Helldivers 2 Review

How 'bout a cup of Liber-TEA!

By Paul Hunter

As part of Sony's new live services push, the first game out of the gate is Helldivers 2 and it's a certified banger. It's the sequel to 2015's top-down shooter Helldivers, only now it's a third-person shooter with a much bigger scope and budget. Since launch, I've been putting in 2-3 hours every night playing with friends and having a blast blowing up bugs and bots. I haven't been this invested in an online multiplayer game since Apex Legends dropped in 2019—Helldivers 2 is hard to put down.

Let's take a look at what makes Sony's latest online multiplayer game such a success, here's are four things I liked about the game...and one I didn't.

Liked: Comedy at the Forefront

Right from the opening sequence, Helldivers 2 lays on the comedy thick. In it, an everyday family man who lives in an artificially perfect town (think The Truman Show) happily greets his wife and child moments before a giant bug steps in and murders them. The guy then snaps his fingers and becomes a Helldiver, a soldier under the command of Super Earth. He encourages you, the player, to enlist in the Helldivers to help spread managed democracy across the solar system.

The overall vibe of Helldivers 2 has had a lot of comparisons with Starship Troopers and it's totally true. Everything about Super Earth is fishy, from the obvious propaganda videos to the corny training manual tips that appear before missions start. But what's even funnier is when you chat with the three NPC crewmates on your ship who eventually spill the beans that everything isn't as it seems. For instance, they heavily imply the Terminids bugs may across be spread to planets intentionally so Super Earth can harvest their splattered guts for oil fuel. Likewise, it's strongly hinted that the robot Automatons faction may actually have arisen intentionally (or unintentionally) because of Super Earth.

The funny stuff isn't just limited to the game's lore, the whole gameplay has been designed around absurd moments sure to give you a laugh. For example, you can deploy stratagems like orbital laser strikes or eagle cluster bombs during battle, but they require you to input D-pad commands in the heat of battle. Some stratagems are as simple as right, right, up, while others can feel as complex as the Konami code.

Not only is it silly to have to input lengthy commands in the heat of battle, but deploying stratagems can backfire if you and your teammates aren't careful. That's because friendly fire is always on by default, and if your buddy doesn't move far enough away from your Eagle strafe fire or Hellbomb, they'll blow up along with the bugs or robots. Even your regular shotgun, handgun, or grenades can kill your teammates if your aiming is off or if they run in front of your fire. Each match you're given a certain number of reinforcements (usually 20) so you really have to be aware of your team's position before unloading payloads or gunfire.

There are so many other funny elements of Helldivers both big and small. For instance, if you get the deluxe version of the game you'll find a Stratagem Ship arcade game on your ship that lets you practice a sequence of inputs to get a high score. Then there's the focus on capes, even though of course they make no practical sense on the battlefield. Even the emotes are hilarious, like asking your friend to give you a warm hug or performing a post-match victory 'rolling of the dice' hand gesture. The lighthearted approach is one of the most compelling reasons to play Helldivers 2, but there are many other great reasons to play the game.

Liked: Stratagems Rule

Helldivers 2 features dozens of stratagems you can take into battle, from a simple machine gun all the way to a giant orbital laser shot down from your commanding ship. A handful of stratagems are unlocked out of the gate, but most must be purchased with credits you receive after completing missions. Stratagems are also level-locked, with the most powerful ones requiring you to achieve level 20 before you can buy them.

I love the variety of stratagems you can bring into missions for all types of playstyles. There are defensive stratagems like a personal bubble shield or deployable turrets. There are also plenty of offensive stratagems, such as dropping prolonged orbital barrages that can decimate enemy bases or calling in Napalm eagles to light the battlefield on fire. And then there are the tactical stratagems that include a hovering Guard Dog drone that shoots a continuous laser or a Jump Pack good for leaping over small buildings or tough terrain.

Unleashing the right stratagems are the right moments is key to victory in Helldivers 2. The catch is that each stratagem has a cooldown period, ranging anywhere from seconds to minutes, so you really need to strategize about when to deploy them. For instance, if you call in a massive 500kg Eagle bomb to take out a heavy enemy, the stratagem may not be resupplied by the time you reach the next large enemy base. Sometimes it's better to hold onto your most powerful stratagems until you reach your next objective, but that can make your immediate battle with the bugs or bots that much harder. But I have to say, few things in gaming are more satisfying than dropping a Hellbomb on an enemy base and watching the whole thing burn to ashes.

Not only are the stratagems a blast to use, but I also appreciate the pacing at which they get unlocked. Every successful two or three missions will reward you with enough currency to buy your next stratagem and I surmise it'll take 30 hours or more to unlock them all. Getting a new toy every few missions keeps me coming back to play more, a sign that the live service elements are clearly working.

Liked: Terminids and Automaton Factions

Helldivers 2 is loaded with some of the coolest bugs and bots I've ever faced in a shooter. I focused the first ten hours or so of my review time on the Terminids, which range from small nuisance bugs to cloaked stalkers that can kill you in seconds. There are bugs that spew corrosive acid, ones with heavily plated heads (forcing you to shoot their butts), and leaping bugs that can jump a large distance in seconds. Those are just the regular bugs, too.

There are two larger bugs you'll also need to contend with and they are major pain in the butt. The first is the Charger, which is heavily plated, and its only exposed area is its tail. The game has nine difficulty settings in total, and it's not uncommon on the higher difficulties to have two or three Chargers after your team, which is ridiculous considering how tough those beasts are. There's an even bigger bug though and that's the Bile Titan which towers over the battlefield like a walking fortress. It's surprisingly not a huge threat given its size, but it takes a huge amount of firepower—including your team's best stratagems—to finally take it down. And yep, on the hardest difficulties, you may wind up facing multiple Bile Titans and Chargers at the same time.

The game's second faction is the Automatons and in my view, they are much, much worse than the bugs. They remind me of the Star Wars Separatist Droid Army, complete with an army of foot soldiers shooting laser guns and two-legged walkers that resemble AT-STs. Battles against the Automatons are generally always chaotic as their forces constantly get resupplied via dropships and most enemies have medium or heavy armour that causes your bullets to ricochet. To defeat most of the larger automatons you have to shoot their weak points, which can be a major challenge when there are dozens of robots on the battlefield leaving you little option but running or evading.

The toughest Automatons are a major pain in the butt and can often kill you in one shot. Their forces include heavily armoured tanks, missile-launching bipedal bots, and flamethrower mechs with sizable reach. Unless you have a powerful stratagem like an Orbital Strike or cluster bomb, it's often better not to mess with the largest Automatons since they can destroy you in seconds.

Overall, it feels like the two factions currently in the game have been well thought out, and your stratagem arsenal reflects that. The bugs, for instance, are no match for your flamethrower, laser Guard Dog, or Orbital Gas strikes, while the robots are weak to EMS strikes (that disable their movement) and virtually require you to equip the personal shield generator.

Liked: Great Audio Visual Presentation

When a stratagem bomb strike hits the battlefield in Helldivers 2, boy can you feel it. The explosive audio effects in this game are superb, and they're only matched by the excellent implementation of the PS5 DualSense controllers that violently shake whenever devastation rains down. All your weapons have a tremendous punch to them, making destroying the bugs and bots such a fun endeavour. The best is when you drop your most powerful stratagems, like the 500kg Eagle bomb, which lights up the sky with a huge red-hot mushroom cloud.

The alien worlds you do missions in also have a ton of personality, and you can see from the images contained within this review how varied the colours are. Some planets have a deep blue hue, while others are bright red or a misty grey. You might see multiple suns or moons while on individual planets, and sometimes you can even see other nearby planets high in the sky.

I also appreciate how different Terminid worlds are when compared to the Automaton ones. Terminid planets are filled with yellow explosive flowers and feature large mushroom structures that can fill the surrounding area with a thick fog of spores. On the flip side, Automaton worlds possess huge heavily fortified bases full of alien-like mechanic structures. Both factions feel unique, and the promise of more factions to come in seasonal updates will absolutely entice me to keep on playing.

Didn't Like: Server Issues, Bugs

Helldivers 2 is the victim of its own success. I don't think Sony or Arrowhead anticipated how popular this game would be, and as a result, the servers have been chugging along days after the launch. It's not uncommon to wait 30 minutes to get into a server, but luckily fans have come up with workarounds (like starting the can using the PS cards) to speed up the wait time.

Related to the server capacity problem are also issues that have crept up, like the two days where XP wasn't being properly awarded post-match. I've also encountered several hard crashes in the middle of 30-minute matches, again likely related to the server issues. Arrowhead seems to have all hands on deck to mitigate and resolve the issue, so I have no doubt the game will be running smoothly soon, but for now, be aware that there are issues plaguing the online play.

The Verdict

Helldivers 2 has single-handedly reinvigorated my love for live service games. The lighthearted yet intense gameplay feels like a throwback to multiplayer games from the PS3/360 era where the focus was on fun first and monetization second. Everything is on point with this game, from the immersive environment aesthetics to the great arsenal of weapons to the diverse enemy factions to yes, even the friendly-fire hilarity. This could very well be Sony's best live services project yet.

Final Score: 9/10 - Amazing

Helldivers 2 details

Platform: PS5, PC
Developer: Arrowhead Game Studios
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Genre: Third-person Shooter
Modes: Single-player, Multiplayer
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)

A key was provided by the publisher.