Reviewing Helldivers 2: A Look into the Starship Bloopers

Helldivers 2’s randomized missions and compelling reward track make for a delightfully fun shooter.

By Jordan Ramée on February 15, 2024 at 2:00PM PST

It’s a bold swing to dramatically change a formula that you know is working, but the gamble has paid off for Arrowhead Game Studios. Helldivers 2 opts for an over-the-shoulder third-person perspective as opposed to the original game’s top-down view, making for a shooter that pulls you closer into the thick of its frenetic combat. This shift brings Helldivers 2’s gameplay better in line with its ludicrous narrative tone, managing to create memorably explosive firefights despite the repetitive enemy types and map designs. Helldivers 2 is an incredible game–it sets out to be a rambunctious and entertaining shooter and hits that target with military precision.

Helldivers 2 sees you step into the patriotic boots of the titular fighting force, lowly grunts on the frontlines of an intergalactic war in defense of Super Earth. Missions take place on randomly generated planets, ranging from ice-covered tundras to lush jungles. You and your squad have a set amount of time to complete your main objective and any optional assignments, needing to successfully extract to bring any collected goodies back with you. Though you’re armed with the usual weapons of war found in shooters (primary and secondary weapons, grenades, and healing syringes), your main means of dealing big damage and supporting your squad are the stratagems you can call in, such as powerful machine guns or explosive air strikes.

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Stratagems make you a juggernaut of destruction, allowing you to call in absurdly powerful weapons to devastate anything in your path. Having the right one on hand can save a mission, but Helldivers 2 never punishes you for what you choose to bring into a fight–if you have a favorite, chances are it will always be useful in some capacity. They never make the game too easy, either–limited uses and timers restrict just how often you can call in the big guns, encouraging you to rely on your allies while you wait for your stratagems to recharge. Plus, there are a lot of enemies to fight in each mission, swarming you at a moment’s notice. Calling in an airstrike and getting a 15-enemy kill streak feels amazing, but it doesn’t change that once it’s over there could still be another 20 enemies to clean up. The stratagems only get you so far–at some point, you have to get good at shooting with the normal weapons too, incentivizing you to improve and not just rely on a series of explosive hardware.

The stratagems are delightfully varied in terms of what they bring to the table, though it’s primarily all through the lens of blowing stuff up in different ways. There are a few outliers–the jetpack and energy dome shield are notable examples–but most stratagems boil down to hurting enemies. This isn’t inherently bad, but it is a little limiting for players who want to take on more supportive roles in the makeup of their squad. As a live-service game, these types of stratagems could be coming in a future update. For now, however, the make-up of the stratagems ensures each mission is typically only won by delivering the most pain as quickly as possible.

Helldivers 2 embraces the concept of danger and hilarity, with a narrative style similar to Starship Troopers. Death is frequent and routine — there’s a constant risk of friendly fire and the game’s array of robotic and bug-like foes show no mercy. Each mission’s general atmosphere anticipates a high death toll, celebrating each soldier’s sacrifice for Super Earth. However, it would be beneficial if the game provided the player with more ways to protect fellow soldiers, especially in harder levels where every life counts. It can be somewhat vexing to try to survive on the most difficult levels when the game offers little assistance.

The game’s humor is its most potent strength. While the narrative jokes may not always land, the inherent danger each player poses to their teammates generates some truly laugh-out-loud moments. Examples include allies inadvertently getting caught in the crossfire, teammates being sacrificed for the greater good, and even friendly fire incidents transforming into comedic relief rather than infuriating events. These humorous moments serve to soften the blow of the dangerous circumstances, reinforcing the game’s ridiculous and outrageous nature.

The shooting mechanics in Helldivers 2 are also gratifying. Even in death, players can take solace in having vanquished enemies in a spectacular fashion. Every weapon in the game feels suitably threatening to use, and varying enemy resistances ensure that no weapon feels unfairly ineffective or excessively powerful. Players can derive satisfaction from considering their ideal loadout and knowing there are no wrong choices. The presence of up to three other Helldivers in the team can offset any potential shortcomings.

Helldivers 2 is best experienced with allies who communicate and cooperate. Although the game can be played solo, it is far more enjoyable in a cooperative mode. Larger teams can accomplish more during limited mission time, resulting in richer rewards and more available lives. Companions also enhance certain weapon usability — for instance, a rocket launcher that initially reloads slowly becomes significantly more efficient when an ally helps reload it.

This focus on cooperative play is where I feel the game’s ping system falls short. Undoubtedly, it serves its purpose in many situations, such as highlighting enemies and marking objectives. Yet, in more intricate conditions it lacks efficiency. For instance, on missions with strangers, where one Helldiver would have to monitor a terminal to deliver instructions on how to adjust a satellite dish across the compound, the limitations of the ping system were glaring. In such cases, we managed to solve the puzzle through repeated trial and error rather than clear communication. This inadequate communication can be a hurdle, especially because completing missions quickly results in additional rewards. Therefore, an efficient ping system that caters to all the objective types in the game is essential.

Helldivers 2 offers a commendable variety in terms of missions. While individual aspects of the missions may seem repetitive and the enemies monotone after a point, the game does a good job at mixing these elements to create diverse missions. Two consecutive missions might require similar objectives, for example, but the challenges and environments in each could vary significantly, making each mission a unique experience.

Helldivers 2 is truly enjoyable and relies on this aspect to retain its players for a considerable duration.

With regard to this, Helldivers 2 definitely achieves the Day One aspiration for any live-service game: you just want to keep playing. Missions are not exactly brief, ranging from 10 minutes to about 40 minutes, yet they do not feel tedious due to their distinct nature. Moreover, there is an excitement in completing tasks successfully and earning enough points to purchase upgrades or new items. This cycle of unlocking and trying out new equipment invariably creates an urge to continue playing. Helldivers 2 is generous when it comes to allowing players to unlock new items, making the game all the more rewarding.

Though a premium reward track and game store are available, there are ample rewards available through the standard free track. Medals earned by completing missions can be spent on new weapons, armor, poses, and banners in both free and premium reward tracks, as well as Requisition Slips for new stratagems. Additionally, the store offers items for Super Credits, a currency that can be found in missions or bought with real money or medals. Especially sought-after are Samples, another mission-exclusive currency used for unlocking permanent upgrades such as quicker cooldown times.

Sometimes, keeping track of the various in-game currencies and their respective unlocks can be daunting. However, it’s fantastic that every single item in Helldivers 2 can be obtained simply by playing the game. This includes the premium reward track which uses Super Credits, saving you from spending extra money. With no expiry date on the reward tracks, Arrowhead has eliminated the urgency to continuously grind or spend additional money.

Using only the free track, I unlocked three new firearms, a new grenade, and a victory pose within just a few hours of gameplay. So far, I have seen steady progress. Completing missions at upped difficulties unlocks new levels, each promising greater rewards that help accelerate the pace of unlocking new equipment. When the pace slows, it typically signals that it’s time to level up. While I foresee a skill ceiling that might slow down my late-level unlocks, I am enjoying the game for now.

I am still skeptical about the Game Master aspect of Helldivers 2. As a force that reacts to player activities to tweak objectives and strategies, and shape the ongoing war effort, it seems promising. This role is handled by members of the Arrowhead team, who discreetly monitor missions and react accordingly. The Game Master also drives the narrative direction of Helldivers 2, responding to the community’s performance in determining the progress of the war effort. However, Helldivers 2 has been out for just a week at the time of this review, leaving little time to evaluate the Game Master feature. Any changes that have been implemented so far seem minor, making it too early to pass a verdict on the true value of the Game Master feature in enhancing gameplay experience.

In the continuously expanding universe of live-service shoot-em-up games, Helldivers 2 has successfully carved a niche for itself with its unique blend of engaging narratives, power-packed fights, adrenaline-pumping scuffles, and a gratifying progression system. The game is filled with edge-of-the-seat moments as you battle against gigantic bugs and massive tank-style machines. Despite these high-stake encounters, the overall vibe of the game is light-hearted fun that defies the usually somber tone of most major shooters today. This injects Helldivers 2 with a feeling of potential longevity and staying power that is missing from many live-service games of recent times. It essentially banks on being a really good time and hopes that’s enough to make you become a long-term player. And to be honest, it works – Helldivers 2 has provided me with the most enjoyable shooting game experience I’ve had in recent years.

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