Review – Helldivers 2

Death From Above

Overview

Developer Arrowhead Game Studios
Publisher Sony Interactive Entertainment
Genre Third Person Shooter
Platforms PlayStation 5 (Reviewed), PC
Release Date February 8, 2024

The original Helldivers was a tough-as-nails isometric twin-stick shooter for the PlayStation 4. Now, the brand has been revitalized, shifting the camera to third-person behind the back and leaning heavily into hyper-patriotic rhetoric and science fiction war tropes a la Starship Troopers. Honestly, it works…really well, if you have others to play with. Less so if you plan to go at it by yourself.

Content Guide

Violence: Explosions, dismemberment, ragdoll bodies. Enemies can have their heads blown off and continue to attack you.

Sexual Content: There is no sexual content of concern here.

Drugs and Alcohol: There are no drugs or references to alcohol.

Language/Crude Humor: I thought there were some mild profanities just based on the mature theme of the game, but as I started to go back and look, I couldn’t find any references to any. Beware the game could have some mild cursing, but from what I could find, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Dark/Spiritual Content: None, apart from the hyper-patriotic reinforcement that war is the way and we’re all prepared to slaughter…for Democracy!

Review

As I begin to thaw from cryostasis aboard my ship, the Elected Representative of Individual Merit, the phrases drilled into me through training propaganda are all my mind can coalesce. “For Democracy! For Super Earth!” It was just a few short years ago I watched as the Terminid army trampled my home and slaughtered my family. Now, I’m doing my part to put those bugs in their place and spread democracy to the far reaches of the galaxy!

The setting and world-building the devs created screams Starship Troopers and the game does a great job living up to what most folks will remember about the movie: humor and wanton sci-fi slaughter with a tongue-in-cheek message. The reality is game’s narrative is just a paper-thin reason to get thousands of us to shoot things but honestly, that’s a good enough reason when the gameplay is this fun.

To extend humanity’s reach, you and up to three other soldiers will take on missions across the galaxy, dropping onto different planets’ surfaces from pods in your home ship. As you work to complete different missions, you’ll call down support from those ships using what are called strategems. Strategems are various forms of support that can range from restocking your ammunition to orbital strikes on a marked location to turrets and more. As you level up, the variety of strategems you can unlock will grow. You need to be mindful of your objectives for each mission, though, since you can never take more than four strategems onto the planet you (and friendly fire can affect the mission).

While the game lacks any real, meaningful narrative, the sheer amount of freedom and emergent gameplay moments will make up the difference. Between trying to complete objectives, find medals or research materials, slaughter enemies, and help teammates, the game can quickly turn from a quiet moment to a Benny Hill cavalcade of chaos. It’s in those moments when you’re working together and you conquer a wave of enemies to extract by the skin of your teeth with the squad intact that Helldivers 2 shines. With that said, server problems made the game an excruciating experience for me the first few days since playing solo feels like a slog I’d rather avoid altogether.

Once your boots hit the ground, Helldivers 2 plays like any other third-person shooter with a few clever modifications that set it apart. These both build tension and encourage players to be judicious amidst the chaos of combat. Players are squishy so charging into a horde of bugs is almost a guaranteed death sentence. Other things I used to take for granted, like reloading after a firefight, become crucial to track so you aren’t wasting precious ammo and taking yourself out of the fight when your team’s up to their necks in bug blood.

The galaxy map centers on Super Earth and shows all the surrounding planets in conflict. At launch, the Automaton army (cyborgs and mechs) have control of the western rim while the Terminids (the giant bug army) control the eastern front. The entire community works together to complete missions to increase influence and, ultimately, conquer the planets. Missions rank from location defense to extermination to rescuing civilians and more. Along the way, you’ll earn experience to level yourself up (allowing you to buy more strategems), medals to unlock battle pass items, and research that can be cashed in to upgrade your ship capabilities.

I’ve got to give credit to the devs here. Helldivers 2 is completely cooperative and while there is technically a battle pass, it’s actually more a way to pace meaningful upgrades since new weapons and armor are tucked away here. It’s also worth mentioning there’s no real way to “pay-to-win” since the entire experience is cooperative and, while there is a real-money market, all you can get are a handful of helmets and armor that rotate daily. Again, it’s worth mentioning you can earn enough real-money currency through the battle pass to get a few things from the store anyway.

Helldivers 2 looks and sounds great. Enemies rattle around with menacing clicks and whirs (depending on their race) and the enemy design gives you great information on what’s coming at you even from a distance. Seeing that giant beam of light beckoning an orbital strike is both menacing and, when it crashes down with a satisfying *thud* and sends enemies flying, overwhelmingly satisfying.

When I first picked up Helldivers 2, I was hopeful for a good time but with busted matchmaking, my experience was bleak. Now they’ve got that sorted out, I’m having an absolute ball. I’d love some sort of cohesive narrative to drive me forward, but I’m having a great time just dropping in with folks for a few missions, unlocking a couple of new items, and going about my business. The devs also did a great job making a game where the minute-to-minute experiences themselves will be the stories you share with friends or coworkers. If you’re looking for something to occupy a lot of time and satisfy the urge to fight aliens at the end of a long day, Helldivers 2 is an excellent pick. They’ve already lined out a road map and begun kicking off in-game events, too. Just remember to watch out for friendly fire!

The Bottom Line

 

Fun, addictive gameplay full of emergent moments and active developer support will have the community engaged for years with good reason.

 

8

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Joe Morgan

Husband, gamer, software developer, animal lover. When he's not writing for GeeksUnderGrace, he's probably fishing or working on content with his wife for Coffee and Adventure, their YouTube channel

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