On February 8 Arrowhead Game Studios invites you to customize your Helldiver, drop into hell, wipe out infestations, and repeat the victorious process.
Have you ever watched the anonymous soldiers of a sci-fi movie get obliterated by aliens and thought to yourself, “I could do better”? Helldivers 2 is Arrowhead Game Studios’ invitation to brave players dying to experience the chaotic fun of facing seemingly impossible odds.
For the uninitiated, Helldivers 2 is a full sequel that maintains the 4-player cooperative essence of the 2015 top-down PS4 entry, while adding modern over-the-shoulder third-person gunplay and deeper customization options.
I recently had a chance to suit up and drop into a hands-on session with Helldivers 2 on PS5, and lived to share this debriefing. I teamed up with three other Helldivers to learn the ropes and emerged with a whetted appetite for eliminating space bugs and murderous Automatons.
Let’s dive in.
Action sci-fi gunplay
Helldivers 2 is bursting with customization options and strategic depth, but shooting lots of enemies is your bread and butter. Arrowhead managed to translate the frenetic top-down energy of Helldivers into a smooth third-person shooter. Weapon recoil feels powerful yet predictable enough to maintain your accuracy. I specifically loved watching Automaton’s armor dent and shatter off as I punched them full of sniper rounds.
Players have options when it comes to gunplay. Hold the Square button to switch between single, burst, and autofire. Press L2 to shoulder your weapon and zoom in with R2. Click R3 button to aim-down-sights for even deeper precision and immersion. The direction buttons are used for quick actions, like switching to grenades by pressing right or pressing for a life-restoring stim. Remember to save a few ‘nades to close up bug nests or destroy enemy factories.
The moment-to-moment action is tight and reliable, which is key when all hell inevitably breaks loose.
The gameplay loop
Blasting deadly bugs and robots is a reward in itself, but Arrowhead has plenty of progression options to keep soldiers motivated. Visit Ship Management after a mission to unlock new Stratagems like the deadly Orbital Laser or Bulwark machine gun. Use valuable Samples collected on missions to upgrade Strategems to more powerful versions, like the Donation Access License which increases the number of magazines in your weapons.
The Helldivers Mobilize menu allows you to customize your Helldiver with gear that’s both stylish and offers gameplay benefits. For example, the SC-34 Infiltrator body armor includes a passive boost called Scout, which boosts radar scan abilities and makes you harder to detect. Once you’ve unlocked and upgraded your options, it’s time to select the next mission, jump in the Hell Pod, choose your gear and Stratagem loadout, and begin again.
Your starship headquarters
Players rally on the bridge of their ship, which serves as hub of operations in Helldivers 2 (complete with customizable name). The militaristic sci-fi ship is outfitted with NPCs, an armory for outfitting your Helldiver, and a giant glowing holographic planet detailing the next mission destination. Accessing the hologram also showcases community stats like total active Helldivers, enemies killed, Helldivers killed in action, and bullets fired. The planetary map also offers a strategic overview of the map, letting players see key objections, extraction points, and choose their drop zones.
Stratagems are Helldivers’ critical lifeline to the might of the orbiting military ships. These equippable commands include supply drops, orbital attacks, deployable defenses, and more. Players execute Stratagems by holding L1 and inputting a code with the directional buttons, similar to entering old-school video game cheat codes. Stratagems become available again after a cooldown period. The process of using a Stratagem is easy outside combat, but accuracy can go out the window when battles break out.
Check out some Stratagems that stood out to me as especially valuable and satisfying:
Orbital Laser – A massive beam of energy projects from above, scorching enemy forces in a spectacular and deadly display.
Tesla Tower – This deployable defense electrifies nearby foes with sprawling Tesla coils. Don’t drop it too close to your crew.
Anti-Material Rifle – At least one Helldiver should pack this high-powered sniper rifle. The range and impact punches through enemy armor like butter.
Stalwart – This machine gun packs a punch and beefy ammo capacity. Drop it at the beginning of the mission so you or your allies can equip it.
Anti-Tank Missile – A devastating projectile that can down bigger foes in one shot. Partner with another Helldiver to speed up the reload process, but watch out for the recoil blast.
Game mode variety
Arrowhead has a host of mission types for Helldivers to drop into. Horde mode involves defending a key area, which means it’s valuable to equip Stratagems like deployable sentry guns or Tesla Towers and group-protecting shields. Bug nest extermination missions involve wiping out clusters of eggs, so grenades and wide-radius precision orbital strikes come in handy. My favorite mode was Automaton Control, which involved closing down lethal robot assembly lines by gunning down enemies and tossing grenades into the factory vents.
Chaos is bound to break out even amongst well-oiled Helldiver teams. Thankfully, pressing the Circle button makes your soldier dive for safety. Teammate accidentally calls in an Orbital Strike on top of your head? Dive! Suddenly step into your own sentry guns’ line of fire? Dive! Looking for a needlessly dramatic entrance into the fray? You guessed it… dive!
Friendly fire everywhere
Carelessness will get you killed on the battlefields of Helldivers 2. Your teammates’ bullets are agnostic, and shredding one another is lethally easy. This extends to your own deployed mines, gatling turrets, Tesla Towers, and more. Survival means keeping your head on a swivel and overcommunicating when your fellow soldier is about to be squashed by a supply drop. Expect to chew through some lives thanks to hilarious, spectacular fails.
Speaking of fails, teams share a pool of lives which depletes each time a player dies. You can quickly redeploy a replacement Helldiver by inputting a contextual Stratagem code, and even choose where their Hell Pod drops. Players can tune their drop location on the way back to the battlefield, either to land in safety or crush an enemy with a lucky landing. In my experience, the number of lives was well tuned for the increasing difficulty arc as we remained on the planet, just enough to keep the tension alive.
Procedurally generated maps
Every drop feels new thanks to Arrowhead’s procedurally generated maps. You’ll explore biomes like a tropical jungle, craggy lunar surface, gray rocky planet bristling with exotic red flora, and much more. The layout of the environment changes as well, meaning enemy bases, secondary objectives, and the terrain itself will present unique scenarios for each mission.
One example shared by Arrowhead involved a duo of bug nests standing between players and the extraction point. The bugs swarmed the lone path leading to their exit, but the numbers were too great to defeat. The Helldivers strategized by calling in a smoke screen Stratagem to blind the bugs and sneak past to victory. This is just one example of how shifting mission layouts can result in emergent war stories.
Make handy work of your robotic foes by equipping a high-powered sniper rifle.
Arrowhead looks at Helldivers 2 as a “global co-op” game. The entire player base combines forces to fight encroaching enemies for the liberty of Super Earth. The galactic map is made up of sectors, and each is composed of planetary clusters. When the community clears out all planets in a sector, it’s then claimed for Super Earth and participating players receive a reward. The liberation effort is represented by a progress bar on the map.
Prepare for incoming waves by dropping a spray of proximity mines. But watch out, Helldives can detonate them, too.
Orders & Effects
Arrowhead has a Game Master in the studio who sets Major Orders for the community to unite and complete for community rewards. One Major Order example in effect during my hands-on involved extracting from a successful mission three times. There are also cycling Environmental Conditions to consider, like Extreme Cold which reduces the rate of fire and delays heat buildup in weapons. Paying attention to conditions can help players plan for a smooth mission and equip gear and Stratagems that suit the planetary environment.
This is only a taste of what the treacherous yet rewarding life of a Helldiver entails. You can enlist and test your survival skills on interplanetary battlefields when Helldivers 2 drops on PS5 February 8.