Helldivers 2 Review: The biggest bugs are technical

Helldivers 2 is has two enemy factions that players face off against: Terminator-esque Automatons and Tyranid-like Terminids. The latter faction is usually referred to as bugs with players tasked with endlessly slaying them like a bunch a comically armed exterminators that not even Seth MacFarlane could touch in his prime.

It’s even funnier, then, that the biggest bugs players will need to deal with are technical and not alien in nature.

Released in 2015 the original Helldivers was a top-down, twin-stick shooter developed by Arrowhead and published by PlayStation. The game garnered a dedicated fanbase who appreciated the hefty gameplay, the built-in humour and the humour from slightly encouraged teamkilling, and the use of Strategems – a core pillar of the gameplay, the titular Helldiver characters can call in support from orbit by playing a quick directional minigame to summon in weapons, vehicles, mechs, explosives, and more.

Helldivers 2 takes all of that (well most of that) and shifts the perspective into a third person shooter with Arrowhead and PlayStation both returning. As a simultaneous launch on PlayStation 5 and PC the pair were hoping to bring in as many people as possible, and boy it sure did, but we’ll get to that a bit later.

Booting up Helldivers 2 starts with a cheesy cutscene that shows off the Paul Verhoeven influence that permeates much of the game. After that it’s off to a tutorial which gives the players what they need to know on top of constant, humorous encouragement that really hammers home how the player character, a Helldiver, is just more meat for the meatgrinder of their home planet Super Earth.

With foresight of more hours played we really think this tutorial needs to go on for longer. There’s a lot of mechanics, important interactions and UI use that is not taught here. Even with the in-game text tutorials that pop up as you play, it’s still not enough.

Going from the tutorial to our first mission and Helldivers 2 is a joy to play. Movement and gunplay is weighty and satisfying and you can even use middle mouse click to go into a first person aim for more precise shots (this isn’t shown in the tutorial, by the way). The game really shines when things are going off the wall and the is is thick with flying ammunition, viscera and panicked shouts, either from teammates over the mic or from the player characters which have voicelines.

Unfortunately it’s in these hectic moments where Helldivers 2 really chugs. The recommended specs for Helldivers 2 are actually quite high and left our aging mid-range PC suffering. Our machine has a Ryzen 5 3600, RTX 3060, 16GB of RAM, and an NVMe SSD for game storage. We hardly ever stayed at the native 75Hz of our screen (at 1080p) and had to drop it to low for things to be stable. This isn’t just an us problem as we’ve seen other players with better specs also struggling.

But low FPS results are just the tip of the iceberg. Helldivers 2 has become one of the most popular games on the planet recently with Steam’s official charts showing that it is the top selling game on the site right now and constantly near the top in terms of most amount of players in-game competing with established titles like Counter-Strike 2, Dota 2, PUBG, Apex Legends and more. Even follow newcomer and similar success story Palworld has, at times, less players than Helldivers 2.

And just remember these are just people on PC. Helldivers 2 has crossplay with PS5 so all these players are diving into this game at once.

Don’t quite quickplay, is it? Don’t be fooled by the zeroes on the side of the planet. Part of the UI that was actually working indicated that nearly 90 000 players where on this planet and we couldn’t reach a single one of them.

The result of hundreds of thousands of players – if not millions – descending on Helldivers 2 servers? The game is unplayable. We don’t mean the meme explanation of unplayable where the graphics or FPS may be bad – you literally cannot play Helldivers 2 right now.

For the past few days we have been unable to access this game. Even if we were able to summon all our zen and sit through the log in queue, which was added after launch as player numbers grew, once we were in the game it was impossible to start missions, join other players or even access certain parts of the menus.

The entire structure of Helldivers 2 has completely broken down under the weight of the playerbase and the relatively small team at Arrowhead has simply been unable to right the ship.

We have seen some members of the community have more luck than us and even some blessed individuals who are completely unscathed and continue to have fun, but this is not the majority experience in Helldivers 2. Steam reviews show a massive wave of negative opinions flowing in as they are similarly unable to access the game they paid good money for.

Steam reviews don’t impact our review, but we just have to highlight these problems.

All of this is a real shame because, in the rare moments Helldivers 2 works as intended, it is a simple joy. The massive success that it has brought in isn’t some big internet joke or an effort lead by one or two popular streamers, it is organic on the back of the quality of the game.

On top of the joys of moving and shooting as we mentioned earlier, there’s a deeper layer of strategy that you can engage with. Our favourite examples are the secondary missions on some maps that can have a big impact on your success. Certain Terminid missions, for examples, are almost impossible to see due to an unnatural fog. These are actually spores in the air and you can clear this by destroying its source.

Another example is Automaton maps where backup is called in by the robots which arrive in flying vehicles. If you repair and rearm an AA emplacement on the map these will be shot down so you have an easier time.

On top of this the work you put in before a match by carefully managing your loadout really pays dividends and it feels like all the weapons and Stratagem have some use with little needless overlap or useless inclusions. It’s all great and the progression feels fun and fair despite the presence of a premium currency.

Where did all the menu items go?

But again we have to balance this praise with the fact that Helldivers 2 simply doesn’t have enough content in it. Remember the vehicles and mechs we mentioned from the first game? They’re not here for the sequel. Now Arrowhead has promised that mechs will be added some time in the future but, just like the the endless server issues and bugs, that doesn’t really help people who have already handed over their money.

All of this leads to Helldivers 2 coming across very much like an unfinished Early Access title that was not ready for a 1.0 release. While more time in the cooker probably wouldn’t have hardened the servers to the unexpected growth of the game, it would have given us more content at launch.

It maybe would have also improved the dreadful singleplayer experience here. Helldivers 2 is designed from the ground up to be a co-op experience but we really don’t see why some tweaks couldn’t have been implemented to make singleplayer more viable. Give the singletons an extra Stratagem slot for drones or sentries so they have some mechanised support.

Better yet AI Helldivers would have been even better. Give singleplayer more lives or better rewards or something to make it so much lesser compared to playing with others.

Playing on your own is also one of the things you can do when the servers refuse to connect you to other players, so making this better would give players more to do when they can’t play with others.

The only people we can recommend it to right now are those with a dedicated friend group who not only has the patience to routinely log to grind, but also have the saintly patience to suffer endless queues and loading times, hours of lost progress and other annoyances.

Oh and you also have to expose your PC to the root-level tendrils of nProtect Gameguard, an anti-cheating software that has unfettered access to your machine in the prospects of preventing cheating. Yes this co-op game that Arrowhead has said will never have PvP for some reason needs to infiltrate your computer if you want to play this game at all. Make sure your friend group is okay with that too.

The unexpected success of Helldivers 2 has brought hundreds of thousands of players and millions of dollars to developer Arrowhead and publisher PlayStation. Despite the technical and server issues, for them it’s very much a case of suffering from success. For the actual players trying to enjoy the product they paid for, it’s just suffering.



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