Describing the profound joy that Helldivers 2 provides is difficult. It can be a dumb action game where you and your buddies take turns stomping, burning, eviscerating and carpet bombing alien bugs in the name of Super Earth or going toe to metallic toe with the more relentless.
However, it’s also thoughtful and tactical, as friendly fire simply isn’t, and you need to input directional commands to call down Stratagems. Where you’re mindful of leaving a single bullet in the chamber to ensure faster reloads. As arcadey and fun as it can be, it’s also brutal and unforgiving, capturing that transition from fantasy propaganda to boots on the ground, cold reality almost instantly.
If the first game did a good job capturing the over-the-top totalitarian fantasy of space democracy, Helldivers 2 is even better, in no small part due to the third-person perspective. The added immersion – and terror, as you don’t have a top-down view of the madness to get your bearings – makes all the other elements feel more grounded.
"With all the accompanying pomp and circumstance of accepting your Helldiver cape, it’s off to a Super Destroyer where you wage war…alongside dozens of other cryogenically frozen Helldivers, who will replace you if you fail."
That feeling of dodging away from Terminids and desperately trying to reorient your view to kill them. Crawling beneath turret fire to avoid being shredded to pieces. The sheer spectacle of witnessing a SEAF artillery gun delivers its payload in a massive inferno-like explosion. The utter shock of suddenly blowing up, your torso flying through the air before a replacement arrives via Drop Pod.
Helldivers 2 isn’t just a better-looking Helldivers – it’s also an enjoyable third-person shooter that makes you feel like a part of something bigger in the most straightforward ways possible. It could use some improvements, quality-of-life features, adjustments and a bit more content, but it’s fun with progression and shared world aspects that showcase the positives of live service.
Set 100 years after the first game, Helldivers 2 sees Super Earth at relative peace following the defeat of the Terminids, Cyborgs and Illuminates. Humanity went on to colonize the galaxy, but such extensive Faster Than Light travel requires a rare resource called E-170. It only originates from the Terminids, so, of course, they proceed to farm them, and of course, they break free from confinement to emerge as a threat once more. Then there are the Automatons – robot soldiers with factories and weaponry that prove more of a challenge. The Helldivers are thus called back into action and push back against both factions.
As a recruit, very little of what transpired will be immediately relevant. After the opening propaganda film, you’re thrown into training and must complete basic tasks like shooting a weapon, tossing a grenade and calling in Stratagems.
"The basic gameplay flow is pretty simple. Drop onto a planet, complete the designated main objectives and get out, whether it’s solo or with friends."
The Galactic War campaign is the main attraction of Helldivers 2, comprising multiple sectors. Each sector has planets that must be liberated from enemy influence by completing missions. While it starts easy enough, higher difficulties add more missions to a single Operation, which must be completed to really aid the war effort.
A Major Order is ever-present, even at this time of writing, and requires liberating two planets to reclaim a sector. You also have Personal Orders, which can range from extracting successfully several times to killing a certain number of enemies. Then you have Effects, which can change depending on the planet, like the biting cold, which affects the heat build-up of weapons, or one that scrambles your Stratagems. Another can result in longer extraction times and Stratagem cooldowns.
The basic gameplay flow is pretty simple. Drop onto a planet, complete the designated main objectives and get out, whether it’s solo or with friends. Said objectives can range from destroying Automaton Factories and Bug Nests to slaying waves of enemies. Others are more involved, like transporting a solid-state drive to a data relay, which requires significantly legging it across the map or conducting geological surveys. Each one feels unique while presenting the right amount of randomness to keep each drop fresh.
However, you also have side objectives, like destroying rogue broadcasts and laboratories, uploading data from an escape pod and so on. Each planet also has various other points of interest, like an abandoned outpost with some weapons and Samples or sealed crates with War Medals and Super Credits. Pursuing side objectives nets XP and Requisition Points – the former opens up other Stratagems while the latter unlocks them. Hang on to those Common and Rare Samples, though, as they’re needed to upgrade the Super Destroyer to improve your Stratagems.
"Despite the sheer amount of firepower at one’s disposal, it’s a testament to the enemy design that they can still present a nightmarish challenge."
The lower difficulties can give somewhat of a false sense of security – they have enemies, but a decent chunk of time is spent running around and somewhat enjoying life. Helldivers 2 shines at the higher difficulties, as Terminid Chargers and Bile Titans make life difficult while Hunters constantly pounce on you and Stalkers strike from behind. It’s intense and further reinforced by the realistic gunplay, as each weapon feels unique, with chunks of Terminids flying off before they fall.
Whether you’re torching enemies with the Flamethrower, blasting away their wings with the Breaker shotgun or breaking through Automaton armor with a Railgun, the gunplay is fantastic. The movement is occasionally awkward, like when trying to clamber up or go around stalagmites instead of climbing on top of them, but it doesn’t ruin the experience. Continuous dives are also on point, which is really what matters.
That same sense of impact extends to the Stratagems. They have cooldowns, but you can call them in as much as you want. See a Terminid nest of eggs that could use a hefty amount of freedom courtesy of an Eagle Napalm Strike? How about an Automaton Factory that feels like the right target for an Orbital Barrage? Even when you’re calling in a simple Orbital Barrage, the firepower reverberates with shocking authority.
Despite the sheer amount of firepower at one’s disposal, it’s a testament to the enemy design that they can still present a nightmarish challenge. You would think a Berserker with dual chainsaw hands, speeding up as it approaches you, would be bad but then you run into a Hulk for the first time. Then you realize it’s only Challenging difficulty, and the worst is yet to come (though some AI gaffes do occasionally occur, like elevated terrain messing with a Charger’s pathing).
"There’s nothing wrong with testing yourself, but after playing enough solo sessions (not necessarily by choice, which we’ll get to), Helldivers 2 doesn’t scale."
The many deaths you endure can get frustrating, especially when called back only to die immediately from swarms of foes. Nevertheless, Helldivers 2 is addictive – you want to return the fray almost immediately. When back on the Super Destroyer, there’s the urge to proceed with the next step of an Operation.
It’s also a testament to the game that despite only two factions without about eight units each, the amount of variety is pretty notable, especially with the builds. Will you load up on Eagle Strikes and bomb the living heck out of the Terminids? Or upgrade and unlock the different Turrets to reduce hordes to nothing? You can even unlock a little drone buddy to provide fire support when playing solo.
Speaking of solo play, it’s very much possible, but the real fun comes from playing with others. There’s nothing wrong with testing yourself, but after playing enough solo sessions (not necessarily by choice, which we’ll get to), Helldivers 2 doesn’t scale.
Expect to face as much resistance as playing with co-op but without the added firepower and utility that others can bring. There are also so many elements that feel better with teammates, even if you’re just a duo trying to survive, like firing Recoilless Rifle shots and having a teammate reload for you or heroically fending off foes as you make to extract. The rewards are also better, which means unlocking more tools of destruction faster.
"Helldivers 2 doesn’t have a proper lobby browser. You can select a planet and scan it to find an open game, cycling between the different difficulties, but it’s tedious."
Unfortunately, Helldivers 2 doesn’t make it easy to co-op. At launch, matchmaking with other players felt near impossible at times. At this time, Quickplay doesn’t work and still returns a “Failed to connect to server” issue. While I’ve had more success connecting by joining lobbies that populate the maps of planets, it’s still very hit or miss, with more failures than successes. On two occasions, I disconnected from a level while playing solo, which meant doing the whole thing again. It thankfully didn’t occur again after that, and other players report fewer crashes and disconnects since launch.
Even if matchmaking worked as intended, Helldivers 2 doesn’t have a proper lobby browser. You can select a planet and scan it to find an open game, cycling between the different difficulties, but it’s tedious. The fact that you have to do this for each planet and then move to the other end of the galaxy for the Automatons is also annoying after a point.
Very few live-service games launch without issues, and Arrowhead Game Studios likely didn’t anticipate this level of demand. Nevertheless, it’s jarring for a co-op-focused game, especially after getting your first taste of co-op and wanting more.
Of course, Helldivers 2 requires several other quality-of-life features, like saving loadouts, having a firing range to test different weapons and Stratagems (preferably before unlocking them) and better instructions on certain things, like how Eagle Strikes don’t have only a few uses per mission. It also wouldn’t hurt to have certain things, like the Laser weapons, buffed or to make the post-game results and victory screens snappier.
"Presentation-wise, Helldivers 2 is on point throughout. The worlds are gorgeously detailed, from sharp textures to impressive weather effects."
Credit where it’s due for the War Bonds and Super Credits system, though. The former is a catalog of items to unlock with War Medals, earned from completing missions, Personal Orders or simply while exploring. You have relative freedom to unlock certain things faster, though you will eventually need to spend more Medals to get to the latter tiers. The Premium War Bond also didn’t feel inherently unfair, with most unlocks confined to the free War Bond. It also doesn’t change the fact that most of your success will come from tactical play, coordination and Stratagems than a Liberator AR with explosive rounds.
There’s also the fact that despite Super Credits being available for real money, you can get them from the free War Bond and throughout the various missions. Even more are available from the Premium War Bond, and the cosmetics – like suits and helmets – feel reasonably priced.
Time will tell how this is handled long-term, and whether the free War Bond will be refreshed while more Premium options are added. At least the War Bonds don’t expire and stick around forever, allowing you to get everything at your own pace.
Presentation-wise, Helldivers 2 is on point throughout. The worlds are gorgeously detailed, from sharp textures to impressive weather effects. Landing on an Automaton world at night and fighting through forests with their laser rifles illuminating the surroundings is great.
"As is always the case with live service titles, one must wait and see what kind of new content is delivered and how frequently. However, Helldivers 2 is a strong base…"
Venturing through dense fog, unsure where Terminids will attack next, is also enthralling. There is some slight pop-in when playing with others, but the performance is otherwise solid. As for the sound, whether it’s the over-the-top screams of your fellow Helldivers, the explosions or just the quips, Arrowhead has nailed it through and through.
Helldivers 2 didn’t launch in the best possible state. While the development team is working hard and making headway with its many issues, its matchmaking still leaves much to be desired. Nevertheless, the core game is truly something worth experiencing. That feeling of fighting tirelessly against alien hordes, never quite sure how it could out, and seeing that Liberation bar go up is tantalizing. I wasn’t there when Heeth was finally free of Terminid influence, but it felt good knowing I did my part.
As is always the case with live service titles, one must wait and see what kind of new content is delivered and how frequently. However, Helldivers 2 is a strong base, and I’m looking forward to seeing it expand as much as jumping back into the current game and showering Super Earth’s enemies with even more freedom alongside my fellow Helldivers.
This game was reviewed on PlayStation 5.
Sharp presentation with gorgeous environments, weather effects and lighting. Captures that Starship Troopers tone perfectly. Excellent gunplay with each weapon handling differently. Stratagems feel great and provide even more gameplay variety. Solid range of objectives and points of interest to make each drop unique, while Effects mix things up further. Generous monetization.
Some awkward movement at times. Co-op matchmaking is hit or miss, with Quickplay essentially busted. Searching for lobbies manually is tedious. No options for saving loadouts, or skipping the end-of-mission results screen. Solo play is doable but doesn't scale and thus feels very punishing.