Helldivers 2 Review – Sweet Liberty

“A game for everyone is a game for no one,” proclaims developer Arrowhead Game Studios. You can see that on the developer’s website and on the bio of their social media channels. That is one strong proclamation to be used as a studio’s motto, and it permeates through the games this Swedish team has done. Magicka. The Showdown Effect. That one reboot of Gauntlet that most of us forgot. And of course, Helldivers.

The original Helldivers was a PS4 launch game, a top-down co-op shooter set in an authoritarian democratic universe where humanity has all banded together under the banner of Super Earth and vows to eradicate aliens out of the galaxy in the name of Managed Democracy. It was hectic, chaotic, and really went under the radar to most PlayStation fans and, years later, PC players. It’s a smaller budget title after all.

Enter Helldivers 2. Looks like PlayStation Studios decided to let Arrowhead loose similar to another Nordic development team had the opportunity of. The original Helldivers might be underrated, but 10 years later, with more production values attached to the sequel and in a world where live service games are more of a thing, gamers are more than ready for Helldivers 2, as server outages has shown in the first two weeks of launch.

Helldivers 2 is a hell of a good time, as long as you know what you’re enlisting into, and assuming the game’s technical woes at launch gets fixed over time.


The biggest thing about Helldivers 2 is the graphical glow-up it got. It’s now played in the back-of-the-shoulder third-person perspective rather than the top-down view Magicka fans may have gotten used to. And with the camera shift, it allows for the graphics to shine even more. And they do. Craggly rocks. Malleable snow. Deforming terrain where buildings and terrains can be levelled out from destruction. Atmospheric light shafts and haze/mist effects.

And Sweet Liberty, how beautiful and awe-striking those orbital strikes and carpet bombing runs can be. And by awe-striking I also mean it sent chills to the bones- you can feel the destructive power it can wreck it can leave you gobsmacked, slightly unnerved. The sound design goes hand-in-hand with the art- it really captures the chaotic destruction an active warzone can be, and it’s breathtakingly chilling. Blood, alien goop, and oil can stain your Helldiver as a mission progresses, that is if you can have one to survive long enough to be bathed in various fluids.

And there’s a lot of the presentation that really makes it feel good to dive head first into some hellish landscape. The way you start any mission is extremely hype. You pick a mission from the physical war table. Then your ship will fly (sometimes doing an FTL jump) to be in position, which you can see from the large windows at the bridge. High player concentration on a particular planet is shown not only in numbers on the war table, but also physically by how many other ships you see outside the window. Once you pick a mission, the music starts to build up, you have to get into a hellpod (and if there are other people in your party, an in-ship announcement will gently remind “All Helldivers to the Hellpod” which gives it just a bit more of that cool factor), and then you eject out of the ship, into a hidden loading screen, as the music reaches the crescendo. It’s such a well-crafted sequence. And the extraction process is just as cool.

Clearly, the switch to third-person has seen incredible gains in the presentation department. And the fact that it has peeked so much interest from uninitiated fans who may have not played Helldivers is a testament to that. I personally wouldn’t call the actual living hell that is an active warfront “cinematic”, but some onlookers have described Helldivers 2 as such, which the devs can be proud of.

For the uninitiated, the world in Helldivers definitely is riffing off the likes of Starship Troopers. And to that end, the patriotic jingoism is through the roof. The horseshoe theory- that posits that the extreme left and extreme right in a political spectrum are actually closer to each other than the center- is in full effect here. The government of Super Earth preach we must spread Managed Democracy (look it up- it’s real). And you have a problem with that, the Ministry Of Truth will like to have a word.

The joke extends to the loading screen tips, to the game’s premium shop screen with fake reviews of all things, and even on the game’s FAQ page.

It is so campy and ham. There’s no subtext here, but plenty of tiny, legible texts with silly nonsense (the EULA in the tutorial had me in stiches).

Think of it this way: this is what the Imperial Guard in Warhammer 40,000 would have look like if that world isn’t grimdark and any instance of religious zeal is replaced with words like liberty, prosperity, freedom and democracy. Though I argue it’s not as extremely campy as the Earth Defense Force series- no game can beat them- but Helldivers 2 is close. It’s self-aware enough that it comes out all silly rather than creepy.

And speaking of ham, I absolutely love how the four voice actors that lend their voice as the Helldivers delivered their all. During combat, the character will have voice lines, from giving context-specific line to aid communication like when one is throwing a grenade or reloading to pings.

But when things heat up you can hear how intense it gets for these poor, poor soldiers that have signed a death wish. When in low health and surrounded the line deliveries get more desperate- Yuri Lowenthal shouting “I NEED STIMS!” at the top of his lungs is a personal highlight.

And when you’re in a kill streak you can hear them getting the red mist, from maniacal laughs or the more patriotic shouts of “FOR SUPER EARTHHHHHHHH” as you can continue rat-tat-tat-atating that machine gun without prejudice. The voice acting here really sells you how deep in hell things can be, as during the quiet moments, these soldiers are reserved and talk like normal soldiers do.

Between the fantastic graphics viewed from a new perspective and the hamminess of the tone the worldbuilding is built on, Helldivers 2 will reel you in if you ever felt the urge to sign up and enlist within the safe confines of a video game where you will always be in the right side of history. Let’s just hope that real military organisations understood that the game is mocking them rather something aspirational. Snow Crash is a warning yet we dared to make the metaverse real. Helldivers 2, like its big inspo Starship Troopers, is satire.


As part of the Helldivers, you are Super Earth’s first line of offence. Pick a frontline to participate in the Galactic War, pick a mission, and you’ll be hell diving into enemy territory. Missions can come in many varieties from the simple “destroy alien eggs” to a more complicated ones like launching an ICBM missile that requires sub-objectives like diverting fuel and then securing launch codes. Once it’s all done, call in an extraction and that’s mission complete.

Helldivers 2, in general, sounds like a typical co-op multiplayer shooter, but it’s anything but. It has some similarities with horde shooters ala Warhammer 40,000: Darktide and Deep Rock Galactic. There’s traces of what we now know of as extraction shooters, but the whole extraction mechanic exists in the first game, which predates the genre.

And on top of it all is the many little design choices that makes Helldivers 2 play like no other multiplayer shooter in the market.

Friendly fire isn’t an optional feature, it’s always on. Your weaponry are tactically simulated in that if you reload a clip, you throw out all the bullets within the clip so you better count your shots. Unleashing the powerful stratagems or operating terminals require precise inputs on the d-pad. Your character can ragdoll fall, dropping specific items in hand when doing so, like an armed stratagem or a cooking grenade.

All of these intentional design choices will eventually result in you, and your squadmates to do an oopsie-whoopsie. And with the relentless, overwhelming enemies that seemingly keeps on coming, things can go FUBAR rather quickly when mistakes after mistakes happen. Yet it doesn’t lead to frustration, it becomes pandemonium. Between the agonising screams the Helldivers give out under duress and the ragdoll falls as well as the unexpected physics, things get rather slapstick.

What’s more fun is how the many systems can interact with each other, producing more unintended results, in a “it’s not a bug, it’s feature” kind of way. For instance, stratagems can get stickied on a character. So having an orbital strike stratagem stickied on a moving heavy enemy with a lot of armour is advantageous, so long as the enemy isn’t moving around much once the orbital drops its load, it’s likely a dead-on hit. Now, if it sticks on a really fast enemy that is swarming the rest of the squadmates, well, just be ready to reinforce them as it’s not going to be pretty.

I had a particular instance where I wanted to drop mines but the stratagem landed on an approaching enemy. And now there are mines littered around a flag post that we should be holding position on. Me and a squadmate just had to act tough and stand proud as the Super Earth anthem plays, waiting for the objective bar to fill, knowing that one unfortunate bug breach that can trigger the mines will send us to our inevitable doom.

The game nor the developers may have not claim as such, but there is that “immersive sim” design philosophy the permeates though the design of Helldivers 2. There are not only so many emergent gameplay that can happen, but also emergent comedy. One insidious lever the developers can pull is the operation modifiers, which can change a rule of the game.

My favourite modifier so far is the Electronic Countermeasures which scrambles the input of stratagems. So many players got caught off guard and has accidentally sent an orbital strike when they were calling for a support weapon to be dropped near the whole squad.

These emergent gameplay moments that can happen in Helldivers 2 makes it a fresh multiplayer experience that is fun and engaging that you really don’t see in most live-service multiplayer games.

While Helldivers 2 can be played solo, a lot of the magic that makes the game appealing and fun is a bit lost when you’re alone. It becomes less chaotic, and the many gameplay elements that would have been fun in multiplayer becomes an obstruction to having fun in single-player. This is no power fantasy game, but be warned that serving for Super Earth solo will be difficult, even on Easy difficulty. Dealing with one heavily-armoured enemy was tough with a full squad of four. Having to deal with two? Solo? Almost impossible. My solo experience in Helldivers 2 so far is more like what Dio sings in Holy Diver- I spent a lot of time saying to myself “gotta get away, get away” from them Chargers that’ll ram you to death.

Thankfully, the game has a matchmaking system with cross-play that includes cross-play parties. When it works, the game will ensure you will have a full squad so long as you keep your session public. The people I encounter so far didn’t take it personally if accidents happen. That said, the game is more fun with friends, especially if you’re a tight-knit group where it’s okay to do a little bit of trolling. “Accidents” happen. The game facilitates shenaniganry.

And don’t worry about playing randoms. Even with friendly fire being always on and the many opportunities to grief, the game has ensured that doing so is going to be detrimental. Everyone gets the same amount of collectibles should any of the squad pick them up. Enemies can be overwhelmingly too many that you need every Helldiver to be doing their part in thinning the horde. Higher difficulty operations entices you to stick around and do multiple missions together for better rewards, so you are encouraged to not piss off your current teammates. And if you do feel victimised, you can leave at any time, which increases the likelihood of them to suffer from their consequences of having a person down in that squad. And block them.

Most of the elements from the original Helldivers have translated into Helldivers 2. From the mission structure, the waves of enemies, the weapons and stratagems, and the terminal inputs. Mechs aren’t in Helldivers 2, yet, but the one thing the sequel had to understably drop is local co-op play. The original Helldivers is still there if you want a more intimate experience with friends.

And since you’re not sharing the same top-down screen, there are minute changes to the moment-to-moment gameplay. Not as many tense situations where you can see your squadmates, intentionally or not, has your head in their sights. But now you can also split up far apart to cover more ground.

While this is all well and good, Helldivers 2 relies on a good back-end to have the game functioning (it’s an always-online game). And unfortunately, that part of the equation isn’t holding up as well. Servers are unstable, matchmaking is wonky that it has no problem joining a friend’s session but cannot reliably join a random person’s game. And the past two weekends saw people having to queue up because the servers are full.

Helldivers 2 launched with servers capped at 250,000 concurrent players at launch. Last weekend, it had to cap at 450,000 for stability reasons with more folks queuing in. It’s a good problem to have- the team didn’t foreseen how huge of a player base Helldivers 2 will be getting. But it is a problem for us the gamers who are either contemplating their purchase, or have purchased and want to play the game. Give it a few more weeks and maybe the servers will be more stable.

Helldivers 2 has excellent gameplay that not many other game offers. It’s punishing, it’s intense, it’s a bit devious, but it all translates into an exhilarating experience no mainstream game dare to do.

Developers Arrowhead are in the same boat as FromSoftware in that they’re not tossing a wide net in hopes to get a huge number of fans, like most developers do. They have a bespoke net specifically aiming for a specific target audience. And they just so happens to catch a wider target audience because the fish are smart enough to not fall prey over the same, samey wide net.

Or to use another analogy, Helldivers 2 can be an acquired taste, but when the foods being served these days all taste the same, you probably find this appetising. And quite popular. It’s that quirky restaurant that barely anyone noticed that suddenly got viral.


Helldivers 2 will see you dropping in different planets spread across various systems. Though all of them are procedurally-generated maps based on a handful of biomes rather than bespoke maps. But there is good variety. From icy planets like Heeth where the snow slows you down (unless it was bombarded by a bombing air strike, which removes the ice) to the lush forests of Malevon Creek where its night-time missions have been regularly described as “Space Vietnam” or “Robot Vietnam”, in reference to the Vietnam Wars (a theme the developers have tackled previously).

While proc-gen can lead to repetitiveness, the way the enemy spawns seem to be different every day has definitely made the experience not as stale as it might have been after 30 hours in. And due to the hectic nature of the combat, seeing the same objective locations and points of interest becomes a relief- at least there’s a thing you can learn by experience, unlike the hellish bug and bot spawns.

On one day I keep seeing Bile Spewers one-shotting soldiers at close range with its acid. On another, those are gone and replaced by another kind of bug that also spews acid, but from a long range like mortar shots, which is just as deadly. And on another, Chargers spawn way too many that it’s not even funny. The next day, Chargers are more of a rarity.

You can customise your Helldiver loadout with different weapons, armour, helmets, the all-important capes, grenades and different stratagems. And the stratagem’s effectiveness can be upgraded over time as you collect samples and upgrade your ship. Stratagems and Ship Upgrades are unlocked only via gameplay, tied to in-game currency.

Weapons, armour, helmets, the all-important capes, grenades, emotes, victory poses and player card backgrounds are unlocked via the Warbonds, the game’s sort-of Battle Pass. Like a Battle Pass, unlocks only progress by playing the game. In this case, you have to purchase Warbond unlocks using medals, acquired regularly for completing missions. Unlike most Battle Passes or Season Passes, Warbonds have no deadline or expiry date. It will remain there for everyone.

There is also premium Warbonds- which requires premium currency or a DLC upgrade to unlock, and a premium item store. From my understanding, it’s not pay-to-win, even if the premium warbond includes unique weaponry which would have been a big red flag for terrible and/or scummy monetisation.

However, some armours and helmets are a bit too pricey for no other reason than it looks cool, which is odd.

At launch, Helldivers 2 have 37 weapons (29 primaries, 8 secondaries), 71 armour, 93 helmets, 46 of that all-important capes, and 10 grenades to unlock. And judging by the two Warbonds available, there’s definitely more content from that total number of items that are not yet available, so expect more content to drop in the near future. We have no idea how the updates will appear- there’s no roadmap other than some promises of post-launch update.s

Other than allusions of more Warbonds and content drop, what will keep people hook is the meta-game progression, the Galactic War. The way it presents itself really makes you want to do you part and contribute 0.0001% progress to the liberation campaign with each completed mission, in hopes that freedom prevails (and the rewards that come with it).

There’s really no pressure of having to grind. The daily task in the past two weeks have been doable in an hour or so. Though oddly, everyone seems to get the same daily task so there will be instances of every person on the squad bringing in a Gatling Gun Sentry when one or two having that stratagem would suffice because everyone is doing the same daily. And since Warbonds are forever, you can return to civilian life with no pressure.

So what’s the endgame of Helldivers 2? As it is,. there’s no endgame. You are just out here to serve Super Earth and administer freedom throughout the galaxy. Though you can argue the current long-term goal is to unlock all the ship upgrades, which require you to play at the highest difficulties to find the samples, as well as unlock all the items in the Warbonds.

So does that mean the Helldivers 2 player base will eventually fizzle out? On paper, it would. This isn’t a hobby game or lifestyle game where you absolutely have to check in every day. And I reckon that if didn’t this strong of a word-of-mouth buzz, the game will just fade into the background right when a big game launches. But thankfully, there’s no other big games release in the three weeks of Helldivers 2’s release. For PlayStation, having Helldivers 2 in place of Destiny 2’s big expansion release (which got delayed to June) has worked out in their favour.

We’ll have to see how the live service aspects play out in the coming months, but right now, understandably, the priority will have to go to ensure everyone who wants to play Helldivers 2 gets to play.

Personal Enjoyment

More than 10 years ago, I introduced Magicka to a group of dormmates and it became an obsession. My non-gamer mates were hooked on the sheer chaos that the horde mode provided, more than I was. And that’s how Arrowhead became among one of my favourite developers. That group of mates have now gone our separate ways by the time Helldivers 1 was out, and I stopped playing multiplayer games around that time, but I love the idea of Helldivers 1. It’s Magicka again but as a shooter. And I was definitely the one of a few handful of people who instantaneously pointing at the screen when the first trailer of Helldivers 2 was revealed.

It’s safe to say I thoroughly enjoyed Helldivers 2. I knew what’s coming. I expected shenanigans on the battlefield. So I came out of the experience all giddy- this is exactly what I expected if Helldivers has a third-person camera. It is also so much fun finding each little sneaky trick these developers have made to ensure something will go wrong in hilarious ways. There’s a mission type where you have to operate a terminal and if you’re doing in night time, a floodlight placed on top of the terminal will illuminate. It’s not because it’s to help you see. Rather, it’s the opposite- the terminal screen glares making it harder to see. The bots with legally distinct Space Marines and legally distinct Dreadnoughts can see you better with lights shining on. You cheeky buggers, I love it.

So far, 30+ hours in, I survived Suicide Mission difficulty with some random players. If it weren’t for the server and matchmaking issues, and the changing meta (the frontlines have regularly changed during the second week of launch where new planets keep appearing, compared to the launch week’s four) I would have stuck out and see if I can complete at the highest difficulty, Hell Dive.

The one thing that taken some of the enjoyment out is how the developers are communicating with the players. I was surprised, in a bad way, that the game has a premium Battle Pass that seems scummy in how it’s presented.

Finding info about servers issues or bugs have been less than obvious, as the first two weeks some info are communicated by a developer’s personal Twitter, sometimes through the official Twitter, and sometimes on the game’s Discord. Those aspects need to be improved, especially so since it’s a live service game. I understand that servers issues happen, but players need to know when that’s exactly the case and not wait a couple of hours before an official response declares it as such.


Helldivers 2 brings the camera down to the third-person perspective while retaining the concepts and ideas of the original Helldivers, to glorious results.

There’s just no other game in the market right now that can offer this specific brand of chaotic gameplay with systems interacting to create emergent comedy plus a game designed intentionally to steer you into experiencing FUBAR situations. And this sets up for very satisfying moments where clutch plays and hilarious happy accidents can occur despite the odds stacked against them.

However, its live service aspects is holding it from achieving true greatness. At launch, there are too many server issues, and we have no idea of what’s coming down the line in terms of updates or a roadmap.

Once that has been sorted out, Helldivers 2 is a hell of good time. There is no other horde shooter that is as bold with its design choices as this. Bring friends, and do your part. For Freedom.

Played on PS5. Review code provided by the publisher.


Helldivers 2

Helldivers 2 brings the camera down to the third-person perspective while retaining the concepts and ideas of the original Helldivers, to glorious results.

There is no other horde shooter that is as bold with its design choices as this. Bring friends, and do your part. For Freedom.

  • Presentation 9.5
  • Gameplay 10
  • Content 8
  • Personal Enjoyment 9

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