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Helldivers 2 review: this great multiplayer shooter blows the competition away

A Helldivers 2 player fires a laser canon.
Helldivers 2
MSRP $40.00
“Helldivers 2 is one of the most entertaining co-op games you can get on PS5.”
Pros
  • Intense combat
  • Stratagem system
  • It's a blast with friends
  • Solid live-service progression systems
Cons
  • Lack of story content
  • Matchmaking issues

Failing to extract and losing 40 minutes worth of samples and medals collected during a mission. Sacrificing myself to a swarm of Terminid bugs and an orbital strike so I could destroy stockpiled ammunition. Laughing as I watched a teammate slowly walk into the range of a Hellbomb I’d activated as it exploded. Those are the kind of moments that define Helldivers 2, a new cooperative shooter from Arrowhead Game Studios and Sony Interactive Entertainment.

In a month full of live-service titles, Helldivers 2 has garnered the most praise and attention. Moments like those are why. Within an hour of playing, you’ll understand all the basics and have seen most of the in-game narrative. But unlike a lot of other games in the genre, the repeated loop of Helldivers 2 doesn’t get exhausting. Even when you are replaying the same objectives, a variety of factors give each mission in Helldivers 2 a layer of unpredictability that sustains the experience for much longer than it initially seems.

It’s the multiplayer game to play in 2024.

For Super Earth

Helldivers 2 is light on plot outside of the little given out in its opening cinematic and tutorial. Players control soldiers of Super Earth who are fighting backp against Terminid and Automaton invasions across the galaxy. Fans of more satirical sci-fi like Starshoop Troopers will immediately recognize the premise, as players are essentially the foot soldiers for a fascist regime that wants to wipe out anything it deems too alien.

Of course, Super Earth can’t make this process too easy.

Sometimes, all squads need to do is wipe out a certain number of Terminids, but more often than not, they have to interact with Super Earth technology to extract resources, activate weapons, and more. They also have a wide variety of stratagems to call down and help them midfight. Those range from defensive shields to explosive sky support. They aren’t activated by a simple button press; instead, stratagems require fighting game-like D-pad combos. Objectives ask players to do the same while their enemies are right on their heels.

Its most memorable narratives are the ones you create with friends.

This reinforces the idea that soldiers fighting for a Super Earth that cares more about the completion of broader “Major Objectives” and making sure that a galaxy sector is “100% liberated” than it does about saving the lives of individual soldiers. It makes for more entertaining and hectic gameplay moments, too. Helldivers 2 doesn’t delve much deeper into its story than that and lines of dialogue from NPCs on the players’ ship. Its most memorable narratives are the ones you create with friends.

A scene from Helldiver 2's opening cutscene.
Sony Interactive Entertainment

A lack of an entertaining narrative is better than a poorly implemented one, but I’ll admit that I was still disappointed when the first Major Objective was completed. There was little more than some currency, a text pop-up, and a brief video outlining the new mission as the reward. There’s a lot of relevant narrative potential in a universe like Helldivers’, so it’s a shame that this game doesn’t explore those aspects of the experience. It just leaves players to follow along and keep the wheel of the fascist regime turning. Thankfully, all the memorable stories and moments you’ll be making with other players more than make up for it.

Overwhelming opposition

Helldivers 2 finds a thrilling middle ground between extraction and co-op shooters. Players choose a mission on one of the available planets, drop onto it, explore and gather resources while completing objectives, and then extract. The core loop applies to both the first mission and the 500th mission that you do, making it shockingly simple game to get into. Don’t mistake that simplicity for a lack of depth, though.

At first, I usually just went from main objective to main objective in a mission, completing them and extracting as quickly as possible. The shooter got a lot more fun and a lot more stressful the more I took the time to explore. I always discover a lot on each mission as I search maps for side objectives, enemy spawn points, and collectibles.

Every combat encounter in Helldivers 2 is intense in its own way.

Helldivers 2 is a slower-paced third-person shooter. You aren’t going to be dashing around and killing enemies fast like in Rollerdrome or Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League. If enemies get up close to you, they’ll quickly whittle down your health, even on easier difficulties. On tougher ones, swarms of bugs or robots will overwhelm you if you aren’t careful. Thankfully, there’s a wide variety of gratifying weapons to help you take on these threats.

There’s a basic loadout players can customize and bring with them into each mission, while more powerful weapons like machine guns, flamethrowers, and laser guns can be called down midbattle with a strategem. Each weapon controls a bit differently, but all are satisfying in their own way, with the DualSense controller’s haptic feedback making firing any of them impactful. Even more effective are the offensive stratagems players can call down, like orbital strikes and autonomous turrets.

Four soldiers near an airstrike in Helldivers 2.
Arrowhead Games

Every combat encounter in Helldivers 2 is intense in its own way, and depending on what weapons you bring into a fight, similar encounters can end up playing out quite differently. Helldivers 2 is ultimately a resource management game, as you’ll have to properly keep an eye on your health, ammo, stim packs, grenades, and stratagem availability to make sure you have whatever tools are necessary to complete an objective without dying too much.

Helldivers 2 respects players enough to let them discover that depth on their own. The only minor frustration I have with gameplay is that sometimes it can be hard to discern where exactly a small interactable object or pickup is. An environmental scanning option or just bigger UI elements indicating those things could make that process even easier. The game has engaging enough progression systems in place that you’ll have enough time to learn to deal with these quirks regardless.

The legs to last

Helldivers 2 is playable solo, as you’ll just respawn and drop down as a new soldier after every death, but it truly shines in multiplayer as the intensity only multiplies. Having four players with completely different weapons and stratagem loadouts can completely change how you tackle certain objectives and enables a lot of exhilarating emergent moments.

Four players on a mission in Helldivers 2.
Sony Interactive Entertainment

You might not be able to call down a mission-saving stratagem at a certain moment, but it’s possible your partner can. Friendly fire is always enabled as well, so a poorly placed orbital strike can decimate your own team. This led to both unintentionally funny moments and surprisingly gratifying ones in my sessions, like when my whole team worked together to lay down incendiary mines around the extraction point so no enemies could reach us during a lengthy countdown.

It’s most enjoyable to play Helldivers 2 over voice chat with people you know, but a helpful ping system and a variety of in-game callouts also work well enough. I’ve had fun turning my game down to the easiest difficulty levels and showing new players how to maximize returns on the bigger extraction levels without ever saying a word over voice chat. Helldivers 2 provides a platform for memorable shared experiences that you and your friends might continue to talk about for months or years to come.

The downside is that over a week after launch and several patches later, matchmaking is working better, but is still a mess. At first, the Quick Match feature never worked for me; now it’s working about 50% of the time, and other players are joining my games more frequently. Considering that cooperative multiplayer is one of the cruxes of Helldivers 2, it’s frustrating that these issues are still present. Thankfully, once you’re on a mission or set up an expedition with your friends, Helldivers 2 maintains a stable connection and runs smoothly.

It’s the grungy and disruptive kind of experience that reminds me of what makes cooperative games so appealing in the first place.

It has the progression bones to last as well. There are a lot of stratagems and ship upgrades to buy, as well as beefy battle passes with palpable rewards to progress. Major objectives turn over every two week, and shake up the objectives types. And Arrowhead just introduced a more Defense-focused Major Order that has players holding back Automaton forces on certain planets. It seems like Helldivers 2 has all the live-service systems and an entertaining enough gameplay loop to last.

Its procedural generation keeps each mission feeling distinct, even when it’s sharing objectives and stratagems. And the loadouts of each player in your squad provides a layer of unpredictability that leads to a lot of hilariously distributive moments. In an era where a lot of multiplayer games are starting to get stale, Helldivers 2 is the grungy and disruptive kind of experience that reminds me of what makes cooperative games so appealing in the first place.

Helldivers 2 was tested on PlayStation 5. PC players can check out our Helldivers 2 performance guide.

Editors' Recommendations

Tomas Franzese
Gaming Staff Writer
Tomas Franzese is a Staff Writer at Digital Trends, where he reports on and reviews the latest releases and exciting…
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