Helldivers 2 review: Life, liberty and the violent pursuit of shareholder value

Helldivers 2 is a funny, frustrating mess of a co-op shooter about friendship, loss, freedom, and democracy. Also evil robots and bugs.


Like the first game, Helldivers 2’s greatest strength is an expertly-threaded needle where few other games even attempt. This is a tremendously difficult game, cruel even - but it’s gut-bustlingly hilarious at the same time. In fact, Helldivers 2 would be funny as hell even without all the Verhoeven-style military satire painted on the exterior. Dodging enemy rockets and lasers while frantically trying to mash out a Symphony of the Night-like button sequence to revive teammates, taking care not to be crushed by my own extraction shuttle, stepping on an alien mushroom and being blown into the sky while my avatar shrieks in pain; being the butt of the joke is a riot.

Bug Hunt

A combat scene in Helldivers 2. Lots of bullets, explosions and bugs.
Source: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Helldivers 2 is basically Starship Troopers (the movie, natch) with several additional decades of American exceptionalism under its treaded tires. Every second of this game is decorated with over the top, yet achingly feasible, propaganda. When idling on your ship (which you can name from a collection of neoliberal buzzwords) you might catch a pundit explaining the best solution to the bug menace is a strong economy, complete with an infographic showing a “stonks” graph impaling a building-sized bug. Loading screens sport what would be generic tooltips elsewhere, but in Helldivers 2 are disclaimers from pharmaceutical companies insisting Stims aren’t addictive, or notices stating taking breaks is for treasonous cowards. Browsing the premium shop for in-game cosmetics displays user reviews all but guzzling every last drop of Super Earth Kool-Aid. It’s wonderful. And terrifying.

What we have here is a cooperative, stressful, and deeply funny third-person shooter. Groups of up to four Helldivers breach enemy territory in the name of Managed Democracy, risking their lives to do things like terminate illegal broadcasts, capture enemy resources, defend outposts, or… drop flags that have little radios blasting patriotic showtunes on the bases. These objectives are peppered with endless enemy spawns, and those enemies will tear you to pieces in seconds. In fact, 30 seconds is the average lifespan of a Helldiver. Luckily your teammates can call in respawns if they’re quick enough to mash a bunch of directional commands into a signal device before perishing themselves. You can also call down other tools like additional weapons, ammo resupplies, sentry guns, orbital strikes, and more.

Dying for democracy

A screenshot of my remains after being blown to pieces in Helldivers 2
Source: Sony Computer Entertainment

Resource management is a big part of actually succeeding in Helldivers 2, and once again the game finds a sweet spot between being fun to play and comically oppressive towards the players. For example, you absolutely cannot reload until your mag is empty, unless you want to simply waste rounds. But reloading is slow and fumbly, forcing you to grapple with the sluggish movement controls while your Helldiver attempts to multitask. The controls are fairly complicated for various reasons, and the chaos certainly makes them even more difficult to handle under pressure, especially since crouching, diving, and going prone (while firing, reloading, or managing a package, even) are major skills needed for survival. Friendly fire is on in the worst of ways, and don’t count on keeping that fancy weapon if you drop it. Grenades are limited and often needed for objectives, and your different Stratagems have limits, complex button combos, and cooldowns. It's all meant to challenge your situational awareness alongside your dexterity and attention to detail. Don’t let the bugs notice your resupply either, because they will knock that thing down with prejudice!

If all that sounds frustrating, it is! If you don’t gel with the difficulty spikes, you may have trouble finding a groove and having a good time. If you’re playing by yourself, you probably won’t be able to move far past the Trivial or Easy settings. And playing with randoms versus a group of dedicated friends is more of an ask here than many other shooters. You will get stuck on terrain, blindsided by enemies, killed two seconds after respawning, walk into traps, and definitely fail missions outright. There’s a bit here, Helldivers 2 fully commits to it, and you have to be able to buy in to get the most out of the experience. Luckily, the more over the top moments, such as voiceover gags finding new ways to scream about liberty at every opportunity, do a lot of work to keep the smiles coming through all the pain. Even so, this isn’t a game you jump in to vibe with friends; there’s no podcasting to be done here. Buckle up for Super Earth or go home and tell your family you couldn’t stand up for their liberty.

Liberty, for your wallet

A pundit news program in Helldivers 2 on the ship bridge
Source: Sony Computer Entertainment

While it hates you as an individual, Helldivers 2 does contain plenty of rewards to incentivise your miniscule contributions to the war effort. Yes, there are battle passes here. No, they aren’t intrusive, and weirdly enough Helldivers 2 doesn’t seem to care if you shell out for the premium pass or not. The free pass has way more stuff, and it gives you lots of premium currency to put towards the paid one. You can even find more premium currency during missions. On top of that, nearly all your additional gear and ship upgrades are earned entirely separately from the battle passes, simply giving you an escalating list of unlocks to explore as you play.

One gripe I do have there is that the grind, even for the stuff not involving real Super Earth dollars, feels really slow. Ship module upgrades in particular, which involve collecting “samples” on the ground and ensuring they escape with you, feel egregiously slow. I’ve played well over 20 hours at this point, and have afforded exactly two ship modules. That’s a lot of investment to see the list all the way through, and has me questioning the burnout versus completion ratio.

The other elephant in the room is of course Helldivers 2’s performance issues. Some of this stuff is obvious growing pains from an explosive launch, which has caught everyone off-guard. Occasional performance dips, game crashes, disconnects, and goofy glitches have all hit me over the course of my time in the trenches. Support from the devs has been respectfully fast and effective, but not noting the stuff happening would be dishonest. Especially since sometimes your mission rewards can be impacted, and that’s not part of the intended fun!

The Claw of Diversity (that's my ship!)

A completed objective in Helldivers 2, featuring a player saluting toward a massive explosion
Source: Sony Computer Entertainment

Honestly, just take a look at your social media platform of choice right now. Helldivers 2 is exploding, in a way that even fans of the first game have not expected. And there’s a reason for that. This game is rough around the edges, but those edges are serrated; there’s an authorship to the chaos and slight jank that feels woven together from top to bottom. The systems, humor, structure… every aspect of this game feeds into the other for an experience that nails cohesion. Helldivers 2 plants its flag in the dirt and announces itself with a rare confidence in video games today. Now get out there and serve some piping-hot Liber-Tea, soldier.

Helldivers 2 is available now for PlayStation 5 and PC. A PC copy of the game was purchased by Shacknews for the purposes of this review.

Contributing Editor

Lucas plays a lot of videogames. Sometimes he enjoys one. His favorites include Dragon Quest, SaGa, and Mystery Dungeon. He's far too rattled with ADHD to care about world-building lore but will get lost for days in essays about themes and characters. Holds a journalism degree, which makes conversations about Oxford Commas awkward to say the least. Not a trophy hunter but platinumed Sifu out of sheer spite and got 100 percent in Rondo of Blood because it rules. You can find him on Twitter @HokutoNoLucas being curmudgeonly about Square Enix discourse and occasionally saying positive things about Konami.

Review for
Helldivers 2
  • Liberty!
  • Funny as hell
  • Well-tuned and player-friendly progression systems
  • Lots of variety to the action
  • Can be incredibly stressful, even when it's fun
  • Janky at times and dealing with performance issues is a thing, at least in the launch window
  • Complex controls aren't going to be winning any accessibility awards
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