Tonight, we dive in hell!

Helldivers 2 (Arrowhead Game Studios/Playstation PC) is a third-person shooter focused on the co-op, player vs. environment (PVE) experience.

The game is creating its own worldbuilding, but it's so clearly influenced by Starship Troopers that it's worth a word or two about it before moving on. The novel Starship Troopers, by the great science fiction writer Robert Heinlein, made a splash when it was published in the distant 1959. It was full of action and ideas that were then brand new - even space marines, back then, were brand new as a concept. Unfortunately, on a slightly closer reading, it presented, without a trace of irony, a deeply reactionary, borderline fascist political discourse - today Heinlein would not be spared the twitter cancel, but those were different times...

Inhospitable environment.

Almost four decades later, Dutch director Paul Verhoeven made a film adaptation of Starship Troopers, with one key change: he kept the frenetic action against eight-legged freaks and testosterone-dripping lines, but made sure to mercilessly satirize the novel's hyper-conservative, pro-war rhetoric. The Hollywood version of the story is the one with which most of the audience is familiar, and Arrowhead has clearly stepped on it.

So in Helldivers 2, the Managed Democracy - amazing name for a party, I'd vote for them - needs you! You, and millions of others like you, loyal and diligent soldiers, ready to take responsibility for the safety of Super Earth, putting their lives on the line against those who threaten it!

Reporting for duty!

And the threats against the well-being and life of citizens are many, as we are rightly envied and ridiculed by all. At this point in time, however, the main problem is that Super Earth is engaged in an intergalactic war on two separate fronts.

One front is against the disgusting, insectoid Terminids, whose endless numbers need more and more space - vital space that belongs to our Democracy! And if one wonders how dangerous a few bugs can now be against the brilliant young men and women who, armed with the latest in warfare technology, defend the Democracy, the answer is that unfortunately their jaws and claws are sharp enough to penetrate the most powerful armor in close combat, and their corrosive acid for fighting at a distance is even worse.

Recruits should be aware that spreading anti-democratic propaganda, for example that Terminids are the products of failed genetic experiments of the Democracy, is punishable by ten lashes.

Big trouble.

The second front is against the Automatons, and given that the Terminids campaign is inspired by Starship Troopers, the Automatons draw similar inspiration from Terminator - and a bit of Warhammer 40K for some high tier enemies, because why not? Robotic adversaries of all sorts patrol between production factories of their ilk, and are often reinforced by aerial drop offs.

That's all well and good, but in the end, what about the gameplay?

Helldivers are the space marines of other settings, tough super soldiers who fight bravely on the front lines of war. I'd say we're one of them, but that's not entirely accurate, as Helldivers are completely expendable, so one dies, it's over, the next one takes over immediately, literally coming out of the freezer to continue completing the mission. In this sense, although we have a stable spacecraft base, it's more accurate to say that we take on the role of a specific profile that gains experience and upgrades over time and steadily, using expendable bodies.

Witness the power of (managed) Democracy!

In practice, we play a third-person shooter in a team of up to four Helldivers, with the goal of achieving specific objectives until the mission is successfully completed, and the coveted extraction. As a Helldiver, we have a primary weapon, a secondary weapon, and access to stratagems. Stratagems are absolutely essential for survival, and provide a wide variety of offensive and defensive options. Air strikes, orbital strikes, turrets, drones, energy shields, and high caliber and/or special purpose weapons are all available. We select four of these at the start of each mission, and can call them up whenever they're out of cooldown to help the situation when things get tough - when this happens depends mostly on the difficulty level. There are nine difficulty settings, and from the fifth one onwards, it's relatively common to see a difficulty spike within the mission - a swarm attack that won't seem to end, a high tier spawn at the most inopportune time, will test the team's endurance.

Fortunately, the moment to moment gameplay, the sense of combat, the need for constant movement, the solid feel of even the simplest weapons, the raw power of the most explosive stratagems, is of a high level and offers unadulterated action joy. Not to mention the satisfaction you feel when yes, there was Bile Titan in the middle of the spore cloud where you optionally dropped the 500KG Bomb, your insight served you well and you couldn't see your nose. As for the pure adrenaline rush of being the last man standing as the transport Pelican lands, and the crazy dance you have to do between 40 Terminids to be able to board unharmed, it's beyond description, it has to be experienced - and that, while rescuing Helldivers after completing objectives isn't even necessary to be considered a successful mission, that's how important we are as units...

I’ve never been happier to see a Pelican.

That's the gameplay within a single mission. There's an in-game meta narrative beyond that that links missions into operations, the completion of which contributes to the outcome of the planetary tug of war, and intergalactic warfare in general. It's well known that there's a gamemaster in Arrowhead tasked with keeping this layer alive with extra world orders, galactic events, special rewards, whatever it takes to make the audience feel like they're actually participating in a larger intergalactic war, and not just doing simple half-hour grind missions.

At the time of writing, the major problems with the servers that were flooded with players in the first few days have been overcome, and the online functionality is 99% functional. Unfortunately some sporadic disconnects continue to annoy (rejoin thankfully seems to work seamlessly), but that's a bummer compared to the state of the initial release.

The galaxy can't fit all three of us.

Completing missions rewards us with experience points and warbonds, as well as whatever resources we were able to collect within the mission. These serve to upgrade both our ship, which unlocks or enhances our stratagems, and our equipment, whether utilitarian like shotguns and grenades, or cosmetic like uniforms and victory poses. There's also premium content that can be purchased with the associated currency, which yes, you can buy with real money, but not exclusively, you can also find within missions.

Despite the familiar parameter of gradually unlocking and boosting equipment, I can't place Helldivers 2 in the looter-shooter category, mainly due to the complete lack of randomness. There are five shotguns, with specific stats, another five rifles, a few different orbital strikes, after unlocking them, you pick which one suits you (incendiary breaker shotgun FTW), and that's it, from there on it's all about player, maybe team, skill. There are no variations in stats, power levers, or status effects, giving other looter-shooters four billion possible combinations for each pistol class.

The sign is a lie.

It is not easy to predict which game as a service game will be a success, nor what is the parameter that ultimately makes the difference. With Helldivers 2 certainly standing out from the pack in this competitive category of games that seek the player's constant attention, I can't say I've found the answer (to sell at auction to game publishers). Certainly though, a minimum requirement is that there is a truly solid game as a service basis, and in this, Helldivers 2 hits the bullseye.

We would like to thank Sony Hellas for providing the review code.

Go to discussion...

RATING - 88%


Well managed

Helldivers 2 is an enjoyable third-person shooter game, offering powerful thrills to the four-person teams that take on the defense of the (managed) Democracy!

Νικόλαος Δανιηλίδης

Great Old One, hardware enthusiast, game collector, man of culture.

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