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Helldivers 2 Review

Dive towards liberty

The games industry hasn’t had a good start to the year, that much is a given. Layoffs abound and uncertainty towards the future lingers, it’s a bitter taste in the mouth following what many would describe as a pillar year of releases. To now witness a studio, hidden in the shadows of its bigger siblings amongst the PlayStation family, release a sleeper hit that’s storming the charts feels like the kind of win we all need. It’s a reminder of what a talented group can do when given the time. A sign that all it takes is a little class and a dash of magic to make a persistent online game sing, not a catalogue of known brands or aggressive monetisation.

During the mid-2000’s, every first or third person shooter had a mix of tough, six o’clock shadow protagonists stuck in drab, realistic locals. Not all were forgettable, some even laid the groundwork for future franchises (well, one in particular), but it took a generation or two for the industry to kick itself out of the flabby weights of everyday shooter vibes to elements a little more inventive. That was until the season pass, micro-transaction laden world we currently live in, infecting our playgrounds with constant feeds of new content, money-grabbing crossovers and the like.

Helldivers 2 feels like a reminder that not everything has to follow the industry blueprint. That’s obvious from the opening few hours of your experience. There’s no splash screen once you complete the tutorial reminding you of the current weekly targets you need to hit, no banners pointing you towards a myriad of currencies you can spend your change on. Yes, there are options to do that if that’s your thing, but it feels like an afterthought here instead of a selling point. The costs associated with Helldivers 2 are minuscule in contrast to its compatriots, in purchase price and micro-transactions alike.

This might take a while

Helldivers 2 puts you in the shoes of powerful troopers, serving Super Earth in defence of its ideals against a brutal race of alien insects and robotic monstrosities. Part Starship Troopers, gun in hand and sarcasm in the air, part four-player shooter where you govern you drop zone, priority objectives and how explosive your entry and exit are. It’s a high-octane thrill ride, a playable Hollywood action movie, and it’s easy to see why it has caught everyone’s attention.

Once you select your loadout from a variety of options you’ll unlock over time, you’ll drop in to take out your objective. That can range from clearing out critters that attack in waves, activating radio towers within infested environments or tackling more dangerous targets. Exploring each reasonably sized and varied environment further, within a time limit, can uncover side activities for added XP bonuses and plenty more Terminid nests or Automaton camps to burn to the ground.

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To do that, you’ll need the right equipment to bring the heat. Much of the weaponry your trooper can take advantage of are the usual assortment of battle rifles, lasers and rocket launchers, but it’s the many stratagems at your disposal that can turn the tide of battle. Using the d-pad of your PS5, you’ll enter in a series of codes in quick succession to call down missile strikes, nukes, turrets and more powerful weaponry. This is where Helldivers 2 separates itself from the familiar , as the action can become heart-poundingly frantic in an instant. Bombs explode at all sides as giant bugs encroach on your territory, your fingers scrambling to reload your weapon or call for support. It’s a deliberate mess, making every victory feel earned, every escape a relief.

A Spectre knows a good deal when they see one

There are two key examples I can think of during my time that explore both sides of the experience. One had my team of four spending a good half hour trying to take out a giant, spiderlike bug that trampled the environment around it. There were no indicators of progress, no giant health bars designating if we were even damaging it. It was simply a matter of scrambling, shooting and bringing down hellfire for as long as we could before finally, with a hoot of delight, the bug fell and we pulled out of the battlefield somewhat intact. It is, and may forever be, one of the most enjoyable sequences I’ve played in an action-shooter, the sense of achievement without equal in a market that hasn’t felt this fresh in some time.

The second example is the kind of silliness that belies Helldivers 2, where my team clobbered each other over and over with the butt of our rifles, tumbling over with ragdoll delight as we waited for our ride out of the warzone. It’s dumb, silly fun enriched with hug emotes and in-game advertising by the Super Earth hierarchy reminding you how important stims (aka health doses) are in repairing lost limbs and spilt blood. Friendly fire, too, plays a role in the hectic nature of each battle. I lost count of the times I exploded from stray turret fire or accidentally walked in front of an ally’s shotgun, but it plays into the role of bloody mayhem on show instead of the crux of an issue.

As persistent online experiences go, Helldivers 2 provides a unique perspective. We’ve already shown that simply throwing an online requirement into an otherwise solo experience can cause confusion, step forward Suicide Squad, but Arrowhead Studio has already proven how to deftly use this method to its advantage. As in the original Helldivers, every campaign you take on connects to an overarching sense of progress across the entire community. Each planet has an indicator confirming how liberated it is from enemy control, and the end of every mission you undertake confirms your achievement in relation to the greater war. It’s a simple but effective way of bonding strangers together, even if you decide to turn off co-op or crossplay there’s still a sense you’re making a difference.

Space is pretty, innit

Speaking of playing solo, you can absolutely choose to do so if you wish. It’s entirely the wrong way to play, admittedly, as having a troop of players (strangers or friends alike) can make some of the most challenging missions partially easier to navigate. But the ability to tune out and go it alone is serviced without a red flag waving in your face suggesting you’re doing it wrong, you’re not punished outside of deciding how far down the rabbit hole of difficulty you want to travel. I’ve already seen some players reaching a healthy experience level, building out a bad-ass warrior and taking things on with abandon, but it’s arguably less entertaining than coming together with some mates, calling out locations and tagging enemies in the field before strategising on the fly. Or dropping your pod on them for a laugh.

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Unfortunately, being online does open the gates to potential issues. That was evident in the first few days of play, with various performance problems, server dropouts or a loss of XP progress every other mission complete screen. These are hardly unusual for an experience that launched, for everyone including us press folk, at the same time. For Helldivers 2 it’s arguably a lucky case of a studio beset by eager players, and not a game full of bugs other than those you can kill. I still get the occasional dropout or glitch here and there, but they hardly interfere with my overall enjoyment. When everything clicks into place, it’s an experience that truly shines, and the Arrowhead team has done an excellent job responding to the inundation of new players that likely far exceeded internal expectations.

There’s one wrinkle that does concern me, though: longevity. This initial launch release hosts an assortment of difficulty levels, solid progression of enjoyable unlocks and a sense of a broader conflict waiting in the wings, but I’m cautiously curious as to how far the studio will take things. The first Helldivers had a series of updates across many years, so no doubt there’s a roadmap going forward to maintain the momentum, but the magic could fade quickly if this newfound success isn’t capitalised on. Judging by Sony’s own admission that 2024 may be a quiet year for releases, this could turn out to be a blessing in disguise for Arrowhead to grab the headlines while it can, and I’m all for it.

Why walk away when you can take it all in

Final Thoughts

I’m thrilled that Helldivers 2 has found an audience. I was a fan of the original when it first launched with the PS4, and the change from isometric twin-stick shooter to a full-blown action adventure hits all the required marks. I got a kick out of figuring out that the touchpad of my Dual Sense controller could scroll the map around, got all giggly at discovering hidden references to some of my favourite science fiction movies and games within the world, and just generally had a grand old time. It’s an engaging, balls to the wall action game that revels in the chaos it creates yet doesn’t talk down to its intended audience, and that’s something we should all get behind.

Reviewed on PS5 // Review code supplied by publisher

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Helldivers 2 Review
Arrowhead's Roughnecks
Crafted with intelligence and brimming with chaotic good vibes, Helldivers 2 sets the kind of tone many others in the action space should take notice of, overcoming some early tech issues by being a sheer delight to play.
The Good
Incredibly entertaining action
The chaos breeds enjoyment
Plenty of unlocks, options and mission variety
The sense of progression is enticing
The perfect example of an online game done right
The Bad
Not quite as compelling for those wanting to play solo
Bugs and server issues persist, but should hopefully be ironed out over time
9
Bloody Ripper
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  • Arrowhead Game Studios
  • Sony Interactive Entertainment
  • PS5 / PC
  • February 8, 2024

Helldivers 2 Review
Arrowhead’s Roughnecks
Crafted with intelligence and brimming with chaotic good vibes, Helldivers 2 sets the kind of tone many others in the action space should take notice of, overcoming some early tech issues by being a sheer delight to play.
The Good
Incredibly entertaining action
The chaos breeds enjoyment
Plenty of unlocks, options and mission variety
The sense of progression is enticing
The perfect example of an online game done right
The Bad
Not quite as compelling for those wanting to play solo
Bugs and server issues persist, but should hopefully be ironed out over time
9
Bloody Ripper
Written By Mark Isaacson

Known on the internet as Kartanym, Mark has been in and out of the gaming scene since what feels like forever, growing up on Nintendo and evolving through the advent of PC first person shooters, PlayStation and virtual reality. He'll try anything at least once and considers himself the one true king of Tetris by politely ignoring the world records.

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