Review: Boisterous Helldivers 2 is a silly, ridiculous multiplayer time with friends

helldivers 2

Having spent another 20 hours on top of what I had already played for my first article on Helldivers 2, as well as playing matches on its newly-unveiled planetary defense mode that was released last night, it’s now time to officially review the game! 

For those not in the know, Helldivers 2 is the sequel to 2015’s game developed by the folks at Arrowhead Game Studio, whose previous work, Magicka, was among one of my favorite multiplayer games ever. With their new series, the team went all in on parody mode, taking a cue from Paul Verhoven’s catalog of works, with a keen eye on his masterpiece, Starship Troopers

As a member of Super Earth’s elite squad of Helldivers, it’s your job to eliminate any threat to the planet’s way of life, and of course, to the established freedom in the form of what the games humorously refer to as managed democracy. It’s all tongue and cheek and delivered quite beautifully through Helldivers 2’s introductory video.

Missions take place on a number of different planets and can be tackled on your lonesome or with three other players. There are nine scaling difficulty modes and an arrangement of mission types ranging from mere defense ones to more complicated multi-step affairs, such as launching a missile, rescuing civilians and such. The cool bit, though, is how every match you play is eventually tallied into a worldwide effort to reclaim specific parts of the solar system.

That makes it so that you and fellow players are all cooperating in a gigantic war front that spans two – for now – scenarios, one against a race of bug-like creatures and robots, much like the original Helldivers. At key points, however, there are events wherein a specific enemy will try to regain liberated planets, resulting in a planetary defense special mission type, which was not a thing during the game’s first week of release.

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War is hell. Hell is divers.

Only yesterday did that become active, and it’s indeed what you expected: in it, you fight against overwhelming odds, even bigger than the usual chaos, and the challenge goes through the roof. Retaking these planets has its own meter on top of the community-wide one, and upon succeeding, everyone who participated gets a cut of a nice reward in form of one of the game’s currencies.

This being a ‘games as a service’ title, Helldivers 2 does things in a less predatory fashion than your usual game. Yes, there are going to be battle passes that can be bought for actual real world cash, but that will only put the buyer a bit ahead of the curve, and everything can be unlocked at a less than head-splittingly slow pace and it’s quite possible to have everything at your disposal without dropping a dollar over the game’s $40 price tag. And then again, the battle pass doesn’t work like a ‘pay-to-win’, but rather it unlocks new armor sets that have very low bearing stats, as well as slightly stronger weapons, emotes, and party-wide buffs, much like the non-premium pass the game starts out with.

Frankly, I found the gear in the game to be less of a hassle than your normal gear score race, and for that I’m positively happy, after wasting away hundreds of hours playing MMOs and being miserable at all the artificial gating that comes with grouping on those. Instead, even the starting armor sets are still useful 40+ hours into the game.

In terms of weapons, the normal battle pass features quite a few that are just as powerful as the premium ones, only without the flashy exteriors, and outside of a specific shotgun with incendiary properties, I’ve been exclusively running with the arsenal unlocked via the normal pass instead. The real meat of your guns, though, comes from unlocking stratagems, which is another aspect where Helldivers 2 really shines.

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So beautiful, yet to dangerous.

The only aspect that I assume will take players a while to get through is upgrading your home ship, since it requires, much like the first game, samples that are found scattered during missions, which can be a little hard to get ahold of, requiring a bit of grinding on your part if you’re aiming to get the game’s platinum trophy. Then again, it’s a long term goal that shouldn’t be much of a hassle to achieve by naturally playing the game as you would otherwise.

Carrying the hectic DNA of Magicka yet again, a lot of the subsystems in this game are directly tied to inputting long strings of directions much like fatalities in a Mortal Kombat game. So whenever you need to, for instance, call in an airstrike or a support weapon, you have to call the in-game menu and quickly type in a string all the while trying to avoid getting eaten alive or accidentally shot by your buddies.

That’s right: there’s friendly fire in Helldivers 2, and it’s through it that most of the fun comes into play. Just about anything can hurt your buddies as well as yourself if you’re not careful, be it the aforementioned bombing runs, but also your passive abilities, like the mid-to-late game laser-armed drones that fly above you and automatically fire at enemies. I lost count of the number of times I inadvertently killed off teammates and have gotten offed myself, and it’s all been hilarious.

It’s so easy to jump in and out of groups and missions that playing this has been a matter of either starting groups of missions by myself or jumping into other people’s games in a seamless manner. During the first week, a lot of the matchmaking was broken, but after a handful of patches, it’s currently working most of the time and it’s expected to get even better, making it even easier to get into the fun quickly. 

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Take your buddies with you to war. FOR LIBERTY!

Now, for as obviously intentionally comical as the game’s tone is, there are those who might still feel offended by the portrayal of literal space autocratic fascists as the playable heroes in this game, and for that, I honestly can’t say much to change their opinion. For me, it’s done in a way that’s a so on-the-face caricature and self-deprecating manner that makes it hard to take it in any way other than for the intended laughs, but then again, the internet has shown that such an explanation is warranted. 

Arrowhead has done such a fantastic job at establishing that their spin on the future of humanity is bleak and so incredibly stupid, and I absolutely love them for that. It gives Helldivers 2 an extra layer of storytelling that much more serious games lack, and it’s something that makes it shine ever so brighter. This is a game to sit down and have a laugh with friends, without ever taking it seriously.

Without a doubt, Helldivers 2 is already one of 2024’s biggest surprises, one that literally came out of nowhere for me, as I had no idea that a sequel was in the works, having criminally played only a few minutes of the original Helldivers when it was part of PlayStation Plus. This is a game that I expect to be playing off and on throughout the year as long as the content is there to be enjoyed. After spending nearly two-days worth of it over the course of a week, it’s clearly a winner for me, and hopefully it’ll be for you as well.      

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