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  • Writer's pictureJames Stephanie Sterling

Helldivers 2 - Insert Bug Pun Here (Review)


Helldivers 2

Released: February 8th, 2024

Developer: Arrowhead Game Studios

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Systems: PC, PS5 (reviewed)


[Note: in the short window between this review’s writing and its publication, Helldivers 2 just had a new patch. I’m not interested. I gave this game over a week (and multiple patches) to stop being infuriating, and it failed, so I’m not gonna entertain any “but have you played it since the update?” comments. I reviewed what I played, which is the game they sold me.]


The state of mainstream games is just fucking pathetic. 


Helldivers 2 has been out for well over a week and yet it still suffers from the kind of connection issues that would be (and were) unacceptable by launch day standards, let alone days later. As if that were atrocious enough, further bugs and breakages wait in the wings to further scupper any attempt to enjoy Arrowhead's already stripped-down sequel.

As I write this review, Helldivers 2 is trying to find me an active game. It is, in fact, telling me that zero players are online, which isn’t true but would be fucking understandable at this point. Failing to see any other players is just one way in which Sony’s hot quasi-exclusive bungles matchmaking - even when it does remember how to find them, it’ll routinely fail to join their lobbies. 


It’s been like this since the game came out. I’ve given it more of a chance than it deserves to fix its shit, and yet if anything things have gotten worse over time. It is, I say again, fucking pathetic. 

Once you get into a game, you have to watch out for connection drops, loading failures, intense lag, and outright crashes. All this in a game with missions that can easily take at least thirty minutes to finish and won’t save a damn bit of progress until you’re done. 


Oh, and it’s grindy as all hell to unlock upgrades and cosmetics. Y’know, just to make the inability to play it even more excruciating. 


Well, I say you can’t play it… you can, but soloing a game balanced exclusively around four-player teams is one of the least enjoyable things in the world. Such ludicrous swarms of enemies are simply too overwhelming on all but the easiest difficulties, and several objectives become far harder since they’re meant to be tackled cooperatively.


So yeah, technically you can play it in the same way you can technically perform your own dental surgery, and you'll roughly have the same amount of fun. 


Helldivers 2 is still trying to find me a game while I write. 

I almost resent talking about this product’s merits beyond the obscenity of its incompetence because it hardly deserves the good faith. Nonetheless, as a big fan of the original game I have plenty of thoughts, especially when it comes to the sequel’s more dramatic stylistic departures.


Firstly, Helldivers 2 is a rather decent game when it actually works. If you can get into a session and stay in it, there’s an entertainingly hectic co-op shooter in there. So it has that going for it.


Structurally, gameplay follows a similar pattern to its predecessor - you drop onto a planet with a main objective and a whole bunch of side stuff, complete the tasks at hand, and extract, all while a horde of alien bugs or violent cyborgs are trying to chew you apart. Shooting is very pleasing, not least for the body part damage dealt to the alien monsters. 

Once again, you make use of Strategems to give you an edge, calling down heavy weapons, gun turrets, and ordnance strikes by inputting codes and waiting for them like some sort of militant Argos shopper. Oh, and once again “friendly” fire is cranked up to max, with pretty much everything able and likely to kill you, including your own gear. 


Curiously, Helldivers 2 brings with it a perspective shift, tossing out the top-down view of the original in favor of a standard third-person shooter presentation. This change has exactly one benefit - when battles are at their most chaotic, the intensity and threat of the action around you is genuinely engaging. It captures a “war is hell” vibe that more serious games routinely fail to approximate. As limbs fly, things catch fire, and heavy artillery bombards all around you, Helldivers 2 becomes something outstanding. 


Briefly. 

Unfortunately, such thrilling moments are few and far between even in a stable, smooth, connected game. Maps are rather vast with points of interest scattered far apart and nothing but empty space between. There is so much time spent just… jogging. Jogging from one landmark to another, all while a pointless stamina bar makes the slog evermore tiresome. This is compounded by several objectives in which you have to literally sit patiently while a timer counts down for ages and enemies barely spawn. 


Seriously, there is so much time spent waiting around doing nothing, which really sucks when matchmaking involves so much time spent waiting around doing nothing.

When the third-person perspective isn’t drawing players into a climactic fight, it’s being something of a detriment to what made the first game stand out. The original had a rather adorable look and feel, whereas this looks like any number of generic sci-fi shooters. there is a running theme with the game, one that would easily be my biggest criticism if it wasn’t so unforgivably broken - Helldivers 2’s aesthetic is rubbish. 


This is largely thanks to the fact cosmetics are now exploitatively monetized with a rotating shop and microtransactions, because of course they are. The once-endearing visual style of Helldivers has taken a friggin' dive as a direct response to this, ensuring the titular Helldivers themselves no longer boast a strong, distinctive look. 

Where once there was a series of unlockable outfits that stuck to a neat black/yellow color scheme and resembled a cross between a Space Marine and a Manta Man, there are now so many outfits in so many disparate styles they don’t resemble anything cohesive anymore. Helmets and armor look like they could be from a dozen different games. 


I say this as someone who loves cosmetics, too! I’m all for colorful outfits and fun hats, but not if they dilute a game’s style into nondescript paste. That is the sad difference with Helldivers 2. Hell, these costumes aren’t even colorful or fun, they’re just a hodgepodge of shit that looks borrowed from Destiny, Anthem, and any other number of similar “service” games. 


That's the cosmetic side. There's something worse on the practical side - Strategems seem to just be shit now. 

Don’t get me wrong, Strategems can be effective, but the variety of things you can summon during a mission has been decimated and gotten really boring. All the vehicles are gone, nonviolent items like the medic guns are gone, a whole ton of stuff is gone and replaced by different versions of the same shit - there are eighteen ways to call down ordnance/airstrikes, and the rest of the toolbox is almost entirely made up of turrets and support guns. 


Many unlocks are borderline useless, with the bevy of air and orbital strikes proving so much more effective than most other things. Its amazing to me that this game throws in multiple outfits that make you look like a medic, but they took the fucking medicine out. 


I’m sure more things will be added over time, but that’s not a justification, because this "release it now, roadmap it later" culture needs to stop. Helldivers 2's feature set compared to the original game really demonstrates the changing attitudes of what is and isn’t acceptable to release as a full product.

While it’s a solid shooter and it can occasionally be outright exhilarating, Helldivers 2 is a stylistic and mechanical step down. It no longer looks unique, and so much of the original game’s more creative aspects have simply been abandoned in favor of… what? A decidedly, objectively, less interesting game?


Well, that sure as fuck is a decision


Helldivers 2 struggles to appeal after stripping out so much of what made its prequel memorable, and if that’s all that was wrong with it I’d be sadly grateful. Miserably, it’s such a wreck of a product that it spends significant amounts of time in a near-unplayable state while the rest of the time is typified by frequent crashes and other technical difficulties. You're supposed to expect a certain level of quality in a Sony-published game, and Helldivers 2 is a reminder that such expectations are naive as all fuck.

Throughout the entire course of drafting of this review, not once did I successfully get into a game. 


3.5/10

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