Helldivers 2 – Review

Another victory for managed democracy

Helldivers 2 Review Featured Image
Release Date
February 8, 2024
Sony Interactive Entertainment
Arrowhead Game Studios
Reviewed On
Review copy provided by
Sony Interactive Entertainment

If you’ve never heard of the name Helldivers before, then you’re not the only one. It wasn’t too long ago that the name was largely forgotten by the larger PlayStation player base. Nowadays, you can seldom escape from the calls for ‘freedom and democracy’. You wouldn’t have guessed it, but Helldivers 2 is a completely different game from the original. The first Helldivers game was an isometric twin-stick shooter that focused on positioning rather than dodging screens full of bullets. The sequel took the name and many of its fundamentals and turned it into something truly unique in the gaming landscape.

Helldivers 2 is a third-person cooperative shooter set in a sci-fi universe where humans have mastered faster-than-light technology and used it to claim the far reaches of the galaxy. Players take on the role of Helldivers, soldiers who are supposed to represent the very best Super Earth has to offer, but instead find themselves in near-impossible situations, thus necessitating a constant stream of reinforcements. You know it’s going to get back if you’re not even allowed to customize the physical attributes of your character. What’s the point? They are just as likely to die as soon as they leave the cozy confines of their Hellpod.

Set 100 or so years after the events of the first game, Helldivers 2 sets the stage for yet another Galactic War. The Terminids, once thought to be completely subjugated and turned into a source of power, have broken free from containment and they now threaten to push humanity out of the region. Shortly thereafter, the Automatons appeared out of nowhere on the other side of the galactic map. They too seem to be on a relentless march towards Super Earth. Whether or not these two events are related, we don’t know yet. All that anyone really knows is that the fight must continue if we want to preserve our way of life.

After a short boot camp training course, Helldivers are immediately sent to the front lines as the commanding officer of their very own Super Destroyer. The ship itself is fully manned with a dedicated support crew whose sole objective is to ensure your success on the battlefield. This level of support is in stark contrast with how lightly armed you are at the start of your campaign with everything from your weapons and ship facilities needing to be upgraded using your own pocket money. But hey, game progression and all that.

Helldivers 2 is a game that takes into account the successes and failures of every Helldiver who decides to wear the cape of freedom. The players’ collective efforts are crucial to the game as a whole. With each victory, occupied planets are one step closer to being liberated. However, if a front is neglected to the point that it becomes overwhelmed, the planet falls and the enemy gains another foothold to launch strikes on planets closer to Super Earth. This kind of on-the-fly form of storytelling is perfect for a live service game. It’s certainly a lot better than other live services that try to impress with a narrative hook, only to fall flat on their faces.

There isn’t much in the way of weapon types in this stage of Helldivers 2’s campaign. You have your typical rifles, shotguns, and SMGs. You also have a handful of energy weapons but that’s about it. All the ballistic weapons in the game have this weightiness to them. It’s almost visceral in feeling. Like how you instinctively know that shooting at the head will deal critical damage. Or how blowing off the limbs will limit an enemy’s movement and threat potential. The moment you pick up the Breaker shotgun and see chunks literally fly off, you know you’re going to have a good time.

I just wish the energy weapons did more than just look flashy. Seriously, R&D needs to step up and buff these guns ASAP. They are bringing the temperature down instead of bringing the heat as they should be. Maybe the next set of enemy super weapons might be enough encouragement for them to get a move on.

The two enemy factions in the game: the Terminids and Automatons, are so different that players have to formulate entirely new sets of tactics to deal with either faction. The Terminids are your garden variety bug-like enemies. They charge in with large numbers to break firing lines with sheer weight of force. Automatons slow march in squads, peppering the air with blaster fire. They are the Terminators of this universe and they are relentless in their quest to snuff out all human life. I am certain that this is only the beginning, and we will get more enemy types and factions as the flames of war expand outward.

To supplement the game’s limited choice range of firearms, Helldivers are given access to an array of Strategems that can potentially turn the tide of battle when called at the right place, at the right time. Helldivers can have up to four Strategems active in a mission. This encourages players to experiment with different line-ups depending on the enemy and the planet they are running operations on.

The Galactic War is a constantly shifting list of active battlefronts on dozens of planets at any given time. I love this aspect of the game in which theaters of war open and close in real-time depending on the war’s current status. Arrowhead Game Studio even has one of its developers on call to activate events at a moment’s notice. Think of it as a “Game Master” in Dungeons and Dragons. Their job is to keep things interesting in between content drops. (We will reclaim Malevelon Creek! Mark my words!)

And how do you think keeps the war effort going? Through Warbonds and premium currency, of course. Now, I horribly dislike how much live service games nickel and dime players into spending more money than they would like. But Helldivers 2 does live service right by the players. For starters, the majority of items in the ‘battle pass’ can be obtained in-game and if you play long enough, you’ll have enough premium currency to buy the paid pass. Also, the game’s premium currency store caps at $20. That’s crazy. This is the kind of monetization that deserves support.

The satire runs thick in every part of the game’s visuals and writing. The commercials constantly tell Super Citizens to keep the war effort going while giving subtle hints on how to play the game. Bridge staff often talk about how we’re on the right side of history and how democracy is going to prevail in the end. You’ve got to the commitment to the bit.

If you take a second to look away from the objective, you’ll appreciate how gorgeous the weather effects are on each planet. Whether it is suspenseful fog hiding a legion of Automatons or how dead still a desert planet is before Terminids start popping out of the ground, there’s a level of detail here that shouldn’t be overlooked.

I’m a simple gamer. I see a 500 KG or Hell Bomb going off, and I feel the need to go on another perilous mission. That’s before I bore witness to an ICBM shockwave barreling towards my location signifying glorious victory. I can’t put my finger on it, there’s just something so satisfying about the explosions in this game. I have a feeling that it’s something I will not get tired of seeing even after a thousand hours of play.

If there’s anything that some won’t like about the game is the fact that it is not as snappy as other third-person shooters are. The reticle where the bullets shoot takes time to adjust to where you’re looking. I love this delayed feel to all the weapons, but I understand why some would find that frustrating. The movement isn’t to everyone’s liking as well. A small bush can hinder your movements and certain rock edges can cause your Helldiver to ragdoll to their doom. I eventually found these quarks to be charming over time. Coincidently, I am less dumbfounded whenever a supply pod lands on top of an unexploded shell.

When the game first launched, the game had a lot of server issues. The game’s servers couldn’t keep up with all the requests. Long queue times were all that everyone was talking about. Fortunately, it has been resolved and the only thing that reminds me of that time is the rare server disconnection issue. However, a troubling trend has sprung up with AFK farmers and cheaters. I am glad that this is only prevalent in random lobbies. It sucks for the players who want to have a cooperative experience at the highest difficulties. Solo players and players who play in groups are spared the worst of it.

Helldivers 2 is what every future live service game should aspire to be going forward. Beyond the stellar gameplay and the community building, we need more games like this and Deep Rock Galactic. Not the stress-induced run towards extract kind, but rather games that respect players’ time and money. Just don’t feel pressured to buy everything from the store just yet. The war is far from over and there are yet more sinister forces at play here pulling the strings from behind the scenes. There’s no better time than now to get into the thick of the action.

Helldivers 2 Review Featured Image
Helldivers 2 – Review
Score Definition
When a title gets a grand number, it’s a video-game worth spending your whole life in.
An unfolding story that reacts to players' collective progress
Live service done right
Full to the brim with satire
Addicting gameplay
Visually impressive
Rare server disconnects
Built-in level of frustration
Small number of cheaters