Review | 2024.02.25

Helldivers 2 desert planet sandstorm squad

My impressions of Helldivers 2 after ten levels of carnage.
Prologue


Helldivers 1 was a top-down squad shooter released almost a decade ago that, like Risk of Rain, was promoted to 3D for its sequel. Gameplay was like this:
  1. Select your career-unlockable gear and matchmake with a squad.
  2. Drop into a bug/cyborg/energy alien-infested planet.
  3. Fight your way through a handful of similarish objectives, like destroy a thing, defend a different thing, etc..
  4. Get to the extract point and hold your ground until the dropship arrives.
It was a great formula for an indie-ish game and is entirely worth playing if you like bullet hell/Smash TV-like shooters. Replay value came from unlockables (weapons/armor/specials), increased difficulty (new enemies), and the three enemy factions that are very different.
Gameplay

Helldivers 2 cyborg dropship exploding

Helldivers 2 plays surprisingly similar to the first game considering the addition of a z axis. In fact, 1-4 from above still apply:

1. Plan your dive

Helldivers 2 squad loadout

Like its predecessor, Helldivers 2 has equippable special attacks called 'strategems'. You select four of a few dozen unlockable strategems and a squad passive. Strategems include large weapon drops, air/orbital strikes, and deployable defenses.

Helldivers 2 map mission planning erata prime

The squad leader selects a drop location that is hopefully not in a red area (where you would be immediately swarmed by enemies). The maps are (presumably) procedurally-generated and sprinkled with collectible currency and side activities.

2. Dive your plan

Helldivers 2 load screen tip shout for democracy

Then you strap into your hellpod and o7 the patriotic music in the load screen. Both Helldivers games take numerous cues from Starship Troopers, including Earth being run by an over-the-top democratic-fascist propaganda state.

3. Shoot and scoot

Helldivers 2 burning palm trees farm

Helldivers 2 plays a lot like Left 4 Dead 2. To survive, you need the right mixture of running and gunning, but with more freedom of movement (L4D2's maps are linear). Like the Left 4 Dead games (and others) the Helldivers 2 map is littered with enemies and you are intermittantly dealt a horde of baddies. L4D2 had a 'director' that would choose when to trigger a swarm, I think there's more determinism to Helldivers 2, i.e. patrols, canary enemies, and proximity to nests.

4. Get to the choppa

Helldivers 2 Pelican dropship extract

The final leg of your journey is to an extract point where you hold your ground until the Pelican arrives. While not required, it's considered rude to not call in your biggest orbital strike as you board the shuttle.
Commentary

Atmospherics

Helldivers 2 atmospherics fire tornados Helldivers 2 desert acid spitter bugs Helldivers 2 landscape reflections night

Is Helldivers 2 too scenic? Unironically yes, much of the scenery is as dynamic and saturated as can be. Do I prefer postcard planets to ugly planets? Absolutely.

The game takes full advantage of players' graphics hardware to render stunning and desolate worlds that are often impossible to appreciate given the swarms of bugs and cyborgs. Like Battlefield, Battlefront, and the like, outside the glass dome of the playable area there are neat, dynamic backgrounds (mostly orbiting ships).

Helldivers 2 taking the dive part too literally Helldivers 2 turret night time darkness

Often the pretty views are obstructed by dense fog, smoke, or sandstorms. Or it's simply really, really dark. Low visibility is about as challenging as any single enemy.

RTFM

Helldivers 2 tutorial training facility Helldivers 2 ads cyborg walker at-st fire Helldivers 2 equipment shop mobilize hug emote

Not a criticism: I only found equipment unlocks and ADS settings at Level 8 when Cooley mentioned it. Since the strategem and ship unlocks are provided at the Super Destroyer terminal, I expected the weapon and armor unocks to be at their terminal. Nope, it's a not-in-universe menu. Training didn't prepare me for this.

Dude, where's my ride?


The first Helldivers had deployable mechs and an APC that was the preferred method of traversing worlds untouched by democracy. They weren't OP but they were safer (contingent on the driver) and faster than hoofing it.

Thus far, Helldivers 2 has no vehicles. I can think of a few bad reason to exclude vehicles from the game (griefing, "it's too hard to make non-buggy vehicles") but having played lots of Helldivers, PUBG, and Planetside 2, I can conclusively say that whoever decided to axe vehicles from Helldivers 2 hates freedom.

Update: There is a teaser video showing a playable mech.

Helldivers 2 brood commander acid fire
Not driveable.

Opportunities lost

Helldivers 2 icbm launch pad hug misison complete

Helldivers 2 is great and it's well worth the sticker price. Probably its greatest liability is replay value. Like the first one, Helldivers 2 objectives and mission modes fall into just a few similar categories. The sandboxy/procedural missions are great for cosmetic variety but then don't have the uniqueness or iconicness of, say, L4D2 campaigns. Considering the amazing visuals and excellent mechanics of the game, it feels like there were some missed opportunities for expanding the gameplay. Examples:
Gallery of democracy

Helldivers 2 introduction city Helldivers 2 squad concentrating fire darkness Helldivers 2 planet rings raise flag super earth
Helldivers 2 crashed cyborg dropship Helldivers 2 hug emote Helldivers 2 super destroyers pelican in sky Helldivers 2 bug spawn nest egg
Helldivers 2 squad concentrating fire teamwork Helldivers 2 strategem orbital strike Helldivers 2 load screen training manual tip diplomacy
Helldivers 2 laser Helldivers 2 map Helldivers 2 stats screen Helldivers 2 icbm launch silo
Helldivers 2 training complete cape fireworks Helldivers 2 icbm launch nuke mushroom cloud Helldivers 2 cyborg bezerker saw ads Helldivers 2 gatling turret defense Helldivers 2 ads huge bug
Helldivers 2 bile titan ads strategems Helldivers 2 eliminated by claws death Helldivers 2 night combat acid explosions Helldivers 2 super destroyer Fist of Family Values Hellmire



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