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I found Fake Joel, the viral Helldivers 2 hacker who rains unreleased vehicles from the sky and says players pay him to skip the grind

 Helldivers 2.
Helldivers 2.

This week, a clip allegedly depicting Helldivers 2 game master Joel entering a player's match, spawning an unreleased vehicle, and then leaving so he can "get back to work" garnered over a million views on Twitter. While many believed the video was yet another tactic by Arrowhead to sneak new features into the game, all signs pointed to the "[AH] Joel" in the clip being an imposter who had access to unreleased stratagems.

I wanted to know for sure what was going on, so I tracked down a few Steam users who'd recently used the same username and committed a PC gaming faux pas: sending friend requests to complete strangers. Surprisingly, a few of them friended me back, and one of them had an interesting story to tell.

"I was personally the Joel in the clip," the imposter, who goes by Steve, told me. Steve and at least one other friend have been donning the Joel disguise for a while now, visiting random players' lobbies and dropping unreleased toys onto the battlefield. They're not just showing off, he tells me, but promoting their boosting business.

"We were trying to think of some ideas to try to organically promote some of our boosting stuff we do without jumping in a lobby and dumping samples to ruin it for people who do enjoy progressing through a game," Steve said.

The part of the viral clip that didn't make the cut, he said, was his friend coming clean to the unsuspecting player about not being the real Joel before advertising their services.

"We weren't expecting it to be clipped and definitely wouldn't have expected the popularity of it even if it had been."

Powering their cheats is a trainer that Steve tells me their outfit developed especially for Helldivers 2. He says their trainer is different from the cheats anyone can download from Nexus Mods because it "actually parses the game files to look for new stuff each time it's activated so we'll see as stuff is patched in."

helldivers 2
helldivers 2

Ride along

I wanted to make sure Steve wasn't all talk, so I took him up on his offer for a ride along. I joined the group of two for what seemed like a standard Automaton mission at first, but the irregularities began at the loadout screen. While I equipped my favorite support weapons and airstrike stratagems, Steve equipped a bunch of stuff that doesn't exist: two vehicles (an APC and buggy that've been well-documented by now) and a few other weapons I didn't recognize.

I was personally the Joel in the clip.

Things got weirder once our hellpods hit the dirt. Steve and his friend started skating around the sandy dunes at Mach speed and flying through the air. They also wielded machine pistols that never ran out of ammo and fired 100x faster than they usually do. Immediately, the pair started calling down secret goodies. One of those secrets was the Quasar Cannon, a support weapon that, at the time, none of us knew would be released legitimately a few days later.

I won't spoil everything I saw, because who knows how much of it will actually come out, but suffice to say there is a lot of work-in-progress stuff hidden in Helldivers 2's files (much of it you can find online elsewhere), and I'm excited to see these ideas pan out once they're ready for primetime. I do think players will be surprised by how tough the vehicles are to drive. As suggested by the leaked videos out there, you do indeed have to manually shift up and down. That means pressing backwards doesn't do anything—to go in reverse, you have to shift to "R" and then press forward.

It was almost frightening how much control Steve had over the session. Not only was he unkillable, but he could bend the rules of the mission to his will, like calling down an extraction beacon wherever we were standing. Our ride along came to an abrupt end when my game crashed while driving a buggy, a bug I'd previously been warned about.

It was an awkward end to my first vehicular excursion in Helldivers, and the experience made me wonder: What's the appeal of cheating your way through a PvE game?

helldivers 2
helldivers 2

Why boost?

Boosting, or hiring players to "boost" you through a progression system through skill or cheats, has recently taken root in Helldivers 2. I've always associated the practice with PvP games like Rainbow Six Siege, where it's possible to hire cheaters to illicitly boost your ranking, but it's prominent in PvE games too, especially ones with lots of grinding. Through the use of cheats that grant them unlimited ammo, extra health, max damage, and super speed, Steve and his cohorts group up with customers and run level 9 difficulty missions, gobbling up as many samples as Helldivers will allow in a single go. When all goes well, one mission takes less than two minutes.

Seeing Helldivers 2 through the lens of an all-powerful god was enlightening, but also pretty dull.

It struck me as odd that some people are willing to pay a premium, as well as risk a potential ban, simply to skip the grind. You can reach level 20, which unlocks most stratagems, within 20-30 hours of normal play. That's not a wild number, at least not by videogame standards. It takes a lot longer to gather the samples needed for the best ship upgrades, like the ones that lower stratagem cooldowns or add an extra barrage to missile strikes, but these are entirely optional.

It's not about farming Super Credits, Helldivers 2's premium currency, either. Arrowhead is relatively generous about giving out free Super Credits on missions, but the number of credits Steve can gather in an hour, I'm told, doesn't make up for the price of hiring him. For his customers, the decision to boost comes down to time.

"Most people who want boosting are people that just don't get a lot of play time and are really just wanting to play the game socially with friends," he said. "We've had a cool mix of people come through, this game has an amazing community."

In that context, boosting makes a little more sense. I've made the time to play Helldivers 2 a lot over the last few months, so unlocking the latest and greatest gear hasn't been a problem. When mechs released, I had already reached the required level 25 and pocketed 20,000 Reqs. My friends who have tighter windows to play still haven't gotten there. I wonder if they'd ever consider boosting over the finish line for the price of lunch.

helldivers 2
helldivers 2

Boosting in a PvE game may be a mostly victimless crime, but it's against Helldivers 2's terms of service nonetheless. Steve doesn't seem too concerned about getting banned, but he does keep his main Steam account on a separate machine just in case. "I personally have almost 130 hours legitimately played and I absolutely love the game," he said.

Seeing Helldivers 2 through the lens of an all-powerful god was enlightening, but also pretty dull. We had all these new toys to play with, but no stakes to make any of it matter.

My Joel impostor encounter was a well-timed reminder that half the fun of Helldivers 2 is the result of hard work by Arrowhead in building a meta narrative around the need for powerful weapons and escalating action. The new Quasar Cannon isn't just a random weapon drop, it's the answer to the growing Automaton threat. Termicide defense wasn't just a fun new mission type, it was a story beat that eventually led to the birth of Shriekers. Mechs didn't just show up one day—we fought for them ourselves.

That's the sort of magic you can't replicate with cheat software.