to lose a few good Helldivers while completing objectives. Whether it’s caused by my own ineptitude, drowning them in a small puddle, getting the timing wrong on the hug exploit, or a legitimate death against insurmountable odds, people will die.

I don’t know if every player thinks the same way as me, but I realize what these deaths mean. Every time I die, that’s a Super Earth citizen who showed up to basic training and flew off to fight their enemies for a greater cause. Each time a new Helldiver drops for me to control, that’s yet another citizen, someone who might have never seen combat before and someone who will probably die in the next few minutes.

It’s impossible to take a moment to recognize each of these souls, but sometimes, this fact haunts me. I think about the real-world examples of war we have today and how much it can rock or destroy someone’s world when they find out their grandad, cousin, sister, brother, mother, or father died in a warzone where their body will remain until it can be sent back.

Harrowing stuff right? I imagine Arrowhead Game Studios didn’t set out to build a game that makes you think about the horrors of war when making Helldivers 2. But I also don’t think I’m alone. With so much suffering caused by war in the world today, it’s hard not to see the in-game death count and make the direct link.

I don’t think this is a bad thing, though. War shouldn’t be trivialized, even in a video game with the kind of satirical humor we see in the Helldivers franchise. Behind every joke, every tongue-in-cheek speech, and every death is a note of seriousness—one that makes every single death in the game matter, even if it’s caused by a Tesla Tower your fellow Helldiver called down.

Why death means more than you think in Helldivers 2

hugging in helldivers 2
Screenshot by Destructoid

Death isn’t just death in Helldivers 2. Sure, Super Earth sends a shovel to the families of every brave Helldiver who dies in the name of organized democracy, but these Super Earth civilians who stepped up are more than that. They represent more than a body lightyears away from their home or a tool their family will use to further Super Earth’s colonization of future worlds. They’re someone to fight for.

A recent post on the Helldivers Subreddit marked the first time I truly considered the cost of fighting for Super Earth. It highlighted how the overall Helldiver death count had passed 70 million. I’d wager most of those deaths were on Malevelon Creek, but the recent Termicide Tower deployment on the barrier worlds near Super Earth wasn’t exactly a walk in the park either. So many of us hit that Major Order hard so we could kick the bugs back a system or two and earn a bit of a break. Even if we also believe we’re going to suffer because of it.

Looking at that number, it felt like I was seeing it for the first time through a Helldiver’s eyes. It was as if I had just returned to my ship after the last Termicide Tower had been activated, hugging and celebrating with those I’d joined in the mission before being smacked by reality hidden in a bunch of statistics. The number hit me hard, and I wanted to pull my helmet off and stare into the distance of space through my ship’s viewing platform for a few hours, just taking it all in.

It took me back to school when it was brutally and explicitly explained to me, by a history teacher whose hard life had made them want to make every student’s life just as difficult, how many people’s lives were claimed by World War 2. That conflict took an estimated 75 million people from this world. At the time of writing, Helldivers 2 ‘s body count has long passed this. I genuinely cannot fathom that number of deaths, which is why something so simple as a stat in the corner of the screen in a game has had such a profound impact on me after what should be a victory.

But the number didn’t break me. It didn’t make me think all the work we’d put in was pointless. In fact, it made me feel the opposite. I’m now more determined than ever to never let another enemy faction take a planet. We’ve suffered a few defeats since the game’s release, and they all hit like a sack of bricks.

I’m going to fight for every Major Order as hard as I can to make sure that death counter matters. Neither you nor I can make the death count go down. We’re almost certain we’re only going to pile on the bodies with every mission we run. But those deaths will count because we’re going to give our all in every single fight.

As I write this, the community believes the Illuminate is on the way. This race of advanced aliens has likely already killed a few hundred of us. When they finally appear at the edge of Super Earth’s territory, we’re going to hold them and push them back with the determination of a Helldiver running to their Pelican without any reinforcement Stratagems at the end of a mission.


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Author
Jamie Moorcroft-Sharp
Jamie is a Staff Writer on Destructoid who has been playing video games for the better part of the last three decades. He adores indie titles with unique and interesting mechanics and stories, but is also a sucker for big name franchises, especially if they happen to lean into the horror genre.