Helldivers 2 delivers on the promise of chaotic fun through superior firepower. Whether you’re slaying enemies with your friends or slaying your friends while enemies are also present, if you’ve got the crew, this is a guaranteed good time.
User-friendly progression system
Hard to enjoy without friends
Huge difficulty spike when fighting robots
Why you can trust TechRadar
Platform reviewed: PC
Available on: PC, PS5
Release date: February 8, 2024
My friend is screaming my name in a Discord channel like an accusation. I know what I’ve done. I’ve killed her again in third-person shooter Helldivers 2. Her death is down to a combination of my poor spatial awareness and lackadaisical approach to utilizing high explosives - and while I protest that it isn’t my fault, it is.
Helldivers 2 is a fairly unique, third-person co-op shooter that drops players into procedurally generated killing fields to accomplish missions for the glory of New Earth. It owes a debt to Paul Verhoeven’s film adaptation of Starship Troopers, and some of its best moments feel like they could have come from this movie themselves. It's deeply satisfying to fire a disposable anti-tank munition into a bug hole to close it, turrets barking as they chew through the advancing hordes, or to be saved by close-range air support that crashes into the dirt around you, a hail mary that buys you a few more seconds to try and survive.
Regardless of your role as a boots-on-the-ground commando in an interstellar war, you’ll often get your hands on the sort of battle-defining firepower more familiar to real-time strategy players. Napalm airstrikes, bombardments from your orbiting starship, and even a planet-cracking laser are all yours to command. However, even with the weaponry, you’re not a space marine. You and your teammates are agonizingly mortal and death comes quickly: teamkilling is just part of the rich tapestry of Helldivers 2, so you’re going to have to get used to it.
Airstrikes and bugs and robots, oh my!
To contradict the Starship Troopers vibe, however, you’re not just bringing the pain to bugs in the game. There are robots on the scene and the two opposing forces have distinct feelings in combat. The bugs are a tide that threatens to wash over you, all melee attacks and spewing acid. By contrast, the robotic menace mixes it up with heavily armored monsters and long-range laser blasts. The strategy for fighting each is different, and you’ll have to mix up your tactics depending on what you’re fighting, which keeps you on your toes.
Some of the biggest stratagems in the game will bring a smile to your face - like the first time I dropped a 500KG bomb onto a target, killing most of my team, all of the bugs, and warping the very terrain we were fighting over. Frankly, I’d do it again.
With that said, you’ll always know who the enemy is. The huge galaxy-spanning campaign map will let you pick a planet to engage on before you choose a specific mission. The planets have their own feeling to coincide with which enemy occupies the territory. Robots have a Terminator-esque red glow and their planets are full of eerie red light and pollution belching chimneys. The bugs meanwhile have huge tunnels leading into the ground and vivid colours.
The creature design is fairly by the book: bugs look like giant bugs with a fair bit of variation, all bulbous sacks, and glowing appendages. The robots, meanwhile, model themselves after something between Terminator and Warhammer 40,000. Needless to say, the game looks great in motion, and the characters look the part during play. They look much better as they’re coming apart under gunfire, with limbs and appendages being thrown in all directions as you take your enemies out with heavy weapons.
It’s hard to translate what playing Helldivers 2 actually feels like, though. It’s riotously violent without feeling oppressive, diluted by the slapstick comedy that Arrowhead Studios has built a reputation on. Something will always be exploding in Helldivers, and it’s funny no matter who is getting turned into a bucket of wet meat.
With great power comes no responsibility
The progression systems in the game reward playing however you want, with higher-level stratagems available as you level up using requisition points you earn through play. You only need to unlock these once and then they're available forever. In addition, cosmetic outfits and weaponry are available from the game’s Warbond system which works like a battle pass system, except that you can buy them forever like a shop - it's a generous system at that. Most missions hand out a handful of medals, and your daily challenge will give you 15 of them. Most weapons go for around the same, meaning that you can treat yourself to something for every day of play.
At launch, the game has two separate Warbond passes, one free and one premium. I had access to both because of the code Sony provided, but I assume the premium pass is paid for otherwise. Luckily, while the premium pass gave me a different set of unlocks, they didn’t feel like straight upgrades offering a variant that had benefits and minuses on the items available via the free tier, which is reassuring for players unprepared to commit to a paid pass.
You can get unlocks over time for your ship too, which will enhance your strikes and weapons in a variety of ways. I didn’t get a chance to play too much with these because they require a lot of resources and feel more like an endgame than something to engage with as you’re settling in. I’m 20 hours in and only now approaching the first upgrade.
As you progress, you’ll want some beefier stratagems and weapons for some of Helldivers 2’s later levels. You can take out any enemy with an orbital precision strike, a machine gun, and a dream, but it’s hard work and the slog will be much less so if you can unleash a creeping barrage of artillery fire to clear yourself a path instead.
There are nine different difficulty levels, but I think most players will find a level of challenge that feels comfortable and sit there rather than try something new. Currently, I’m happy with the fifth difficulty level and don’t fancy anything harder for the sake of my blood pressure, but I've played them regardless and, if you truly do want to challenge yourself, there’s plenty there for teams looking to challenge themselves in co-op.
A fairly barebones package that features text-to-speech and speech-to-text options, subtitles, and options to change the size of the subtitles. It’s a disappointing array for something that seems to have heavy Sony involvement as the company has previously impressed with their package of accessibility options.
All that aside, the most impressive part about Helldivers 2 is how effortlessly Arrowhead has managed to take the Helldivers formula and adapt it to third-person. Shooting feels weighty but easy to get to grips with, and weapons all have a concrete impact on your foes. For anyone after something more intimate, you can also switch to a first-person mode which is helpful for several guns but offers a level of precision that I found I just didn’t need.
Mechanically, the shooting feels like the work of a studio with much more experience, and it’s surprising how good it feels. It’s not particularly precise - nothing in Helldivers 2 is particularly precise after all - but it’s a hell of a good time and firmly worth the purchase, if you’ve got the people to squad up with.
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.