Helldivers 2 preview - peace through superior firepower

Screenshot from Helldivers 2
(Image credit: Arrowhead/Sony)

Helldivers 2 is a chaotic time but a fun one, the third-person shooter sequel delivering a mix of blastic, carnage, and turning your friends into wallpaper paste with the accidental (or not) application of high explosives.

If you played its 2015 top-down squad shooting predecessor, this probably won’t surprise you. The original Helldivers had that exact same blend, and Arrowhead Game Studios' refinement of the initial effort has made Helldivers 2 almost irresistible. 

The enemies swarming in each procedurally generated warzone are nearly impossible to handle without support. Luckily, you can call in a variety of weapons, from the humble flamethrower all the way to a planet-scarring orbital laser that tears through the sky itself to shred enemies. While each of these weapons will do a number on your teammates, you won’t be able to stop yourself using them irresponsibly. 

Which is, sadly, what happened to me. While this is a preview, it’s also the story of how I blew my entire squad up with a clusterbomb attack and then refused to own up to it in the 10-minute fight for survival that followed. I know, I’m a terrible team player. But at its heart, Helldivers 2 is a PS5 game for villains like me.  

I just dived in your arms tonight 

Screenshot from Helldivers 2

(Image credit: Arrowhead/Sony)

There are two halves to Helldivers 2, although I’d be willing to bet that most players will only play the first. The meat of the game is in the four-player missions that have you tooling around trying to take care of objectives like destroying alien eggs, launching missiles, or fragging supply dumps held by the robotic automaton armies. Tasks are randomized to a degree and largely involve yomping around a procedurally generated map with your friends and blasting anything that isn’t friendshaped on the horizon. It’s frenetic, and the power-ups you call in - requiring arrow keys to be hit in the correct order despite the enemies assailing you from all sides - can help or hinder you depending on how smartly they’re used. 

The second part is the metagame, largely managed from your cruiser hanging out in orbit. Here, you can pursue Major Orders, a community goal set by the fascist forces of the existing Earth Government that will progress the story. You see, the galactic war that Helldivers 2 takes place in can be won, but progress will be slower than the constant end states seen in the first Helldivers, and will involve actual humans at Arrowhead acting as a sort of gamemaster to the battle.  

Screenshot from Helldivers 2

(Image credit: Arrowhead/Sony)

They’ll be lining up new events and picking directions for your opponents to attack from. While the entire community is working together for the good of Earth, Arrowhead’s gamemasters will act as a counterbalance, with the aim of keeping the war on alien terror going for a long, long time. 

We saw that here when the gamemaster decided we needed more heavy ordinance, giving us a 500kg bomb that would decimate the world around us if we dared to use it. This was presented like a gift, but its potential for team killing was obscene, and so it was secretly a bit of a curse. I, of course, dared to use it often, not so much screaming danger close as high-powered explosives rained from the skies, but repeating it like a mantra urging my teammates to stay out of my line of sight. Danger Close. Danger Close. Danger Close. 

Dive hard

Screenshot from Helldivers 2

(Image credit: Arrowhead/Sony)

I’m far from the only hazard out there on the field, although I suspect that I might be the most substantial. There are nine ascending difficulty levels, and we played at level one (easy), three (medium), and five (hard), with difficulty level five being where I accidentally fragged my entire squad. But also, it felt like the tipping point where the light challenge of the lesser levels gives in to a constant flow of dangerous enemies, threatening to swarm you every time you run out of ammunition. 

While there were a host of different support weapons, I mostly found myself toting around a meaty machine gun that penetrated light armor on most enemies and worked well at putting a dent in their hordes using short, controlled bursts. Suppression is meaningless against the brainless advance of the AI’s constant march, but that’s okay because you can feel the impact of each weapon, even at range.

For fans of Arrowhead’s unique blend of carnage or for people who are looking for a hell of a good time then this game will deliver by the bucketload.

Using the assault rifle was noticeably less impressive, but it still did a great job of conveying a sense of impact even as you put rounds into a shifting tide of enemies. I found the third-person shooting felt fine, but I appreciated the extra control from clicking the right thumbstick, which threw me into first-person perspective, blasting away while peering through each weapon’s optic.

The thing that suffers here is the grenades, which you can carry four of at any time. Honestly, when you can demand your capital ship floating in orbit bombards the battlefield with its huge guns or call in a nearby bomber to rain napalm down on your enemies, the humble grenade doesn’t make an impact, feeling like an insignificant squib compared to the rest of your arsenal. 

 Still, if you’re fussing about grenades you’re not playing Helldivers 2 right. There’s always a bigger weapon, a more satisfying explosion. For fans of Arrowhead’s unique blend of carnage or for people who are looking for a hell of a good time, then this game will deliver by the bucketload. We’ll have more with the full release, but, for now, Helldivers 2 is looking pretty positive. As long as you’re not in a mission with me.

Helldivers 2 is out on February 8, 2024, on PS5, and PC.

Jake Tucker
Editor in chief, TechRadar Gaming

Jake Tucker is the editor in chief of TechRadar Gaming and has worked at sites like NME, MCV, Trusted Reviews and many more. He collects vinyl, likes first-person shooters and turn-based tactics titles, but hates writing bios. Jake currently lives in London, and is bouncing around the city trying to eat at all of the nice restaurants.