Games are a hit based business and the formula to get there has become ever more complex as gamers demands get broader. Where once it was enough to through a ton of money at high end graphics, bolting on multiplayer or simply releasing the right genre at the right time now you’re likely to be one of hundreds of other games to be attempting to do exactly that. Latching onto some hitherto unexploited cultural zeitgeist seems to be the only thing that routine pays dividends but walking the line between exploitation and exaltation isn’t an exact science. So when I came across Helldivers 2, which could aptly be called Starship Troopers: The Game, the teenage boy in me who love the bug killing and co-ed showers suddenly wanted nothing more than to kill bugs with his friends and boy howdy, has he been doing that for a good while.

Superearth has achieved unparalleled levels of freedom, thanks to the liberal use of Managed Democracy. But that success hasn’t come for free; no it’s been built off the backs of the Helldivers, those brave enough to face off against’ democracy’s enemies and bring liberty and freedom to their savage and ruthless worlds. So will you stand back whilst others fight in your stead, or will you join the brave and stare down those who would see Superearth fall? I knew I could count on you soldier, now get to your pods, time to deliver some sweet liber-tea!

Helldivers aesthetic is built around it’s gameplay with enormous wide open environments that are littered with things to explore. These grand spaces and set pieces give you the impression of a world that’s much more detailed than it actually is, with the graphics being essentially average for this current generation. That’s also a necessity too however, as it doesn’t take long for the game to throw wave after wave of enemies at you and that can quick tank the FPS of even the best machines if not managed carefully. That being said the game does have its moments though, like when you’re trudging through a snow drift and you see the glorious glow of a 500kg going off in the distance, its devastation providing a soft orange backdrop for the numerous amount of rounds you’re sending down range.

To me Helldivers feels close to games like Payday where the core game loop is based on doing missions, upgrading your gear and ramping up the difficulty in various ways in order to get more and better rewards. You have your base set of gear which consists of a couple armor pieces (with the chest the only piece that currently has some build variety to it), 2 weapons and your choice of grenade. This is then supplemented by your stratagems, effectively abilities that you can call in that can do many things like bring down a sentry or call in an orbital laser. You also have boosters which are an item that grants a time wide benefit like damage resistance or increased stamina. There’s a variety of mission types ranging from simple “Kill X number of enemies” through to multi-stage encounters that will require you to complete a number of objectives scattered around the maps. As of writing there’s 2 different enemy types, the bugs and the robots, and you’ll only face off against one archetype of enemy at one time. Depending on the difficulty level and area you choose you’ll also be hit with a number of mission modifiers, some which might be slightly beneficial to certain loadouts but are usually a detriment overall. Whilst this sounds like a lot it’s actually quite approachable as the main gameplay element is still “shoot things, kill things, repeat”, just with more flavour as you get more familiar with everything.

Combat starts off pretty tame, mostly because the amount of weapons and stratagems you have at your disposal are pretty limited. As you complete campaigns, unlock more weapons/stratagems and figure out what build works best for you and start to move up the difficulty tiers things ramp up quite considerably. You’ll quickly find yourself being overwhelmed with wave after wave of enemies and finding the right tools to get you through that is part of the challenge. Like most I settled on the Breaker shotgun for its all round solid performance, usually pairing that with a grenade launcher and laser drone. Keen observers will note that this build does absolutely nothing for the game’s tougher enemies and so I was usually reliant on the rest of the team to take care of that (wholly due to me being lower level than them and not having the right tools to do so). That doesn’t mean I wasn’t an effective part of the team though as wave clearing is just as critical a role as any other.

The recent patches have done a lot to address build diversity as the added weapon variety has ensured that there’s still some experimentation to be done to find that one loadout that just works for you. It also helps that some of the newer guns fill voids in a particular power fantasy that had been lacking for me, like the LAS-16 Sickle feeling like the automatic rifle that we should’ve had from the beginning. The good news is though that, whilst there are meta builds which will be stronger than something comparable, most things are still viable as long as you’re filling the different niches the game throws at you. Wave clear, heavy enemy and boss takedowns are the standard ones that most will be familiar with, but don’t let those shoe horn your builds in. There’s a lot of fun to be had in doing such dumb things as (these may have possibly been live tested): all sentries all the time, lightning everywhere, I can’t believe we have this many lasers and, my personal favourite, how do we take out that bile titan with this?

Progression comes at a good pace, especially once you’re up at the difficulty 6/7 mark. I could usually get a level or two in an hour or so of gameplay depending on how well we were doing that night. The various progression mechanics: XP, requisition slips, medals, samples and super credits means that you’re always pretty close to unlocking something new and usually not too far off getting that upgrade which you’ve been eyeing off for a good long while. Each of them taken individually doesn’t look like much but they certainly do ramp up your power level significantly as time goes on. You will get to a point where some of the upgrades are a moot point to you, for me it’s the fact I’ve got most of the sentry upgrades I want as that’s what I usually use, but like many similar games having options for your build is never a bad thing. So there’s always something to strive for.

What’s driven Helldivers 2’s staying power though is just how much fun it is when you’re playing with your crew. I was hesitant to pick it up at first as I hadn’t played the first and wasn’t sure that the second would be up my alley either. Seeing most of my usual crew playing it, and several direct messages to “Come and play it now”, was enough to get me in but the tutorial showed me very quickly what kind of game this was going to be. Once that was finished I was quickly into my first mission with the crew and that’s where the hijinks began.

I didn’t know friendly fire was on and so the first couple hours were spent exploring the various ways that we could kill each other. I remember seeing the explosive barrels for the first time and noticing I could pick them up. Figuring hey, these probably don’t have hit detection while you’re holding them right, I call my mate over to shot the barrel while I’m holding it. 2 seconds later I’m ragdolling across the map and losing my mind on Discord. Like many I’ve now got countless war stories of Guard Dog rovers taking people’s heads off, eagles deciding danger close is just a mindset and, my all time favourite, the next level spiciness that a mortar turret adds to any encounter. We’ve failed numerous missions because one of us watched a YouTube vid showing the next broken build, only to find that it’s not that broken at all and now we’ve got no way to take out that charger. All of these would be rage inducing moments in any other game but for Helldivers it’s just part of the fun.

Helldivers 2’s launch was not without its issues, although we here in Australia were thankfully spared the worst of them given we play at very different times to the bulk of the world. Still though we had our share of queue times to begin with, enough that we skipped playing a couple nights just because it was a dice roll to get on. Then there’s the jankiness in some of the game’s mechanics which, again, can be a large part of the fun but can also lead to some frustrating situations. My real favourite though is that, at some point, the game developed a great bug whereby taking a screenshot would desync me from the server. The one above is actually the second screenshot I took when this happened as I wasn’t 100% sure the first time around that it was the cause. To Arrowhead’s credit the bugs, glitches and broken things do feel like they’re on the downward trend but it’s clear that they’re a victim of their own success.

The game’s narrative is an interesting one, equal parts made up of the war stories you and your squad will build and the kind of meta-narrative created by Joel and his crew of propagandists on Twitter. Most of the fun my squad and I have playing this has come from roleplaying like we’re in Starship Troopers whilst also making bad war history jokes but there is something fun about the game’s developers running psyops and gaslighting a large group of people to hype up new releases, patches or major orders. Is engaging that necessary to enjoy the game? Heck no, but if you’re looking for more Helldivers when you’re not playing Helldivers then there’s options for you there.

Helldivers 2 is going to go down for many as this year’s surprise hit, giving us the experience that many of us didn’t know we wanted. All the individual elements just work so well together and thrown in it just being a great laugh to have with your squadmates makes it all the better. It feels like the game still has a lot to give as well, the rolling content updates and patches ensuring that there’s enough to bring you back on a regular basis without it requiring you to grind endlessly to play with the new cool toys. I’m still surprised to see more and more of friends list jumping on it and the peak numbers are equalling other big releases of years gone by. It’ll be one I’ll be coming back to for a while, I’m sure.

Rating: 9.25/10

Helldivers 2 is available on PC and PlayStation 5 right now for $59.95. Game was played on the PC with a total play time of 33.7 hours with 65% of the achievements unlocked.

About the Author

David Klemke

David is an avid gamer and technology enthusiast in Australia. He got his first taste for both of those passions when his father, a radio engineer from the University of Melbourne, gave him an old DOS box to play games on.

View All Articles