Helldivers 2 Review: A Glorious Victory

Written by Allen

February 21, 2024

Imagine you’re on stage, and about to play with your bandmates to the largest audience you’ve ever played for before. The butterflies in your stomach are running wild, and the stage fright is nearly paralyzing. Then your drummer friend reminds you of some silly joke you guys have kept going on about since grade school, you laugh and the tense atmosphere falls apart. You’re ready to play, whether or not you play it perfectly. You know that you’re among friends, and they won’t mind a mistake or two, whatever it is, you’ll all be able to laugh back at it and make it a story.

Even though it’s easy to make mistakes, anyone can tell when it happens. The lighter atmosphere just tells you it’s going to be okay, and it’s okay to try again. Helldivers 2 gives me this kind of vibe. I can be in the middle of the game where I have no idea what I’m doing and people are mostly okay with that so long as I’m actively trying to do my part, and with an attitude like that, I can’t help but keep trying even when things are going south.

 

 

Speaking of doing my part, I don’t think this title is hiding anything when it comes to where its inspirations come from, Starship Troopers being one of them. And to be honest, this on-the-nose presentation was selling to me hard and I was very interested in how it would play out. Not only because I found the marketing very charming, but also because the original is a twin-stick shooter. To be able to translate from a completely different game style to a third-person shooter is pretty impressive.

However, what’s far more impressive is how PlayStation has managed to launch a live service game and be received this well, whereas any other game with the same label would meet dubious looks from the audience. The genre isn’t really in the realm of being very popular either, it combines the concepts of extraction and horde shooters which haven’t taken off lately. Whereas the more popular products are usually of the battle royale or survivor-crafter kind.

While the combat doesn’t feel like anything new, it’s probably part of why it works. Having decent knowledge of how most FPS games work you don’t have to think too hard about how your default kit works. You get to focus on how to handle the problems ahead of you instead and trust me, there’ll be a lot of them. What doubles this fun is how there are many ways to get the job done. There are easier and more practical ways to slay a giant bug or a hulking armored foe, but why not get creative once in a while? Slaying an enemy with a cargo drop or using a giant bomb to destroy a small enemy camp with your team still inside it. You can do all these things because you can.

Despite that the game isn’t that complicated, it’s about defending freedom and spreading liberty no matter how many bombs, shells, or men you have to shoot out of a ship. Giving you goals as an individual and as an inexhaustible army of soldiers from Super Earth to drive the story. Want to hear more? Strap in as we dive feet-first into Helldivers 2.

 

Production (4 / 5)

 

The world of Helldivers 2 isn’t going to be big on variety. All of the areas you’ll be visiting will be vast open spaces that will have little structures, bunkers, or other encampments sparsely sprinkled throughout the map. Like Star Wars, each planet is pretty much its biome, where you find one kind of climate and one kind of terrain. To be honest, it’s not much to look at, but it does do the job. You have an open arena to fight wave after wave of enemies with some areas for cover or objectives. Considering every map you fight on is automatically generated, this is probably the compromise they came up with. The map looks smooth and consistent, but nothing you march on will be particularly memorable. You wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between your first, fifth, or hundredth landing in the same world.

The same can be said about the Helldivers you play as. While they animate fairly naturally, I wouldn’t say anything particularly sticks out. Even with customization options, they are still within the lore, where they are soldiers for an elite fighting force. The weapons that you get to wield on the other hand all look very unique from each other even if we’re looking at just variants of each other. The standard assault rifle, Liberator, for example, has explosive and piercing variants as of launch. You can tell each of them apart because of how differently they are designed. Shotguns and support weapons also look and sound different.

I could say the same for the bestiary, where a single look at every kind of bug quickly tells you what they are. A warrior looks like a beast you can fight head-on, an armored charger tells you that it’s much tougher than others, and a bile spitter hints that whatever it shoots, you don’t want to be hit by it. Even the automaton armies with their standardized body still have a variance within them that will immediately tell you if you need bullets, rockets, or maybe you need to run.

Okay, so we’re not so impressed with how the game looks, right? By all accounts, I think it’s safe to say the game looks generic. So why are we so impressed with this?

 

 

And I think it’s because, like your movie action hero, you can say that maybe they’re not much to look at. But you know they can get the job done. They made it so that much of the game’s map and characters are muted so that you can focus on taking down the armies after your lives. Structures that have that oh-so-familiar yellow color indicator blend in naturally with the world while calling attention to itself for you to interact with. Oh, and might I add, the performance on PC is stellar despite four dudes bombing, burning, and blasting through an endless number of alien enemies. My rig is running an RTX 3060Ti which isn’t exactly top-of-the-line, and I’m easily hitting over 100 fps on Ultra settings. The PS5 experience maintains a solid 60 fps as well no matter what’s happening on screen.

I’d like to call attention to every element that makes Helldivers 2 an easy game to understand. Your HUD isn’t all that intrusive even though it occupies quite a lot of screen real estate. Indicators dynamically appear as you approach them or as they become relevant to your game. Particularly call downs, where if you see a blue light next to you, you know help is coming. But if it’s red, it’s time to duck and cover so that you may hopefully survive.

Then finally, the game’s sound. Which is incredible. Every weapon, every enemy, every shot, every explosion. They have a unique sound to them so that you can quickly identify what’s going on. You can tell if someone fired off shots or even threw a grenade. Now, the genius part is how they figured out how to give you a radar without making one always visible on screen. And that’s through how the sound of things can tell you the position of whatever’s making noise. If you have a good headset, you’ll have no problem telling what’s around you, as if you’re still playing that twin-stick shooter that Helldivers used to be.

The cherry on top is the completely hammed-up voice lines, where aside from the automatic callouts of enemy positions or calls for orbital strikes, they will fanatically scream out their fervent patriotism and how they are mentally invincible so long as they’re fighting for democracy. Last but not least, is the musical score. It rings a heroic tune, even when you just got eliminated and are waiting for a respawn. The music suggests that your return is being anticipated and that you’ll make a big difference once you descend.

 

Mechanics (5 /  5)

 

I’m completely going to skip over the shooting and movement aspect of the game. Just know that it does a good enough job. You can aim, move, and dodge reliably.

Now one of the things that makes this game feel unique is the weapon handling. Where lighter weapons are pretty much like your standard FPS game, you point it in a direction, and it’s instantly there. However, there are heavier weapons, like cannons or even gun placements. Where you notice that the aiming reticle is actually in two parts. The dot of where you’re looking at, and the circle is where the weapon is aimed at. So no, you can’t just 180 no-scope enemies with the biggest gun out there, you still have to consider the time you need to aim the weapon in the correct direction. Which I think is a nice touch to make it lean more towards tactical play.

On top of that, the weapons all have not only a unique play style but can do better for certain jobs. Bile Spitters can soak up a lot of bullets, but go down quickly to two shots from the Auto Cannon or Grenade Launcher. A well-placed headshot from a Rail Gun quickly takes down even a Hulk. But none of them can dispatch hordes of smaller enemies better than your standard assault rifle. It makes you think of your arsenal as a set of tools for a different job, and even if the game just lets you figure out what to do, it can be quite tactical when getting to higher difficulties.

 

 

So a standard mission has a 40-minute timer, where you can choose to land, decide your loadout, and get shot out of your ship onto the planet. The automatically generated map will have your key objectives, your extraction point, and a lot of other little surprises on the map.

Ideally, you only need to do the main objectives and you can get out. So long as the main objectives you can run out of lives and the mission is still a success. So why bother with all the trouble? And the quickest way to answer that is “Why only win when you can win more?”

Spread out through the auto-generated map are a bunch of side objectives, where you can either gain extra resources or extra experience points. However, with your limited time, manpower, and ammunition. You’ll have to ask yourself is it worth risking our lives to get some bonus objectives? Where the answer is almost always: Absolutely.

 

 

When you gain experience and requisition points, that’s something you gain permanently, but collecting samples on the planet allows you to augment your ship’s capabilities. Either to give you better support weapons or let you use stronger bombardments more frequently. And these samples can only be carried with you and are only credited once you are extracted. Also, you get a tiny bonus for getting out alive as well as getting the job done quickly.

So, naturally, the game suddenly has a tension that you and three of your teammates have to contend with. The time limit, the job, and what you can realistically achieve before deciding that you’ve done enough. It’s a lot of thinking on your feet and deciding and evaluating what your team can handle considering your current situation. But even with all that, thanks to the system of having a shared pool of respawns, the game doesn’t quickly fall apart because of one mistake. And everybody still gets to enjoy the game with a friendly and casual atmosphere around.

As a result, I have had trouble trying to stop playing.

 

Content (4.5 / 5)

 

There are two types of content I would identify for Helldivers 2. One is the content you play with, the other is the content you play against.

The weapons you get to handle, whether it be just your standard issue loadout or your stratagem-dependent support weapons, all feel very unique to each other. Shotguns have the clip and per-shot reload variant, but still generally work like shotguns. So far there are 3 types of handguns where aside from your standard semi-automatic, you also get a machine pistol, which has been my permanent secondary, and a revolver that deals a lot of damage but takes forever to reload. They all have very different play styles even though they ideally are supposed to be the same role, and you get to set all of these, along with your Strategems right on the deployment screen. This setup invites you to be able to dynamically customize your loadout permission with minimal friction while setting up the lobby.

The cool part about this is that I don’t sense a particular standout among the weapons, except maybe the standard Liberator AR. It seems to be in the perfect middle ground for all the combat situations you might find yourself in, where it only seems to fall short on reload time. There’s always a trade-off for increased power, ammo count, or ease of handling. One of my go-to weapons was the Auto-Canon because of how versatile it was, it can snipe, it can do splash damage, and it’s pretty strong. But it also forces you to be stationary when you reload. The alternative would be the Grenade Launcher, which can fulfill a similar role only if it has limited range, but does better splash damage.

As for the enemies, at the moment there are two factions, the bugs and the bots. And while they are functionally the same, you have to fight them in different ways. The bugs are easier to fight once you learn that their limbs in general are their weak points. The bots seem to have fewer surprises among them since so long as you can hit their obvious weak points, their head, or their rear exhaust port, they can be easy to deal with. However, they shoot back, and they can shoot back from afar. I easily recall how when I first dealt with them, I realized that they can take me out from afar, and quickly.

Between these enemies, some weapons work far better than others against them. And it is at this point that you realize the necessity of having a team with everyone that can identify their job within that team. To go out and be the elite fighting force that you’re supposed to be.

Don’t you love it when the game is literally what tells you what it is on the label? That’s been an increasing rarity these days, and I’m just glad we got Helldivers 2 to fill that void.

 

Features (3.5 / 5)

 

Helldivers 2 still carries some of the Live Service shenanigans that the public might not be so fond of. Troubled servers that make it hard to match up is one thing, and while I’m happy that they’re getting a good problem, and that the community is largely still loving the game despite that. I wished this sort of thing was less common for game launches like these. I do commend Arrowhead Studio for tirelessly trying to improve the game’s online experience ever since launch, but for everything they’re rushing to fix, they seem to get other bugs to have to shoot down. It can be frustrating when these interrupt your ongoing games so for the developers at Arrowhead, godspeed. For the audience on the fence, watch this space. I genuinely hope they fix most of its issues as soon as possible.

On the flip side, this comes at a base price of 40 USD, which is a price tag we find indie games in. Quite a surprise for a game that looks and plays this well. It does also come with a battle pass which is 10 USD per month, but the first one is part of the Star Citizen bundle. You get some cosmetics as well as the Strategem arcade minigame at the hub.

While it sounds a little much to be expected to draw out 10 USD for every month you want to play the game, the battle pass hasn’t shown me anything that’s outright better than what you can get without having to pay extra. It’s also possible to farm the currency you need to buy it in-game, albeit a bit inefficiently.


These microtransactions are taking notes from the more popular Live Service offerings these days. Such as Apex where it’s regular enough play can let you purchase Battlepasses without having to swipe your credit card. Or Fortnite where you can choose what to get from your Free or Premium Battle Pass to a degree.

The little miracle here is that it’s largely performing well on PC, as a same-day launch title from Sony, where crossplay is enabled. I mean, you get to play a Sony game online on PC, so you don’t have to subscribe to PS+ to play this game with your friends who might be playing on the PS5. I do believe that is a win for Super Earth’s Democracy.

 

Conclusion

 

The game loop of Helldivers 2 is layered with the mission variance of campaigns, and the gunfight you may have to desperately survive every five minutes. Even though a lot of it is largely the same in terms of parts, the experience seems to just change as you trudge forward on these barren planets, maybe because of the mission, you’re trying to achieve, maybe you’re just low on ammo, or the team your working with isn’t quite the same as the one you were playing with an hour ago. It’s addictive. The concept is obvious, simple, and in theory easy to reproduce. But I don’t think anyone has made an execution this amazing.

Even with limited options of what you can do, and the restrictions of what you have to do with. Little nuances come up within the gameplay, you learn how to use your weapon better, and you learn that your dropship can kill enemies as you land. You learn just how far a 380mm Bombardment can reach. And you’ll always remember how to respawn your team when you’re the last one standing and fleeing from a horde of enemies at the same time.

Despite the simplicity, it still achieves an engaging experience that’s amplified by the company of familiar friends. Or perhaps even activate your creative thinking in solving new problems. Whether you just want to shoot hostile alien life, play through an intense tactical campaign, or just laugh with friends. Helldivers 2 can serve that need with extra firepower. If you like shooters and want a PVE experience, look no further.

It hasn’t been this fun since Left 4 Dead 2.

Helldivers 2 just started blasting out of nowhere, scoring a 4.5 / 5.

Available on PlayStation 5 and PC via Steam.

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