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Helldivers 2 Review – The Best Co-Op Shooter This Side Of The Galaxy

Gentlemen, this is democracy manifest!

When I was nine years old, the very irresponsible father of a friend took a group of us to see Starship Troopers. Since then, not only have I harboured a deep fear of the impending bug invasion, I’ve also been searching for a game that makes me truly feel like one of Rico’s Roughnecks. The first game to really scratch the Paul Verhoeven itch was the original Helldivers, a top-down twin stick shoot ‘em up with a strong focus on fast paced, tactical co-operative action and a super-sized serving of referential satire. Arrowhead Game Studios is back for another bite of the cherry with Helldivers 2, promising much more than just a shift in perspective as it aims to spread Managed Democracy across the galaxy.

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Just in case you’ve missed the Helldivers 2 frenzy that’s currently sweeping the gaming community (and melting servers), you’ll be filling the boots of the exceptionally patriotic and highly expendable titular soldiers. Although the sequel has shifted from a top-down perspective to an over-the-shoulder third person shooter, it still retains much of the identity and narrative of the original. Humanity is locked in a galactic war with the insectoid alien Terminids and the nightmarish robotic Automatons. It’s up to you and your squad of three friends (or strangers) to gear up, strap into your Hellpod and drop down into the frontlines, where you’ll spread Super Earth’s ideals of managed democracy one bullet at a time. It’s a simple story, with very clear inspiration from other popular sci-fi IPs, but the uncomplicated narrative leaves more room for you and your friends to create some truly cinematic moments that you’ll be speaking about for years to come.

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Landing planet-side will see you race against the clock in a variety of missions, ranging from defending a location to hunting giant acid-spitting bugs and even liberating launch codes, which you’ll then use to launch a massive missile at the entrenched enemy position. That’s not all though as most maps also harbour hidden side missions, collectable resources used for upgrades and other optional pursuits. The new third person perspective and vastly improved graphical and audio fidelity creates a much more intimate and visceral atmosphere, where you’ll be revelling in the exploded bug entrails or feeling the suffocating clanking of the Automations surrounding you. As if the ticking clock at the top of your screen wasn’t bad enough, spending more time on the ground will see those enemies become more aggressive and overwhelming until you’ll barely have time to reload your weapons between bad guys.

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Speaking of weapons, it’s time we talk about Strategems, another holdover from the original Helldivers. Although death is a very common occurrence, you’re not completely hopeless against the onslaught of alien threats. Alongside the huge arsenal of guns and grenades at your disposal, you’ll also be able to access powerful ordinance from your dropship above, calling it down onto the battlefield by inputting a series of specific button presses. These can range from heavy weapons and ammunition, automatic turrets to watch your back, teammate respawns and even devastating orbital strikes. Caution and a tactical mind are crucial when using these though as they do have significant cooldown times and can just as easily obliterate you and your fellow soldiers, potentially leading to some awkward yet hilarious moments.

Although almost everything in Helldivers 2 is flashy and over the top, it truly shines brightest when you are in the heart of battle with your squad mates. Whether I was surrounded by swarms of bugs in the fungal wastes or spilling the oil of a hundred Automatons, the game effortlessly centred me in some of the most intense video game mayhem I’ve ever played. I constantly felt like an absolute badass, even when I was being torn to shreds by the enemies (or my own turrets). You don’t have to take my word for it though, TikTok and Instagram reels are chock full of thousands of other Helldivers having similar incredible experiences.

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Once you’ve completed your mission and valiantly exfiltrated the hot zone, it’s time to return to your orbiting starship. This is where you’ll tally up all the XP, resources and mission rewards you’ve earned. This is also where you’ll spend those resources to unlock things like better weapons with armour-piercing or incendiary rounds, cool looking armour with bonuses to health or equipment, and upgrades to your stratagem pool like bigger bombs or shorter cooldown times. It’s also where you’ll matchmake with other Helldivers and select a mission from the Galaxy Map. Just like the first game, the map itself tracks the war effort live and is constantly shifting as the community either pushes back or gives ground to the enemy forces.

That’s not the only “live” element to the game though as Helldivers 2 also includes some potentially controversial live service elements in the form of two battle pass-style progression systems and a premium currency shop. Although there are four different types of currency that can be used for things like upgrades and battle pass progression, they can all be earned fairly easily in game, including the premium currency (otherwise purchased with real money). The team at Arrowhead has loudly stressed that Helldivers 2 isn’t pay-to-win and so far that seems to be true, though I can definitely see why some people are frustrated by weapons and armour being restricted to a premium battle pass, even if you can earn the currency in-game.

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With everything being new and exciting at the moment, I can definitely see myself playing Helldivers 2 well into the future, especially with cross-play between Steam and PlayStation, and the promise of new equipment, mission types and enemies. Arrowhead Game Studios are currently pulling a DJ Khaled and Suffering from Success, as much like my squad mates when I call in an errant air strike, Helldivers 2 has unexpectedly blown up.

This huge influx of players has caused massive problems for the servers and as a result, at the time of writing, matchmaking has been practically non-existent for myself and many, many others. Although the game can be played solo (and it’s still a damn good time), things like progression and balancing are all geared towards a multiplayer experience. Thankfully if you’ve got friends at the ready you can still squad up with them and get to blastin’. While I’m sure this problem will be rectified shortly, I would keep it in mind if you’re planning on playing over the next wee while.

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Conclusion
Helldivers 2 is a masterstroke, a sensational sequel to one of my favourite games and an absolute must play for people who enjoy simple, cinematic, and irreverent fun. The shift in perspective, the upgraded graphics and sound design, and the hard lean into satirical humour have launched it easily into one of my favourite games of 2024. I highly recommend that you suit up and hit the Hellpods soldier, I’m doing my part, are you?
Positives
Simple but exciting and constantly epic action
Strong focus on tactical co-operative gameplay
Easy to pick up and play but encourages mastery
Gorgeous visuals on PC and excellent sound design
Negatives
Matchmaking and server capacity issues are still ongoing
Solo play progression feels a bit unbalanced
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