Helldivers 2: The Final Preview

Sweet liberty! One of my favorite PS4-era shooters is back with a whole new perspective and it’s up to me and my friends to defend Super Earth in glorious co-op! After going hands-on with Helldivers 2 for three hours, I’m sold on the bold pivot from the original’s top-down view to the sequel’s new third-person perspective, the appetizing roster of deadly gadgets, and the outrageous comedic tone that expertly channels the low-budget action film vibes that pair perfectly with the developer’s live-service ambitions. I’m a bit concerned at the moment that it won’t have enough content to go the distance long term, with only two enemy factions (so far as we know), procedurally generated levels that can feel a bit one-note, and no real live-service roadmap at launch, but with such a strong, effortlessly fun foundation, it’s definitely off to good start. With all the over-the-top gore and patriotic pageantry of Starship Troopers, Helldivers 2 is the kind of wonderfully silly shooter that me and my friends could easily lose many Friday nights to.

By far the biggest way Helldivers 2 switches things up from the original is by moving to the third-person perspective, and so far I’m pleasantly surprised how well that transition works. I was initially skeptical about the change given how much the bird’s eye view was part of the original’s DNA, but it only took a matter of seconds for my concerns to disappear. Getting closer to the action feels great and allows for some really hilarious moments, like when I accidentally called in an airstrike that took out the rest of my team or when I found myself surrounded by absolutely terrifying robots and used my jetpack to leap to safety. Plus, you get to see the hideous bug creatures and murder-loving automatons closer than ever before, which is a nice bonus – each faction had lots of variety too, from chainsaw-armed androids who slowly closed in for the kill to heavily-armored beetles who charged at me with reckless abandon.

As I fought through armies of lethal insects, I got to try out a whole bunch of helpful gadgets that played a central role in my success. On one mission, I deployed a turret to keep the area clear of hostiles, while in another I threw down a bubble shield to give the team some much-needed cover, and in another I made use of the “guard dog,” a floating robot who followed me around to lay down suppressing fire. Unlocking new toys and communicating with your team to ensure you’ve got everything you might need is absolutely necessary to survival. For example, some enemies are so heavily shielded they can only be put down by explosive weapons capable of tearing through the steel, so you’ll want to have at least one player who can call down the Recoilless Rifle, a rocket launcher that’ll make short work of anything that stands in its way. It’s especially cool that any equipment summoned can be shared with anyone on the team, encouraging teamwork and allowing your friends to benefit from your untimely demise by looting your corpse.

It’s especially cool that any equipment summoned can be shared with anyone on the team, encouraging teamwork and allowing your friends to benefit from your untimely demise by looting your corpse.

And that’ll happen more often than you might think, because Helldivers 2’s enemies are no pushovers, especially on harder difficulties. Death is an intentionally common occurrence, because instead of being a beefed-up hero with lots of health and enough firepower to take down hundreds of enemies unscathed, you’re put into the feeble boots of a grunt who makes a better sandbag than a soldier. At the beginning of each level, your team is given 20 revives, where your killed-off character is replaced by an equally unimportant peon anytime you fall in battle. And with friendly fire always on and bad guys far outnumbering my ragtag crew of four, dying at some point or another felt like a certainty. This was especially true when we attempted to complete a level on the hardest difficulty and were utterly grinded to a pulp, which was hilarious and a complete blast even in humbling defeat. I’m really looking forward to seeing if I can actually best one of these levels once my character’s been properly leveled.

The numerous deaths my crew suffered played right into Helldivers 2’s comedic setting as well, which features a satirical futuristic version of Earth where people are treated as disposable. That hilariously dystopian backdrop added the perfect level of pseudo-patriotic B-movie cheesiness that made me smile through all that dying.

If there’s anything that concerned me about my time with Helldivers 2, it’s that after three hours I felt like I’d played a whole lot of the content available in the game, which makes use of procedural generation to drop players onto the surface of various planets to complete generic objectives like launching an ICBM or destroying a specific military target. With no story mode or alternate game modes, I’m curious how much there will be for players to do beyond grinding the same missions ad nauseum, especially with no clear content roadmap laid out as of yet. That said, with only two enemy factions at the moment, it seems likely the third one from the original Helldivers could be added into the mix at some point, which could easily keep the good times rolling.

The good news is that, even if content is light initially, what I played of it was more than enough to get me excited about laughing with friends as we blast our way through killer robots, and I can’t wait to play more.

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Ryan McCaffrey