Helldivers 2 Review

by Gamingstry
Helldivers 2

Release Date : February 8, 2024
Developer(s) : Arrowhead Game Studios
Publisher(s) : Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platforms : PS5, PC

Each gamer has a special passion. Solo, co-op, competitive, every player has a preference, a taste for a particular game style, a little something that makes him/her love video games. And for some, this little something leads to a voluntary brain disconnection, an exhilarating sense of destruction, and a mutual sense of fellowship, born of a shared experience with complete strangers. For such people, franchises like Earth Defense Force or Helldivers are divine outlets.

Needless to say, Helldivers 2 was highly anticipated. On one hand, it was eagerly awaited after the critical success of the first installment, and the creation of a strong community around its divisive experience. On the other hand, after nine years of loyal service, Helldivers finally delivers a sequel for the lovers of casual action, more ambitious in all aspects than its predecessor, which was limited to a top-down view, a detail that some considered an obstacle. So where does this new cooperative experience stand? Let’s find out.

Developed by the same team as the first episode, Arrowhead Game Studios, and published by Sony, Helldivers 2 is a third-person action game featuring procedurally-generated environments and missions, with a primary focus on co-operative multiplayer with up to four players. And we say “primary”, because it’s totally possible to embark on solo missions.

However, this is obviously not recommended. Not that it’s impossible to have fun alone, we’ve actually played a few games on our own, just for the pleasure of shooting giant insects without having to think about teamwork. But like many similar games, the real pleasure is in playing as part of a team.

There are plenty of examples. We could mention Left 4 Dead or its heir Back 4 Blood, Killing Floor, or Redfall. All of them are far more fun to play with others. And far less complex, for that matter. Helldivers 2 follows a classic pattern, with its adventure divided into different missions with different difficulties, on several planets with their own distinct biomes and species. But forget about the zombies, mutants, and vampires that the competition uses and abuses.

Here, you’ll be fighting against armies of giant insects and killer robots. It has the merit of being original, and will certainly appeal to Earth Defense Force fans, and also to all lovers of last century’s action films (Starship Troopers and Terminator in particular).

The recipe is simple, and the fun is immediate. The game doesn’t hold back; it gets straight to the point, and that’s one of its greatest strengths. But first, you’ll have to go through the inevitable tutorial phase. This phase is very reminiscent of the first installment, still quite goofy, and always highlighting, the importance of ground mechanics. Helldivers already featured these mechanics, and it proves to be absolutely crucial in its sequel.

Not that Helldivers 2 is any more difficult than its predecessor. In a way, both experiences are equally challenging, at a high level. But the three-dimensional aspect of Helldivers 2 gives your enemies a wider range of possibilities for eating you alive. In many cases, throwing yourself to the ground can be a lifesaver, evading an enemy charge or shot, or even Friendly Fire.

Because one of the defining features of the original Helldivers was the Friendly Fire system, which was impossible to deactivate. It’s a detail that may seem insignificant, but it’s absolutely vital to your understanding of the game space, and to the sense of fellowship generated by a deadly battle. Since you can silence your teammates with just a few bullets, or a miscalculated grenade, it’s in your best interest to think carefully about your actions, and not empty your clip in every direction, even when the screen is overloaded with enemies… which is often the case on higher difficulty levels!

However, this is all part of the experience, as it was in the first game. Since fallen companions can be revived via a simple mechanic, it’s sometimes tempting to sacrifice them by launching a devastating attack aimed, first and foremost, at large numbers of enemies. And in any case, we’re often killed by the clumsiness or inattention of our teammates, so returning the favor seems logical enough. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still look after them, when the opportunity arises to offer them ammunition or cover their retreat!

Initially, Helldivers 2 seems like a fairly classic TPS. If you’re familiar with the genre, you’ll quickly find your feet, as the key mapping remains pretty much the same as before, and the physics applied here is nothing out of the ordinary. The only difference is that the L1 key is used to request Stratagems, i.e. attacks, bonuses, ammunition, or weapons directly from our ship in orbit. It’s also through this key that you can request reinforcements, or rather resurrect fallen teammates. This requires QTEs of varying lengths.

A mechanic that may confuse amateurs, since the heat of the action is not particularly suited to the execution of a QTE based on directional keys. However, you’ll have to get used to it, as it’s definitely a major asset. An asset that can be customized, since many Stratagems can be purchased from a store on our ship, requiring a currency that can be earned by completing missions. Knowing that you can only take four of them into the field, plus a short list of prerequisites, this offers some interesting combinations for those who take the time to study this singular system.

Helldivers 2 is an easy-to-access experience, a feeling reinforced by its hub (your personal ship), which allows you to launch a quick game or be joined by unfamiliar companions in a matter of moments. It’s a place where we can keep an eye on the galaxy, but above all on the progress of the two fronts on which we’ll have to fight. Because one of Helldivers 2’s most outstanding features is the scalability of its play space.

Although the game is a little overloaded with similar missions and obvious rehashes of level design, due to procedural generation that isn’t always ideal, one of Helldivers 2’s strengths lies in the fact that you won’t always have access to the same planets. When a planet is freed from enemy control, it is no longer accessible.

On one hand, this idea allows you to discover different biomes, but above all it makes you feel useful within the Helldivers community, all the more so when coupled with the nice little indications provided in the game. Like the percentage of a planet liberated, the number of friends fighting, bullets fired, insects or robots killed… it doesn’t look like much, but it’s a big plus in terms of immersion.

However, as mentioned earlier, the missions are not varied enough, which can lead to a feeling of repetition. This is because most of the objectives, which can be achieved in a short period, are nothing more than pretexts to encourage us to explore the game’s extensive maps, and above all to confront the enemy whenever possible.

Since Helldivers 2 has no story to tell, and no NPCs to interact with (well, the crew on your ship don’t count, since they don’t tell the story), the experience becomes even more repetitive. Like the first opus, this one is sure to be divisive. Because, while it manages to be fairly engaging thanks to the previously mentioned details, it still remains limited in certain aspects, and pales in comparison with Destiny 2, for example, whose proposition is extremely rich, and totally free to play. Having said that, it would be foolish to criticize the game on this criteria alone.

Although we’d certainly have appreciated a few more crazy touches, such as a different game mode to take a break between missions, or the possibility of playing with two players on the same screen, you don’t come to Helldivers 2 hoping to find a storyline. Instead, we’re simply entertained by a series of quotes from our allies, or from ourselves, celebrating the death of our enemies on behalf of democracy, freedom, and our glorious lifestyle.

The title is presented as a vast, modest game, and in that respect, it’s a great success. Of course, it’s far from perfect, and certainly has a tight budget. Especially in terms of graphics, which are sometimes hard to see, when the game isn’t covered up by visual effects that hide its shortcomings, such as thick fog or a sandstorm. It makes you wonder why it’s not being released on PS4 at the same time. And the number of bugs encountered raises questions about the sequel’s degree of refinement. Was it necessary to release Helldivers 2 so soon, if it meant that every other game would be affected by various visual or physical problems?

Most of these bugs are perfectly harmless, but we did come across a few more problematic ones. Like a quest item interaction icon that simply doesn’t appear. Without this icon, it’s impossible to progress, and so complete the mission, other than by dying, until it’s no longer possible to call for reinforcements. There are also several server problems to note. The game was inaccessible for a whole day, and its Cross-Play is not up to scratch: at the time of writing, it was impossible to join a quick game with it activated. It was definitely worth integrating it at launch…

However, it’s clear that a great deal of effort has gone into the overall look of the game, giving it a unique identity, as well as the soundtrack, which is likely to stay with you for a long time, with its absolutely epic main theme played out at every opportunity. Yet there’s the title’s biggest flaw: its progression system. A kind of Battle Pass split in two, allowing you to buy weapons, equipment and cosmetics, with a part accessible to everyone who owns the game, and another that can only be enjoyed by players who have paid an extra $20. This is a very weak sales argument, and will certainly leave a bad taste in the mouth of those who opt for the basic version.

But we can’t blame them at all, since the “free” Pass actually provides more than enough weapons and customization items, plus some handy virtual currency. The “paid” Pass, on the other hand, is much more generous, providing access to unique versions of weapons that are already available, or exclusive pieces of equipment. The machine gun, for example, gets an explosive edition in the Premium Pass. It’s a shame, especially as the game generally lacks something to unlock in the long term, even if we suspect that future updates will correct the situation, or that some DLC will be released later. So yes, it only costs $40 at launch, but still…

Fortunately, the reward system is very efficient. Most missions offer several primary and secondary objectives, as well as a number of collectibles that add a few coins to the total. The good news is that all players acquire the same amount of experience points, virtual currency, or tokens to use in Battle Passes. This makes team play even more important, and encourages players to be gentle with their companions and not spread themselves too thin. If you want to get great rewards at the end of a mission, you need the whole team to be well coordinated, and nobody to go off on their own, leaving the others in a tricky situation. And most of the time, the community follows this approach carefully, even if you do encounter a few stubborn Helldivers…

A solid, addictive experience, Helldivers 2 is a sequel superior in every sense to the original, except for its business model. Available for $40, this cooperative action game is a delight for fans of casual shooters, with its thrilling gameplay and simple match-making. And while it’s easy to criticize the game’s outdated visuals and numerous, often serious, bugs, the formula works extremely well, despite a slight lack of variety. Now we can only hope that Arrowhead Game Studios will keep up the good work over the long term!

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