Helldivers 2 is an avocation to the battle-hardened

Since I started playing Helldivers 2 a month ago, I have experienced a host of feelings I haven’t had since I discovered EVE Online nearly 15 years prior. These were feelings of excitement and anticipation. I couldn’t tell you why, but what I had seen of the game made me eager to try it out. But I didn’t write a review right away because I didn’t want to be hasty, I wanted to put in some time because reviewers who hadn’t, seemed unilaterally to hate the game and anyone who played for more than fifty hours seemed to love it. I decided I wouldn’t say a word until I played for a hundred hours and had the opportunity to reach an informed decision. I love it but not without a few reservations I wouldn’t mind seeing fixed in the future.

Helldivers 2 is a third-person shooter game developed by Arrowhead Game Studios and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment. It was released on February 8, 2024 for PlayStation 5 and Windows. (There are rumors of an Xbox port in the works…) The game is a sequel to 2015’s Helldivers, a top-down shooter and has received generally favorable reviews. However, it has also generated a variety of varying perspectives because of how the game is configured, its updates, the overall game stability and the very steep learning curve. The CEO of Arrowhead, Johan Pilestedt has reported the game has sold at least 3 million units, though the games publisher, Sony has not released any official statements. The rumor mill says the number is closer to 5 million but I need more research. Either number is staggering for a game that was released in February.

    Is Helldivers 2 Fun to Play?

    Helldiver with AC-8 Autocannon saluting his Exo-45 Patriot Exosuit

    Let’s start at the beginning: Is it fun to play? All my signs point to yes. It’s frantic as you struggle to learn how to play and not end up on the menu for the Terminids or converted into a robotic slave of the Automatons. It took me a minute to learn what I needed to know, but once I did, the game took on an entirely new meaning

      • If you like third person, over the shoulder shooters, with the option to switch to first person aiming (nice!)
      • If you like battling against overwhelming enemy forces — ridiculous numbers of enemies will spawn if you aren’t careful
      • If you like somewhat realistic but ridiculous weapons — the outlying weapons with weird limitations are the most fun
      • Whose design simulate difficult-to-use or bulky technology — clunky tech is part of the games charm
      • If you like learning how to interface with a technology which will give you the ability to control air support and orbital weapons then you have come to the right place.

    Helldivers 2 is a multiplayer tactical simulator where you (and up to three other players) are engaged in a galactic war on a host of other planets, each with their own ecosystem, terrain and environmental hazards, with, at the moment two major threats, the insect-like but oversized Terminids and the machine/cyborg menace of the Automatons. Between the two factions there are at least 30 unique units and structures just waiting for some steel-jacketed democracy to be directed toward them.

    Game lore hints but does not confirm both of these threats may have Human origins but that is another story whose origins remain shrouded in propaganda. Ah. the other aspect of this game which brings a particular flavor (or stink, depending on who you ask) is its narrative background of “Managed Democracy.”


    Super Earth sends its finest Helldiver squads to repel a Terminid invasion of a precious colony world.

    If you look at the narrative woven into the story, you will find some relationship to the venerable Starship Troopers (1997) film where humanity lives in a neo-fascist state where the civilians of that world prove their value to the government by joining a military contingent to protect the Earth from an insect-like group alien invading species, commonly called The Bugs.

    Helldivers 2 absconds with this premise and adds the Automatons, who resemble the ferocity and tenacity of the famed Terminator film franchise to create a fast moving and tactical playpen where galactic war and shouts of “Have a cup of LIBER-TEA!” are shouted with vigor as you are mowing down aliens for ‘managed democracy’.

    The game has one other feature I have not mentioned because it deserves a paragraph on its own: Friendly fire is allowed. You can and will likely hit, damage and occasionally kill other players. Anyone who has played in cooperative games where player killing can occur already recognizes the challenges in this significant departure from most game design. Unlike some first person shooters such as Destiny 2, Helldivers 2 does not protect the players from shooting each other during an operation, adding to the need for ‘trigger discipline’ mindfulness of the location of your fellow helldivers, and the continued coordination of your efforts when using weapons of orbital or aerial mass destruction.

    In the early hours of your game, you will likely kill yourself once you discover aerial or satellite enabled bombardments of the battlefield. This is perfectly normal. You may also find that as the game gets more frantic as you increase in level or increase the level of danger in a session, friendly fire is a part of game play, like it or not. We’ll come back to this particular challenge in a minute. The game offers session matching between the PlayStation 5 and the PC versions of the game allowing players to coordinate and fight together no matter which platform you are playing with. This also means the two cultures and types of gamers come into conflict. One of the things which may make a game resonate with its players, the ability to control the way players can interact, is also one of the primary challenges with Helldivers 2: the power to kick players from a session, without warning, without reason.


    A Helldiver uses his navigation HUD to study his objectives and keep an eye on more distant squad mates.

    Okay that’s not quite true… When a session begins, the person who is leading the session maintains the power, at any time to put a player out of the session and unscrupulous types are known to have players run an entire mission, gather materials used to upgrade players and their technology and at the last moment during extraction, kick them from the team, leaving them to gain no experience, no resources, and none of the materials for player development.

    Players hate this. I hate this. It is one of the reasons I was hesitant to play once I experienced it. Since I hadn’t read anything on the game, I did not know this was a possibility. It remains once of the most devisive aspects of gameplay. Currently there is no cure for this reprehensible behavior other than blocking the individual who kicked you. I take a screenshot of every session when I start so I have everyone’s name. Should I be kicked, only the host can kick you so, you know the host by their ID number, they are always marked with the number 1 in the player IDs. If I find myself suspiciously kicked, I note that person and may block them. The other problem with this process is it does not take into account SYSTEM STABILITY which is also present.

    Did you get kicked because N-1 is a bastard or because the system crashed and kicked you from the session? There is no way for the discerning player to know for sure. Worse, as I read the trade publications, you will find there are a variety of social reasons having nothing to do with gameplay or technology which players use to kick players which include:

      • Not using acceptable technologies, stratagems or builds
      • Wearing an armor or cape declared verboten by certain players
      • Being a low level player in a high danger mission
      • Not having a microphone (to aid in coordination in play)


      Helldiver watching as two dropships converge on his position. One dropship is in the process of being shot down. So sad.

      The game has numerous strengths but it’s greatest is the dedication of the Arrowhead Game Studios team toward making and managing their player experience. The game provides directives called Major Orders which players use to earn Requisition Medals (one of the various forms of currency in the game used to purchase equipment upgrades) and these orders help direct player activities. While no one is required to engage in any Major Order, the player experience is incentivized through major and minor orders allowing players to gain requisition by engaging in activities independent of the Major Orders.

      The game shines in the way the Game Masters (particularly the legendary Joel) alters its vast, ever-changing galactic warfront that shifts depending on how the players logging in around the world perform. Since players can team up and complete missions on planets (each planet can have upwards of 20 to 30 independent missions) which constantly renew and evolve during the course of play before a planet is secured or lost to enemy action.

      Soldiers can team up with each other and complete missions on a variety of different hostile planets, which impacts the status of the war that is at the center of gameplay. This is a cooperative game featuring a galactic war in which Joel creates challenges to keep the game live and spicy. Joel has the ability to counter any player success with the creatures at his disposal, which can subsequently alter the game’s difficulty. The upgrades to the game can be considered one of the strengths (or weaknesses depending on whom you ask) where weapons are constantly modulated and tuned for game balance. It also means you may have to keep your eyes on your favorites as they may change if they are declared too strong or out of balance with other weapons.

      The game is fast, but not too fast. Helldivers 2 is trying to make you feel limited by the capacity of the technology you can carry. You are an army of one, but you rarely feel as if you are completely in control of everything going on. At least until you reach the higher levels. I have watched videos of higher level players using stealth on level 9 Helldive scenarios (where Helldivers gets its name) who seem to have mastered an understanding of the battlefield, their enemies and remain calm under fire. I am not there yet.


      The most infamous Major Order ever delivered, “Kill 2 billion Terminids.” Completed by the next day.

      Joel has achieved a cult status in their willingness to challenge the players with more difficult and complex missions. A recent order which surprise everyone was the request for Terminid Operations to destroy 2 BILLION Terminids within a week. The Major Order was completed in a little over a day. Everyone was completely surprised by this. The game’s response was to have the Automatons renew their war effort dropping new units, taking new planets, and releasing upgraded enemies requiring new tactics to handle them.

      Despite its early design flaws and problematic player base (a tiny segment of the otherwise excellent gaming community) the game boasts powerful and diverse social media interactions with players over Xitter and Discord, a well-designed and challenging gameplay experience allowing you to play the game in the manner which best suits your individual tastes, leaves me to declare this game as WORTHY. The Answer-Man rates Helldivers 2 a solid 8.5.

      I will post my own articles and builds using designs I have researched or found quality research online to aid new players in mastering the various screens, resources and interfaces this game has to offer. That column will be called “Managed Democracy Monthly.”


      “HELLDIVERS™ 2 is a 3rd person squad-based shooter that sees the elite forces of the Helldivers battling to win an intergalactic struggle to rid the galaxy of the rising alien threats. From a 3rd person perspective, players use a variety of weapons (pistols, machine guns, flamethrowers) and stratagems (turrets, airstrikes, etc.) to shoot and kill the alien threats. Players can also aim down the sights for a more accurate 1st person camera view. Combat is accompanied by frequent sprays of blood and dismemberment as players exterminate the alien forces or players and squad mates are hit by environmental explosions or friendly fire. Enemy encampments and battlefield environments depict bloodstains and dismembered corpses.”

      – 30 –

      Thaddeus Howze
      Thaddeus Howze

      Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist creating speculative fiction, scientific, political and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California.
      Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.