With nearly a decade sitting between the release of the first Helldivers in 2015 and Helldivers 2 in 2024, you would be forgiven for thinking that the gulf of time that has passed in the interim would have resulted in Arrowhead Studios Helldiver sequel manifesting itself substantially different from its PS4 (and PS Vita) bound predecessor. Thankfully – and this should prove as sweet relief to anybody lucky enough to play the first Helldivers – Helldivers 2 is practically the same game from a design perspective. That said, developer Arrowhead Studios has made some fairly substantial changes elsewhere in Helldivers 2, for both better and worse, that help to meaningfully separate it from its predecessor.
Helldivers 2 PS5 Review
A Voraciously Entertaining Squad Shooter With A Solid Blueprint For The Future
As a broad initiator for those who have found themselves unlucky enough to not have indulged themselves in the original Helldivers, Helldivers 2 follows the exact same design through-line where up to four players can team up together to take on hordes of violent aliens, mutants and cyborgs in a galaxy-spanning conflict that never ends. Invariably a squad shooter at its very core, Helldivers 2 isn’t just about rampaging around each map and laying waste to your foes – there’s also a sizable chunk of strategy embedded in there too which absolutely detaches Helldivers 2 from immediate comparisons to its genre peers.
You see, not only do you have the overarching aim of bringing ‘democracy’ (overwhelming firepower and interstellar violence) to the great unwashed throng of evil enemies that would seemingly want to murder everything in sight, but so too are there are a range of additional objectives to be completed which provide a higher yield of experience points, requisition points and more in turn (though more on the progression side of things in a bit). Chiefly where Helldivers 2 really flaunts its tactical bonafides is in how it invites players to not just work cooperatively, but also to use special support measures called ‘stratagems’ which allow supplies, special weapons, support gear and even fallen players to be dropped back into the fray.
Knowing when to use these stratagems is key to victory in Helldivers 2 and anybody who has played the first game will immediately recognise the manner in which they have been implemented here. Essentially, in order to successfully implement a stratagem such as placing down a sentry turret or a supply cache, you are required to quickly type in a succession of specific directions on the d-pad with failure resulting in the stratagem not being dropped into battle – though you can always try again as many times as you want.
Of course, dropping stratagems into battle carries its own risks that need to be appropriately evaluated and communicated out to the rest of your squad. First off, it’s worth paying attention to the fact that stratagems are quite literally fired into battle via drop-pods that should they lend atop your skull, will kill you instantly. Luckily a handy colour-coded beam of light from the heavens provides you plenty of time to get outta Dodge before one of those bad boys comes screeching down. Like its predecessor however, Helldivers 2 is at its best when everyone is in the throng of its accidental chaos with stratagems popping off left and right, drop-pods landing on the noggins of your mates and friendly fire being just a few examples of the freewheeling discord that can typically unfold across just a single mission.
If such madness wasn’t proof positive that Helldivers 2 is best enjoyed online with other players, Helldivers 2 also provides ample opportunity for wannabe bringers of democracy to work together with a series of randomised tasks which involve everything from manoeuvring satellite dishes into position, loading artillery cannons, hacking security consoles and much more besides. Of course, this also means that voice communication between players is a must, since not only do such activities require two or more Helldivers to be completed in a timely fashion, but it’s also very much in the realms of common courtesy to let your friends know that you’ve just called in a Hellbomb that is going to absolutely ruin everything in a quarter-mile radius.
In terms of mission design, Helldivers 2 certainly boasts a fair amount of repetition, but that isn’t necessarily as bad as you might think. Though you’ll certainly find yourself tackling the same sort of seek-and-destroy mission types across a range of different planets as you fight the good fight against the three enemy factions, Helldivers 2 not only spices things up with a rotation of optional objectives to be completed and enemy strongholds to be destroyed, but it also introduces a massive range of difficulty levels which scale up both the opposition you’ll face and the rewards you’ll get for a victory well-earned accordingly. Brilliantly, even if you happen to fail to extract your entire team in a given mission but still manage to complete the objectives, you’ll still accrue a sizable chunk of rewards for getting the job done even though nobody made it home.
While we’re on the topic of how good Helldivers 2 is in multiplayer – and make no mistake it’s very, *very* good in a way that few games are these days – it’s also impossible to not address the big white alien in the room which is the jettisoning of split-screen multiplayer. Though I can understand that the shift to an entirely new perspective has imposed a much greater visual rendering load than the first game was capable of nearly ten years ago, the lack of split-screen functionality still can’t help but feel like a step back from the first game – especially given just how good local play was in the original Helldivers.
Likewise, it’s also worth noting that Helldivers 2 is a terminally online game. This means that while you can play Helldivers 2 solo, you cannot play offline and so if your internet connection craps out or if the server is overloaded/unavailable (and this was something that happened a great deal over the initial launch period, annoyingly), so too will you find your attempts to play Helldivers 2 comprehensively undone as a result. Additionally, it’s also worth noting that during my time reviewing Helldivers 2, I experienced a handful of crashes that would often occur when a mission was completed and result in a coin toss situation as to whether or not the progress I had made during that mission would be maintained. Now as bad as both of those situations sound, developer Arrowhead Studios have committed to swiftly fixing the server, matchmaking and crashing issues ASAP. As such, I am hopeful that by the time you read this review these issues have been addressed.
Arguably the biggest change from the first Helldivers is the shift from the top-down perspective of the first game to the slightly elevated, over the shoulder view that Helldivers The Second prescribes and it’s this which actually served as the lion’s share for my anxiety in regards to how Arrowhead Studios highly anticipated sequel would turn out. Though the lack of local multiplayer functionality is a blow, I perhaps need not have worried as much as I did, since moving away from an overhead viewpoint lends Helldivers 2 a number of advantages over its last-gen predecessor.
For a start, viewing distance has now been expanded enormously and this naturally allows you to tag enemies, structures and other points of interest from far away in a fashion that just wasn’t possible in the original Helldivers, thus improving the level of functional cohesion that your group will have as a direct result. Another welcome side effect of ditching the forced top-down perspective of the first Helldivers is that you can now immediately snap to a first-person perspective, allowing you to accurately shoot at enemies in the short and mid-range, while also providing sufficient means for you to snipe at foes at a distant remove.
And then there are the visuals. Though Helldivers 2 might not be the most visually extravagant offering on the surface, it not only maintains a largely solid frame rate throughout even the most busy and screen-filling battles, but it also happens to boast some of the best explosions I’ve seen in any video game for years. In fact, the sheer amount of enemies, explosions and stratagems that can be flying around the place at any given time all help to cement Helldivers 2 as one of the most blissfully chaotic and bombastic shooters on the market today. All in all, I feel like that in the long run the trade offs that were necessary to bring Helldivers kicking and screaming into full 3D were ultimately worth it, though the lack of local multiplayer still stings all the same.
Much like the first Helldivers, Helldivers 2 also finds itself generously stuffed with Paul Verhoven-like satire that almost exclusively evokes his work on Starship Troopers. A clear reference point and a touchstone for the strand of dark comedy that is threaded throughout the experience, Helldivers 2 wastes no time employing its Starship Troopers flavoured satire from the off with an opening cutscene that honestly feels like it could have been lifted from Verhoven’s cult 1997 movie, while the amusingly over the top dialogue that spontaneously erupts during combat like “LIBERTY NEVER SLEEPS!” when you heal a team member, or ‘TIME FOR A CUP OF LIBER-TEA!’, rarely fails to entertain and will be familiar to anybody that has played the first Helldivers.
Candidly, when I saw that Helldivers 2 would encompass multiple progression currencies, my heart sank somewhat but happily I can report that it isn’t anywhere near as predatory or ‘pay to win’ as you may have been led to believe up to this point. Essentially, the credits that you earn for completing primary, secondary and optional mission objectives can be used to purchase additional stratagems and can be easily earned by just, well, playing the game. Furthermore, the various research samples that you find when you’re out on a mission and again, can be easily earned by just playing the game, are used as payment for upgrading your Helldivers cruiser which in turn provides access to additional support weapons and stratagems to boot.
Where the implementation of live service characteristics in Helldivers 2 will likely command the most controversy however, will be in the implementation of battle passes but again, how these battle passes are actually employed actually turns out to be far less egregious than I first assumed. So from the top, completing mission objectives awards you with medals which can then be used to purchase a range of cosmetic items and also in game weapons, armour and precious super credits that can be used to purchase team buff bonuses known as ‘Boosters’.
However, there is also a premium battle pass which boasts higher quality and exclusive items, with the caveat being of course that you’ll need to fork over some real-life cash to access that premium battle pass in the first place. There are two things that need to be made clear here however. First, as Helldivers 2 is a strictly co-operative experience rather than an adversarial one, the notion of ‘pay to win’ kinda falls by the wayside since nobody is actively getting screwed over by someone else having a fatter real-life wallet. Next, if you don’t spend a single cent or penny after purchasing the game, you can still have a full and rewarding progression system which will keep you busy for potentially hundreds of hours and will allow you to satisfyingly upgrade your character based solely on everything that you are able to earn in-game.
In the end though, paying for all the premium battle passes and super credits in the world won’t save you if you also happen to suck badly at either third-person shooting or employing wider team tactics in general. Something else of note is just how satisfying the shooting feels in Helldivers 2. Not only do each of the weapons feel appreciably different and feedback appropriately through the DualSense controller, but actually laying waste to the various overgrown bugs, cyborgs and so on all feels wonderfully crunchy and simply makes you want to do it more (which considering the core gameplay loop of Helldivers 2 is more crucial than it perhaps appears).
Finally, it’s also worth mentioning that while Helldivers 2 is very much at the vanguard of Sony’s new push for live service games, this also means that we can reliably expect a steady stream of content given the early success of the game which will translate into all manner of post launch updates that will keep the experience going for months and years to come.
There’s no getting around it – Helldivers 2 is a supremely fun, frequently unintentionally hilarious and bombastic squad shooter that builds upon its predecessor and deftly sets up a long-term future in the process. Though the lack of split-screen is keenly felt and Helldivers 2 is by and large identical to its predecessor in so many ways, Arrowhead Studios highly anticipated sequel nonetheless does a great job of repackaging a shooter that not nearly enough people played into a thunderous current-gen offering that sets a new bar for extraction shooters everywhere.
Helldivers 2 is out now on PS5.
Review code kindly provided by PR.