The jury's still out on whether Sony's live-service push will prove fruitful or not, but Helldivers 2 at least gets it off on the front foot. The satisfying addictiveness of the Arrowhead Game Studios follow-up will see it fit perfectly in a rotation of other online and single player titles, circumventing the pull of another game you might lose all your free time to. Always eager to fit one more skirmish in, new equipment and evolving planets will keep you coming back for more. Get a group of friends onboard and Helldivers 2 proves just as consistently enjoyable as it is an evolutionary sequel.
We recently had the chance to sample roughly three hours of the multiplayer bug-fest at a London preview event, which revealed how Helldivers 2 plays on both a planet's surface and up in the stars aboard your own spaceship. Our hands on session picked up right in the thick of the action, skipping the tutorial and any tongue-in-cheek story setup. We finished multiple missions across a few different planets and then took the time to fine-tune the weapons and items available in our next assignment by spending currencies and unlocking upgrades. This is the main loop you'll go through during play and it's what makes pushing your bedtime back for one more round so enticing.
Missions in Helldivers 2 have a 40-minute time limit, but when you extract and complete it is up to you. You'll be handed a main objective on the surface, and then you can choose to tick off optional errands alongside it. They include finishing points of interest and collecting samples and currencies for use back on your ship, though you run the risk of failing the level and losing everything if your team succumbs to an alien bug swarm.
From the small to the mighty, the insects living on each planet will be the difference between success and failure. Every mission is procedurally generated, so you'll never quite know what to expect over the next hill. They can swarm in large packs — especially if only a few bullets finishes them off — or hunt down your teammates alone, confident in their own HP pool and a weak point to protect. Either way, you'll need to work together to ensure everyone extracts alive and well and choose your side tasks wisely.
Objectives in our preview session included taking down specific bugs, defending a point, and launching a rocket. What helps you on the way to accomplishing such duties is a returning mechanic from the first game: Stratagems. Unlocked and customised before starting each mission, these are weapons and abilities that form your loadout. They can be as simple as a heavy machine gun or a flamethrower for added firepower, or as important as encounter-changing missile barrages and orbital lasers. Called in through a D-pad button combo (again, just like the original title), they act on quick cooldowns to be called in multiple times per level.
Stratagems are what hand the experience its variety, as you'll want to mix and match your loadout to fit the objectives at hand. Some are more defensive to make guarding positions on the map a little easier while others are all about damage dealing — you'll need to make sure you and your team have the correct makeup of Stratagems to excel. Be warned that friendly fire is once again a thing (and you can't turn it off), so commanding friends away from the bigger explosions is just as vital as calling in the Stratagem itself.
Though, it strikes at the heart of what Helldivers 2 is all about: fun. The game is the perfect excuse to switch your brain off (to a degree) and down legions of bugs all for army generals who couldn't care less whether you die or not. It doesn't have the depth of other online games, but that can be taken as a positive; rather than busying yourself with features that feel more like work, Arrowhead Studios wants you down on the surface blasting bugs for as long as you can take it.
There are still some progression paths to guide you through the title, though, and they are all found up in space on your ship. Here, you'll be able to select your next mission from an interactive war table, unlock new Stratagems, interact with a few NPCs, and play a minigame. It works as a small hub area where you'll find your squad and then head out into the field once everyone's suited and booted.
You'll also find an Acquisitions menu just a single button press away when aboard your spaceship, and it's here where you'll earn new items by spending currencies. Sony PR representatives explained that the build we played didn't have its menus finalised, so some of this might well change upon release, but it appears your main expenditure will be medals earned during missions to unlock new cosmetic pieces. There were pages upon pages of items to claim in the preview build, so you won't be left without something to yearn for. The menu also had a space for a premium currency you'll buy with real money.
Back down on the gravel is obviously where Helldivers 2 is at its best, though. With a new third-person camera to make the action feel more personal and intense, Sony seems to have struck gold with a multiplayer experience prioritising entertainment over playtime. You don't need to give up playing everything else to accommodate Helldivers 2, with its fun-filled missions adaptable to your playstyle. The full launch is now less than a week away, so it's not long until the final version can be put through its paces. Based on what we've played, though, Arrowhead Studios is onto a PS5 winner you'll want to return to time and time again over the coming years just for some bug-blasting mayhem. It's great fun, and sometimes, that's all you need.
Are you excited to play Helldivers 2 on PS5 come 8th February 2024? Have you got your pre-order in yet? Post all of your impressions in the comments below.