Skip to main content

Helldivers 2 review: Dying for space democracy

The best part of Helldivers 2 might be the intro cinematic, but the rest of the game is good too
  • Author:
  • Publish date:

Helldivers 2’s intro cinematic is the best part of the game. It’s so good that it was trending online shortly after release, and you’ll see it every time you boot it up. It’s a hyper-patriotic satire of colonialism, in space. Yeah, exactly like Starship Troopers. This piece of propaganda sets up everything it needs to: you’re a space soldier, in space, shooting guns at aliens and robots. In space. Oh, you’d like to know more?

You are a Helldiver, a super soldier sworn to protect Super Earth from every threat in a several million-mile radius. The galaxy around Super Earth is filled with planets, many of them under the constant terror of alien bugs and legally distinct Terminators. You must drop in, equip your most powerful weaponry, and start blasting until democracy has been delivered to the galaxy.

It’s a great set up for a live service game, as alien hordes and automatons can infiltrate the fringes of the galaxy whenever the developers need a new threat for players to deal with, as one early update containing a massive robot invasion has already shown. It’s an evolving landscape too; as players complete missions on any given planet they will slowly liberate it, a fraction of a percentage at a time. Once the global community has chewed through the alien scum on a planet, it becomes inactive and the community moves on to the next handful of stars to blast their way through.

Launching rockets is just one of the missions you'll undertake in Helldivers 2.

Launching rockets is just one of the missions you'll undertake in Helldivers 2.

That – honestly, pretty brilliant – setting and scenario means that there isn’t any campaign of main mission progression to speak of, instead just dropping you into an evolving PvE battleground after the tutorial. Each mission will level you up and reward you with resources, like Medals and Samples, which you can then spend on new Stratagems, Ship Modules, or to unlock some new gear in the Warbond menu.

That’s also part of the problem. Warbonds, for example, are essentially the battle passes you’ll see in pretty much every other multiplayer shooter. They represent the only real form of progression in Helldivers 2, and while you can call in unique Stratagems and even find weapons dropped from enemies or in caches, getting new primary weapons will take hours of play.

Helldivers 2 screenshot.

Big explosions are commonplace.

You’ll level up faster by taking on more challenging missions, though the difficulty ramps up fast depending on the mission type. To remain confident you need to join up with other Helldivers online, which is a fairly simple process (as long as the servers are behaving), and as long as you manage to get a good team, progress is assured. Still, at least all of this is feasibly earnable in-game. It just takes a while.

The problem is that it all feels a bit mindless. Your pod crash lands and pierces the planet’s crust, squeezing you out of the top. You call down any weaponry you might need – it’s always handy to start with a machine gun in the early game – and then start traversing the planet. While moving and shooting in third-person you can enlarge your minimap and ping points of interest with the touchpad, or you can just beeline your way to the objectives before heading to the extraction point.

There's a variety of weapons to use, but it takes time to unlock them.

There's a variety of weapons to use, but it takes time to unlock them.

The challenges range from planting a flag – in which you could potentially shoot fewer than ten enemies – to defending a base or taking down gigantic monsters with your Stratagems. Stratagems can resupply your ammo and heals, bring in heavy artillery, or literally carpet bomb large portions of a planet (and usually your friends). Whatever you need to get the job done. Each is activated by holding L1 and inputting a series of button prompts on the d-pad. This is all done in real-time – often when being chased by baddies – which adds to the tension when you press the wrong input.

When on the ground and shooting enemies, it’s mindless, yes, but it’s also constantly engaging and (as long as you’re not being pounded into dirt by an overwhelming horde) very fun. It’s just a shame that your first mission is the point where the endgame would start in most live service games. Sure, it kicks you straight into the heart of the action, but it also left me feeling a bit lost on what I should actually be trying to achieve aside from repeatedly dying for space democracy. Pretty sure the commissar embedded in my unit will have a stern chat with me for uttering these doubts.

Helldivers 2 Flamethrower bot

Don't get burned.

Helldivers 2 review update – February 21, 2024

After playing more and dropping into games with friends and colleagues, I really like Helldivers 2 – when it works. The game has only gotten more popular since launch, and instead of server issues dying down, they’ve become more severe. I used to be able to log on instantly early in the day, but now even at that time, I’m confronted with a server queue screen. When it’s not so busy it doesn’t take long to start playing a game, but at peak times you’ll be lucky to be able to matchmake with others.

But that really is the biggest complaint I can make about Helldivers 2. Even though buildings and terrain are copy-pasted across worlds, making a handful of them feel a bit overly familiar, new flora and weather systems manage to make each world feel unique. It does a lot to make you forget that you’ll likely be undertaking very similar mission types repeatedly.

A Helldivers 2 character in a white-gold helmet, standing in front of a shining hologram of a planet

New armor is earned slowly, but steadily.

The unlockable weapons and Stratagems go a very long way to making repeated mission types feel unique, and I was still enjoying fighting the same bugs because a new unlock was always just around the corner, and when those unlocks finally run out, you’ll be taking on incredibly difficult challenges.

I think Helldivers 2’s secret sauce is how it simulates damn near everything. Bullets actually travel, which means they can ricochet off an enemy carapace and penetrate your friend’s skull. That drop pod you called in can crush your pal into a red paste. Everything feels heavy and grounded – honestly, the developers have set the gold standard for how a reticule should behave depending on gun weight in a third-person shooter – and every bullet is impactful. There’s guns and violence, but underneath that? Brilliant slapstick comedy.

Helldivers 2 is incredibly atmospheric.

Helldivers 2 is incredibly atmospheric.

Once the ongoing server issues are finally dealt with for good, Helldivers 2 will be one of the easiest multiplayer shooters to recommend. When it all works as intended, finding a game with friends or random players is simple, and the co-op-only nature of the game has fostered a broadly very positive and welcoming community. Helldivers 2 will – eventually – be an essential multiplayer game, and I can’t wait for it to just work.

Score: 8/10

  • Presentation: 9/10
  • Story: 5/10
  • Gameplay: 8/10
  • Music: 7/10

Version tested: PS5

Helldivers 2 technical performance

On PS5 the Performance Mode runs at a solid 60fps, and still manages to look very nice, though it is running at a 1080p resolution. Mind, you probably won’t notice when in the heat of battle. If 1080p isn’t good enough for you, there’s a perfectly serviceable 30fps Quality Mode. The primary issues Helldivers 2 is suffering from are related. PC players are having different issues, including black screens and freezes. Developer Arrowhead Games has been patching the game regularly though, and stability is increasing week after week, so we have faith that these issues will be addressed in the near future.