Helldivers 2 Review

February 14, 2024


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Every time I boot up Helldivers 2, I have to remind myself that I’m not playing Starship Troopers: Extermination with a third-person camera mod. Technically, the two titles are different from one another, their perspectives notwithstanding. But when it comes down to their core gameplay, they’re almost indistinguishable. Both games put you in the combat suit of an 18-year-old who is given bugger-all in the way of training, and then tasked with dropping on alien worlds to exterminate extraterrestrials using over-the-top weapons in the defence of a hyper-satirised Earth. In both, you also team up with a few friends or randoms with online matchmaking, are dropped into large quasi-open maps to complete a series relatively generic tasks, need to extract in a giant shuttle after 40-odd minutes, allow you to build an assortment of heavy weapon emplacements, and have beautiful visuals but not much in the way of a narrative. And now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t really have a “but” to add here, so instead, I’ll just go ahead and say it: I firmly believe that Starship Troopers: Extermination is one of the most mindlessly enjoyable shooters on the market. And consequently, I firmly believe that Helldivers 2 is one of the most mindlessly enjoyable shooters on the market, too.

Again, technically and only technically, the two titles are different enough from one another so that neither one of their respective studios can file a lawsuit. In Helldivers 2, you play as a, well, Helldiver, or a teenager straight out of whatever the game’s equivalent of high school who needs to dive onto hellish planets to kill either arachnids or totally-not-Terminators. The reason you have to do this is because the totally-not-dystopian government of Super Earth tells you to, and is more than happy to provide you with plenty of weapons, but nothing in the way of an actual explanation. This is the same exact premise as Paul Verhoeven’s 1997 masterpiece, as well as about half of the novels on my science fiction-filled bookshelf, but the game sets itself apart from half of the science fiction titles on Steam’s store shelves that were also inspired by my favourite movie of all time by being genuinely fantastic.

It should probably go without saying that, given what I said in the introductory paragraph, Helldivers 2’s shooting, and everything relating to its gameplay, is almost perfect. Blasting aliens, calling in airstrikes and moving around its maps feels satisfying to say the least. Every weapon in the title has the right amount of recoil and damage, the enemies you face aren’t overpowered and can be taken down by doing things like blasting off their legs (although you’re better off aiming for their nerve stems to put them down for good) but can swarm you if you aren’t careful, and there’s a surprising amount of depth and variety to your objectives when you’re planetside. You’re always teamed up with three other players, too, and although there aren’t any specific classes for you to level up, each player is given a limited amount of special abilities that they can call in with a quick-time event, which means teamwork is important but isn’t overbearingly so like in, say, Squad.

Nuclear nonproliferation is for peaceniks

All of that ensures that Helldivers 2 is a great game. Its audiovisual design is exceptionally solid, most of its bugs (the kind that crash your game, not the kind that are only good if they’re dead) have already been dealt with a week after launch, and while it doesn’t have much in the way of a story, it does have plenty of lore that’s almost identical to the oft-mentioned Starship Troopers. However, what makes the title feel unique is the way in which it handles progression. Levelling up your character isn’t especially interesting, and is instead done by both earning tokens that can be spent to unlock new weapons and cosmetics in a quasi-battle pass or by improving your home base with resources that are found in raids, but new levels are unlocked with the help of the title’s entire player base. Each sector in the universe, which all contain multiple planets that you drop onto to do things like clear out nests or rescue civilians, needs to be completely cleared of the bug/robot threat before the next one is unlocked, and every time a player completes a mission, one of the existing sector becomes a bit more clear. It’s a weird concept, but it’s one that works surprisingly well. As I type this review, the Umlaut system in-game is about 1% clear, and before anyone can start killing stuff on the Draco system, the next chunk of the universe, players need to complete a few thousand objectives on the planets in Umlaut. This both ensures that every time you launch the title there will probably be somewhere new for you to explore, and makes you feel like you’re working towards an actual objective instead of just trying to get new gear.

Seriously, don’t do it. 37 people die in drunk driving accidents in the U.S. every day.

It remains to be seen what the developers will do when the player base finally liberates all of the existing sectors or unlocks all of its weapons, though, and truth be told, Helldivers 2’s endgame is the only aspect of it that has the potential to be anything other than superb. To be clear, neither I nor anyone else besides the developers themselves know what the title will look like in a few months from now, but until then, there’s more than enough content in it to make it well worth a purchase, and more importantly, that content is fantastic. Even if the title dies out tomorrow, and at some point it will (after all, what developer wants their title to live forever besides Ubisoft), it’s still a seriously enjoyable experience. The game isn’t the most unique on the market, and has plenty in common with ones you’ve undoubtedly played already if you like science fiction, but it’s a well polished and fun one none the less. It has the over-the-top atmosphere of Starship Troopers, the satisfying shooting and movement mechanics of Outriders, an interesting take on world progression, and doesn’t have any serious bugs besides all of the ones you need to shoot. It would be a stretch to say that Helldivers 2 redefines the medium, or is even the new gold standard for whatever genre it’s technically part of, but it isn’t a stretch to say that if you’re looking for something to play with your friends while rattling off quotes from your favourite futuristic action book or movie, you won’t find a game that’s much better than Helldivers 2. Because, if nothing else, the game is good, and if there’s something we all know, it’s to never pass up a good game. 

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Helldivers 2 is the third-person Starship Troopers title that never was, which means that if you’ve been looking for an excuse to get into a bug fight, it’s absolutely worth picking up the title so you can do your part to stop the alien menace.
Derek Johnson

Somebody once told me the world was going to roll me, and they were right. I love games that let me take good-looking screenshots and ones that make me depressed, so long as the game doesn't overstay its welcome.