When I started playing Helldivers 2 with my sights on writing this review, I didn’t know what to expect. Sure, I loved the last one, and of course, the concept is a complete winner. I wasn’t prepared for just how much fun Helldivers 2 was going to be.
It has its bugs, both intentional and unintentional, but somehow, Helldivers 2 can be forgiven for just how much alien-liberating fun I ended up having.
Sometimes simple is best
Helldivers 2 has been released without any kind of campaign, and more likely than not, there is no view to adding one. It was released for only $39.99, which is half the price of a lot of AAA games, and the concept is fantastically simple. Land, load up, and unleash hell.
Helldivers 2 has not tried to overcomplicate its concept with side quests, storylines, and complex systems. It has doubled down on all the elements that Arrowhead Games knows it can do well. Within minutes of playing the game, the mechanics are understood, and you can drop into an alien-infested planet, ready to rip and tear.
There are a lot of menus, sure, and currencies pouring out of every pocket, but this is as complex as the game gets. Understanding the various resources found around the maps and awarded for completing levels is really the only thing Helldivers 2 requires time to learn. I enjoyed the fact that my friends could download the game, drop into my ship, and already understand how to play. I didn’t need to explain metas to them, and there wasn’t a need to break down mechanics; we could just load up and figure it out along the way.
There is a rich selection of missions available, too, often simple to get to grips with. As you level up and enter harder levels, they get bigger and more complex. In 20 or so hours, I wasn’t tired of the various objectives. They’re simple enough, and as the game moves through its live service life, I am sure they will add more. I’m just glad there aren’t any ‘real’ escort missions.
Sounds good, feels good, looks good
One of the things I noticed while playing Helldivers 2 for review is just how good the gameplay feels. Multiple times, while churning my way for the 1000th time through hordes of enemies, one of my squadmates would mumble, “Hell Yeah.” These moments are a dime a dozen and mark the success of simple yet satisfying gameplay. This is where I think Helldivers 2 has really made its mark.
Compared to their previous title, the team at Arrowhead Studios drastically switched it up. The last 2.5D top-down shooter was an enormous amount of fun. The graphics and action were wonderful to behold but were restricted by the perspective. Now, with Helldivers 2 taking an over-the-shoulder, third-person perspective, it looks absolutely magnificent and has captured all the top-down mayhem from their previous game.
From the very beginning of Helldivers 2, standing on the bridge of your or your squadmate’s battle cruiser, the scale of the game is already evident. United, you lord over a world ripe for liberation with the thousands of other Helldivers preparing to dropship down to administer liberty. Hurtling down together in the glowing drop pods as the epic, patriotic music heralds your arrival feels like the proper way to begin a game. From there, it’s only up.
Calling in ordinance by quickly and adeptly punching in codes rewards you and your team with a reasonable selection of Helldivers 2 weapons, and they all behave in their own way. The chugging, heavy thrum of an explosive rifle feels very different to the throaty roar of a Flamethrower. Either way, each of them makes you feel like a badass as they light up the swarming Bots or Bugs begging for liberation.
The Helldivers 2 maps themselves just cry out for screenshots. With the limited worlds I have had access to as we collectively push through the galaxy, I have seen some wonderful settings. I think one of the ones that has stuck with me the most is fighting with red-eyed humanoid robots through a thick, misty jungle. Red lasers and roaring explosions ripped trees from their roots, and hulking metal men ruthlessly marched on. Smoke and fire from the battle only added more ambiance to the screaming destruction.
The power of a god
No Helldivers 2 review would be complete without talking about the raw firepower available to the player. From the first guns and Stratagems you unlock, Helldivers 2 lets you wield the power of a titan. Progression through the various weapons and called ordinances is slow, but it isn’t frustratingly so.
Of course, calling in a 500KG bomb on a swarm of enemies is amazing and worth working towards, but even hours into the game, I was still sometimes reverting to early-game unlocks. They all feel and sound so good.
A real pleasure in Helldivers 2 is calling in a missile strike from your patiently waiting cruiser, visible in the skies above, and warning your teammates to hang back. Together, you stand there, watching the glowing flare, waiting for the strike. Then, like a hand of God, the horizon erupts in fire and brimstone as the very Earth itself hiccups the corpses of your enemies skyward. Finally, you all charge in to mop up the mess in brutal hand-to-hand combat. Helldivers 2 has nailed the sense of massive warfare, often giving it a biblical scale.
Hard to put down
When I got Helldivers 2 to review, it was just before a weekend. By the end of the weekend, I had unwittingly buried a solid 20 hours into the game. I kind of knew the time was going by, but at the same time, it didn’t feel like it was. Playing through level after level with a group of friends, chatting away, discussing tactics, and mourning our dead Helldivers, burnt through the hours.
I feel like Helldivers 2 has the perfect level of complexity and challenge, but also casual mayhem, to keep the game interesting for hours. I was lucky, though. It only took me maybe an hour or two to convince a few friends to jump into the game with me. Before that time, I did notice a few issues.
It’s no solo venture
When I first started playing Helldivers 2, the game had only been out for a few hours, and I felt my review may end up going in the other direction. Many of the bugs in the game were still very prevalent, and one in particular was a big problem.
Matchmaking, especially for PC, was completely broken, and it left me playing a lot of games on my own. Helldivers 2 is not fun as a solo player, and if you don’t have some pals to play with or choose to have matchmaking disabled, the game runs dry quickly. Thankfully, these issues have been solved, but it did make me aware of how heavily the game leans on being multiplayer.
I don’t think this is the biggest issue. Now, with the (almost) functional matchmaking, it is easy to be dropped in with a full squad and enjoy the game together. So far, the community is fun, casual, and in it for good times all around. The name of the game is teamwork, and I feel like this keeps gameplay, even with randoms, fun.
One day, I wish for a release without endless amounts of game-breaking problems. A 2Gb update rolled out only a few hours after the game was released, and it patched a few of the more glaring problems with the game, but good Lord, they never end.
At the point of writing, the game will often kick squadmates out, sometimes seconds before extraction, resulting in zero points. Often, the game will break, leaving players stuck in screens. Many times, I or a teammate will get stuck in terrain, only able to take ourselves out to continue onward. More often than not, menus won’t load, even without other players in the game.
The list of problems could fill a whole new review. Friends less patient than me have rage quit Helldivers 2 because of it. I will usually give some leniency for new releases when it comes to bugs, especially when the team is as small as Arrowhead’s, but these became a real problem.
Sometimes, a mission could take 40 minutes of hard-won fighting. It is immensely demoralizing to get right to the end of a fight and get kicked from the server, resulting in nothing. These issues need to be fixed before the game can be taken seriously.
I want validation
Entering into the harder levels in Helldivers 2 is a hell of a ride. All of a sudden, bugs the size of mountains or heavily armored tanks are your new enemies. The game ramps up difficulty in a very satisfying way, pushing you and your squad to the absolute limit. However, although the difficulty ramps up, the rewards don’t.
Making your way around a map and clearing out all the bug nests is satisfying, and the result is a higher reward. However, when I take down a Titan or mercilessly liberate thousands of heavy Bots, I want recognition for it. There is no reward for bunkering down and killing a million enemies, and I think there should be.
I found that my squad and I would instead opt for stealth, ignoring enemies because why bother? A fight with a patrol or breakout wouldn’t result in more points or rewards, so let’s leave them. We even found ways to run from fights in some cases because we couldn’t be bothered to waste time on something that had no rewards.
Is Helldivers 2 the game for you?
I think Helldivers 2 is the game for pretty much any player who wants some good, casual, planet-liberating fun. There is no need to bury thousands of hours into the game to be a good player, and you can put it down for a month and step right back in. At the very core of what makes Helldivers 2 a great game is that it’s genuinely great fun in a way a lot of games have forgotten to be.
Sure, you can grind out the levels and the unlocks, but you can also pick up the game and some heavy ordinance and have a blast for a few hours. The whole game looks and feels fantastic, with some absolutely breathtaking set pieces paired with a soundtrack that gets the heart racing. The guns feel brutal and just beg to be mastered, and the orbital ordinance gives you the power of a God.
My biggest gripe with the game is the bugginess of the gameplay, often resulting in unplayable matches or infuriating kickouts. I have faith that the small but dedicated team at Arrowhead Studios is working to iron them out. Even so, I am so tired of games releasing broken. Do game testers not exist anymore?
I also feel that the reward systems for playing on harder difficulties need to be looked at. However, the game is a live service affair, and these things can always be tweaked. I hope to see not only a few changes to enemies, environments, and weapons but also to progression.
I believe in the future of the game, and I think it will be relevant and enjoyed by the community for many years to come. In the future, I can easily see it developing a devout and wonderful community akin to Deep Rock Galactic, and can’t wait to be an avid part of it.