April 13, 2024
Super-Earth is under threat and the galaxy needs YOU once again. Ready to spread democracy in Helldivers 2, patriot? The Finger Guns review:

As I launch my drop-pod for the first time in Helldivers 2, I’m immediately transported back to what felt like my seemingly endless war in its predecessor. The camera now sits behind my patriotic beacon of liberty instead of up above, sure, but as I descend upon the bug-infested planet I’m here to liberate, I’m ready. Things may be different, but the spread of managed democracy never changes, much like war.

I was a relative veteran of the first galactic purge of the bugs, cyborgs, and illuminates, and those memories remain fresh; watching in horror as the extraction shuttle crushed my entire squad after surviving a gruelling mission; staring into the abyss as the bugs descended upon Super-Earth whilst the player numbers dwindled in 2018; the ecstatic roar of victory upon driving the enemy back on three fronts all celebrated with zeal on the official Reddit.

Wonderful times. Now, we have the sequel. A swap to third-person from bird’s eye view and more traditional shooter gameplay from the twin-stick shoot-aganza we’d become accustomed to. Has the drive to liberate the galaxy from all things non-human run aground in the changes? Or does Helldivers 2 inspire a fresh wave of bullet-ridden freedom for the galaxy once more?

Dive For Your Freedom

Helldivers is the quintessential D-Day of inter-galactic warfare. You and up to three other players crash land on a variety of planets, bringing peace, freedom, justice, and security to your new empire worlds. A co-op shooter of intense combat built from the ground up to make teamwork absolutely essential.

Friendly fire is always on and past about difficulty 4/9 you will have little to no odds of survival without the assistance of your fellow Helldivers. That was the beauty of the original, and that premise still holds true in the sequel. Myself and Josh have had equal amusement as well as bemusement from literally airstriking one another inadvertently, after watching the other emerge from a reinforcement pod. Liberty rules.

For those uninitiated, Helldivers 2 also marks the return of the ongoing galactic war. For every battle that every player embarks upon, you contribute to the community-wide liberation or defence of planets. Push the enemies back and bring freedom to the universe, for they aren’t going to liberate themselves. While Helldivers 2 hasn’t expanded this mechanic, it feeds into the general sense of comradery expertly.

For most people, including myself, this is Helldivers at its best. Building friendships and bonds on the battlefield as you either lay waste to enemy hordes or succumb in a beautiful last stand. Fall as a group, win as a group. Either way, Helldivers 2 is already reaching mass appeal on social media for its community efforts, and I foresee the game having a long future thanks to the sense of glory it can bring.

Helldivers 2 review

Demo-cracy Your Enemies

With the community aspect here and accounted for, let’s dive into the biggest change Helldivers 2 makes to its predecessor’s formula. While minor in theory, the switch to a third-person, over-the-shoulder perspective completely changes the feel of the gunplay. For a start, aiming is now much more difficult and erratic, which suits the chaotic nature of your missions.

Even something as small as throwing out Stratagems (target beacons that summon your artillery) requires new muscle memory, as you learn the adequate distances required. Fail to do so and your airstrikes will miss the swarm descending on you or even wipe out your own squad. The actual combat feels frenetic, punchy and measured, though I did labour with the recoil reticle when Helldivers 2 demands you be accurate to hit weak spots.

It’s not the best third-person shooting experience you’ll have this year, probably, but damn is it fun. Once you hit higher difficulties and start working in sync with a dedicated squad, it suddenly all clicks into place. There’s nothing quite like seeing the explosive power of coordinated Ordinance Strikes ripping through giant mechs to make you feel like a badass.

The most impressive part is that the badassery is earned. You aren’t good at Helldivers through luck or handholding, you’re good once you learn the systems and how to be an effective team. It’s massively rewarding and I found myself so immersed at times, I might as well have been the personified version of a bald eagle.

Helldivers 2 review

Who Needs Strategy When You Have Liberty?

Sadly, it wasn’t all to be napalm sundaes and railgun rainbows in the gameplay department. At release, the Automatons were bugged, effectively making missions – even on easy difficulty – almost unplayable in terms of difficulty. The onboarding for newer players is rough, to say the least, but this can be thankfully off-set through matchmaking.

Which would be great, if matchmaking consistently worked. However, just like my efforts to arm an ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missle) aimed at the bugs, it can fail to launch. Of course, this is likely to improve as the game is patched, but that doesn’t change the fact that solo play misses out on much of the appeal of Helldivers 2, and it’s likely you’ll be stuck doing so quite often without a dedicated squad of like-minded buddies.

Myself and Josh also railed against certain enemy types. Like the charger, for instance. Enemy AI and spawns can be massively erratic, creating huge difficulty spikes. Even in missions where things were totally manageable, it felt like the game would just suddenly ratchet up the difficulty to 25 without warning, and for no reason.

Again, this is likely to be smoothed over with further time. I’d also be lying if I didn’t say it led to some memorable moments, as we’d desperately scramble to survive only to get minced by four blasted chargers and vomit-spewing sacs. It’s just worth noting that, like the original, the difficulty curve for Helldivers 2 can be off-putting for those unacquainted. Stick with it though, and there’s little quite like the experience that awaits past that point.

Helldivers 2 review

So Much Bug-ocracy

Naturally, the question now comes to, what do you do in Helldivers 2? Aside from the endless drive to deliver freedom to every corner of the galaxy, of course. Well, you complete the same objectives, in the same manner, as you did in Helldivers 1. Deliver case from A to B, set up a probe and defend X spot, and protect Y number of evacuating civilians. Oh, and launch an ICBM at a nearby target and watch in awe of the mushroom cloud you just triggered. Isn’t democracy the best?!

Helldivers 2 sticks to the tried-and-tested formula of interacting with terminals using the D-Pad, aligning dishes, and blowing up outposts with reckless abandon. It’s simple, but by the fiery skies of destruction is it satisfying. A nice touch is how side objectives tie into each match. Destroy a spore tower to remove a fog affecting visibility, establish an artillery weapon for an extra Stratagem to use, and the like.

The trick to what makes the objectives so interesting is how you as a squad approach achieving them. Land in the wrong spot at the start of a match and you’ll be swarmed from the outset. Haphazardly take on a large nest when you’re already on the backfoot and your dream of liberty will meet a claw-filled end. Helldivers 2 is all about the means, never really the end itself.

Having played 150 hours of the original and about 20 of the sequel, I can safely say that while they are repetitive, they strangely never become boring. Not because of the setups themselves, but because every helldive is a totally different experience, whether with the same squad, or a new one. Very few games can master that, but Helldivers 2 still smashes that feeling harder than a 500KG bomb hitting a Hulk.

Helldivers 2 review

Starship Bloopers

One area Helldivers 2 has expanded on the first is with the use of research samples. Instead of one universal research type, there are now three (common, rare and super rare). Samples are used to upgrade ship modules for better cooldown, effectiveness, and drop times for Stratagems. Weapons are no longer acquired through research. Instead, completing missions awards medals which unlock new equipment and cosmetics… via a dreaded battle pass system.

Fear not, however, as it’s not as egregious as we’ve typically come to expect of the industry. Medals are dolled out frequently and especially at higher difficulties, can accumulate very fast. There’s a free and premium track, with the premium one unlockable if you save Super Credits (or purchase them) from the free track. I definitely preferred the original’s approach to weapon unlocks, but it’s a sad reflection of the current gaming landscape.

Early weapon unlocks in particular aren’t great, and the basic starting assault rifle has been most player’s go-to until the energy and penetrator rifles become available. The upgrade system and purchasing of Stratagems as you gain levels is great, though. It provides a welcome sense of progression, which rewards both your skill and time investment, as you still need to know how to utilise them for maximum patriotism payload.

The same isn’t quite true of the XP grind, it must be said. Virtually everyone I’ve come across has lamented the slow burn of XP to level up. Most of the best Stratagems are locked until level 15-20 and 18 hours in, I was only level 16. If you have an over-levelled squad to carry you on difficulties 6+, you’ll be okay, but given those will slaughter most early players, it feels like too much of the best content is locked behind a significant grind barrier.

Arrowhead Studios has already sought to address this with an XP multiplier at the end of matches. Fingers crossed this will become a permanent fixture, as it eases this problem significantly.

Helldivers 2 review

Witness Me… And My Bloodied Body

If there’s one part of Helldivers 2 that’s received universal acclaim, it’s the spectacularly cinematic visuals and atmosphere it demonstrates. Maps are usually large vistas with rolling dunes and lush plains of deadly fauna. Creature and character designs are brilliantly animated and the attention to detail in how your avatar responds to limb damage is superb.

By the end of a match, you’ll be bathed in green blood, sodden with the stories of a life barely survived. Explosions are bombastic affairs that shake the screen, and the launch of an ICBM brings audible gasps the first couple of times you witness one. Then there’s the weather effects. Whether it be rain lashing the mud around you or the deeply impairing cloud of sand that absorbs your vision, they’re wonderful.

It adds so much to Helldivers 2’s aesthetic and world-building. Selecting a mission features you warping to the planet, beholding dozens of ships firing down upon the surface and launching fellow Helldivers. As you might expect, however, this all comes at the cost of stability. Mechanical bugs are rampant, and that’s before you even hit the Automatons.

Twice I had my game become unplayable, gradually losing more and more frames until it was a stuttering mess. Getting stuck in geometry is as common as gunfire, and don’t be surprised to find matchmaking continually fails to launch. Objectives can infrequently not complete despite meeting requirements and I once enjoyed watching the action from underneath the map.

The glitches are too frequent to ignore, and they can mar the experience at times. Even so, Helldivers 2 excels in spite of these problems, which probably tells you more about its overall quality. The price of freedom sure is steep, as Zack Fair would say.

Helldivers 2 review

For Super-Earth!

In all, then, is Helldivers 2 a worthy sequel to the original? A rambunctious, rapturous yes. The armies of Super-Earth may not have evolved much from their original conquest, but their quippy delivery of liberty via orbital strikes and nuclear ordinance is as compelling today as it was 9 years ago. I adored the first game and I adore the sequel just as much.

If you have a squad willing to take on the hordes with mass destruction at your behest, there’s little that can capture the thrill Helldivers 2 provides. You’ll share laughter in years to come as you reminisce on that battle for survival on a lonely planet no one else was fighting for. As Sean described, it’s space Vietnam and you’ll live and die to the tell the tale.

As I threw out my last remaining Eagle airstrike and watched in despair as my Gattling Sentry was obliterated by a swarm of bots, I took my last stand with my machinegun in hand, ready for the sacrifice. Your soldiers of Super-Earth may not always live long enough to see their freedom brought to fruition, but the memories they make along the way will stay with you forever. FOR SUPER-EARTH!

Helldivers 2 is the conquering bald eagle of freedom fans of the original have been waiting for. Despite the familiar surroundings and setup, the switch to third-person is an inspired choice. You’ll bask in the cinematic moments of your last stands and celebrate the arrival of liberty via an orbital nuke with reckless abandon. Salute your fellow Helldivers and take on the galaxy, how do you like the taste of freedom, a second time?!

Helldivers 2 is available now on all freedom-loving systems (PlayStation 5 and PC).

Developer: Arrowhead Studios

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we purchased a copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.

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