REVIEW – Helldivers 2 delivers a gameplay experience where co-operative mode reaches depths and heights that are far from most games. In a bold departure from the top-down camera pose of the first instalment, the switch to the classic third-person view is seamlessly achieved, setting an example of how to make an action game sequel in an innovative and bold way.
As a true Helldivers veteran who believes the first installment probably deserved more credit, I was initially a little skeptical about the changes Arrowhead Game Studios made to the second installment of the series. The makers are indeed no strangers to fear, as the previous instalment was a top-down shooter. Yet somehow they’ve managed to not only recapture the magic of the first game, but create a fully immersive third-person view adventure. It’s like they’ve always secretly been travelling in this genre!
In the game, we take on the role of the elite warriors of Super Earth, whose goal is to spread the flame of democracy and freedom through bullets, lasers and explosions. The narrative is a fascinating mix of exaggerated patriotism and dark humour, where fighting for Super Earth is the ultimate honour, while Helldivers’ soldiers are treated as disposable tools, easily replaced if they fall. This is also reflected at the level of the game’s mechanics – when ‘reborn’ on the battlefield, we are not miraculously brought back to life. According to the game’s mythology, with each resurrection we take control of a different hero, ready to demonstrate his passion for democracy.
Interstellar invasion – Helldivers mode
The experience of playing Helldivers 2 feels like the spirit of the movie “Interstellar Invasion” has been merged into the digital world, from the absurd combat to the high-flying military slogans to the propaganda urging you to join the Helldivers army. While we are aware that the Super Earth forces are trying to manipulate us, the real fun lies in letting ourselves drift in this inflated narrative. I wonder who can keep a straight face when faced with on-screen warnings such as “Super Earth encourages you to spend at least 2.4 seconds admiring the environment during your mission” or “Before any activity that could lead to the conception of a child, please fill out form C-01”. Moreover, our soldiers fighting on the battlefield are loudly proclaiming the triumph of democracy.
But impressive story background aside, the real power of Helldivers 2 lies in its gameplay. In teams of up to four, you’ll venture to alien-infested, sci-fi horror-inspired planets to complete both mandatory and optional missions. Whether it’s the giant Terminids (gigantic bugs) or Automatons (robots), the varied objectives – which become repetitive over time – are all about destruction or manipulation as we repel waves of enemies. To conclude the mission, we must arrive at the evacuation point, where we safely return to our spaceship, the centre of operations, after repelling the last enemy attacks.
Missions must be completed within 40 minutes. This time limit does not mean the end of the mission, but it does remove the ability to resuscitate fallen comrades or call for help from Super Earth, which significantly reduces the chance of success. While some players may not like this type of pressure, the 40-minute time limit is well measured. In addition, this subtle urgency encourages players to use the time efficiently, without the mission dragging on indefinitely, which in the long run would reduce the excitement of the game.
Crazy Chaos and Tactical Manoeuvres
Considering that this is the first time the developers have created a third-person shooter, the combat system is surprisingly immersive. Everything from the meticulously crafted shooting – from the unique experience of using different types of weapons, to the intense recoil, to the accurate aiming system that authentically conveys the weight of a heavy weapon – all contribute to the experience of serving as a member of a Helldivers unit, which is not only an honour, but also exceptional fun. Plus, those who prefer a first-person view have the option to aim from that perspective.
The chaos in the game is partly due to the constant need to kill enemies, and partly due to the active role of friendly fire – as we’ve already seen in the first game. A badly timed move into the fire of a fellow machine-gunner or an incorrectly chosen position during an artillery barrage can often have fatal results. Nor is it rare for our own defence turrets to give us unpleasant surprises if we happen to get in their way. In the world of Helldivers, the slim chances of survival are not limited to the higher difficulty levels; you can be blown to bits or burnt to ashes in an instant. Despite this, I never felt that the game treated me unfairly – I was always aware that losses were the result of my own mistakes or overconfidence.
The game returns a key element of the series, the Manoeuvres system. These special abilities – be they weapons, equipment, powerful attacks or basic support – come from the fleet orbiting Super Earth. A special menu allows you to select the desired Manoeuvre, which is activated by a combination of individual arrow keys. After selecting the target area, help or fire support will arrive a few seconds later. The wide range of Manoeuvres offers a solution for every situation, from rescuing comrades, to ammunition resupply, to machine guns and air strikes, to guard towers and surveillance drones. While this system may be strange and awkward for newcomers at first, it soon reveals itself as a great working system, where the basic Maneuver activation combinations are easily memorized over time.
Teamwork is key to winning
In the world of Helldivers 2, there is a role for lone heroes, but the real power lies in the harmony between players. The secret to true success is for everyone to match their gear and choose their Maneuvers so that they complement each other perfectly. It is not necessary for everyone to fill up all their slots with the same type of Manoeuvre, such as those that allow air strikes or space attacks, because in practice not everyone will be able to use them sensibly; similarly, more than two ammunition backpacks become redundant if the whole team is fully supplied with ammunition.
Some missions require multiple players to work together to manage certain equipment, which is the pinnacle of the cooperative gaming experience. This is particularly true for heavy artillery weapons such as rocket launchers or machine guns, which come with backpacks containing extra ammunition. This rucksack can be carried by the person using the weapon, but can also be passed on to a teammate, so that together they work like a well-oiled machine, one firing while the other, holding the shoulder of the firer, provides continuous ammunition. This kind of cooperation creates an unforgettable atmosphere.
I have tried the game with both friends and random teams, and I can safely say that both types of gaming experience were extremely satisfying. In case you’re worried that Helldivers 2 isn‘t worth buying because you feel like you don’t have any fellow players, let me reassure you: there’s no need to worry. The game supports voice-based communication, but my experience suggests that the vast majority of players prefer text chat and, in particular, the contextual markup system. This allows you to simply signal approaching enemy groups, any relevant object, or even a specific location – and all such signals are duly annotated by Helldivers, ensuring that nothing goes unnoticed. There’s also a reaction wheel, so you can express your acknowledgement, thanks, apologies and so on.
Mild basics, but you need more
There are two main enemy types in the current arsenal of Helldivers 2: the Terminids and Automatons. The experience of facing these antagonists is very different; Terminids are primarily dangerous in close combat, while Automatons add a range of laser weapons and heavy artillery to the battlefield. Fighting the Terminids feels like you’ve stepped straight into the plot of Interstellar Invasion, while fighting the Automatons brings to mind scenes from Star Wars or the Terminator movies. Opponents of both factions come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from the more basic simpler opponents to larger, armoured monsters, against which fighting them is a real adrenaline rush and a test of team cohesion.
The first moments of Helldivers 2 are impressive, with almost every element of the game leaving a deep impression. However, as the hours of play accumulated, I felt more and more like I had already discovered all the surprises the game had to offer. The beauty of the planets quickly becomes familiar and the missions repetitive. Two enemy factions seems to be too little for variety. Fortunately, there are planned content updates that will hopefully expand the game’s universe, as it is currently just a promising base.
When it seems that all corners have been turned, the development system becomes the main driver for further progress. Successfully completing missions and gathering resources found on the map allows you to acquire new, more powerful Maneuvers and upgrade your spaceship, which is equivalent to increasing the effectiveness of your Maneuvers. Acquiring new Maneuvers is a quick process, but progressing with upgrades is a time-consuming process, so be prepared to spend a significant amount of time “farming”.
The game’s Battle Pass system offers additional motivation. The medals you receive for completing missions can be used to purchase various items, either as part of the Free or Premium package. It is particularly interesting that you can acquire not only cosmetic items but also utility items, such as some basic equipment, exclusively in this way. Helldivers 2 cleverly avoids the FOMO phenomenon, as the developers also offer the possibility to acquire content from older Battle Passes, so no one misses out on anything.
Network barriers and future expectations
The network problems experienced at the launch of Helldivers 2 cannot be ignored. After the first couple of updates, although we have seen improvements, player pairing is still not working smoothly. Too often the game won’t let you join others, fails to keep a team together in new play areas, and sometimes simply kicks you out of missions. In my own experience, and from what I’ve heard from friends, there have been times when using the “respawn” feature, we’ve been put into a pitch from which there was no escape. It is hoped that these bugs will be fixed soon, but for the moment it is questionable how long this will take.
Despite all this, as I write this review, I’m looking forward to immersing myself in the excitement of Helldivers 2 with my teammates once again. The game is undoubtedly one of the purest forms of entertainment, and the care the developers have taken in laying the foundations for the gameplay is commendable. However, when it comes to the depth of the content, the game starts to lose its novelty charm over time and tends to devolve into a monotonous, endless enemy killing and repetitive missions. Nevertheless, the game has huge potential for future updates and innovations that could further enrich this unique universe.
-Gergely Herpai (BadSector)-
+ Excellent shooting mechanics
+ Carefully designed, enjoyable gameplay
+ Dark humor and exaggerated storytelling
– Only two enemy factions
– Restricted content
– Significant network infrastructure issues
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Arrowhead Game Studios
Style: RPG adventure
Release: February 8, 2024.