Helldivers is the latest game from Arrowhead Games and was their first game developed originally for PSN and is now making the move to the PC. While it may feel like their previous hit Magicka at first, there are a lot of new things out there in space.
Helldivers takes place on Super Earth, a pro military world similar to the setting of Starship Troopers. Super Earth is being threatened by a variety of alien forces and you have signed up to be a helldiver: Elite soldiers who fight for freedom and democracy.
Instead of featuring a story mode, the game is all about the grand campaign. How it works is that everyone playing Helldivers must work together to conquer territories held by the enemy factions. Planets are procedurally generated for each player depending on their experience level. The planets themselves will have missions for you to do; with different enemies depending on what faction you’re fighting.
Complete all the missions on a planet to conquer it, which will contribute influence points to the grand campaign. When enough players have contributed, the region will be taken over and everyone will move on to the next and more challenging areas.
To prevent players from being overwhelmed, planet generation is based on the player’s experience level with a current limit of 12 planets or 12 difficulty levels available, with increased threats and experience rewards as you go up. Leveling up will also unlock new weapons and cosmetic features for their helldiver.
When it comes time to fight, Helldivers feels very much like Magicka, in that you have four people who have to work together and try not to kill each other by accident.
Combat in Helldivers plays out from an isometric perspective with up to four players teaming up at once. Each mission has a set of predefined objectives that are randomly placed on the planet for you to achieve; these missions range from collecting important data, holding points, killing elite enemies and more. Once all the missions are complete, you’ll have to get to the evac point and survive until a shuttle comes to get you.
The enemies you’ll fight will be dependent on the difficulty level of the planet and what faction you are currently at war with. Each faction has patrol enemies who if they aren’t taken out quick enough, they will raise an alarm to spawn more enemies to fight you. This can become a negative feedback loop as you try to kill the spawned enemies when another patrol comes along and raises the alarm again and repeat again and again and again.
As a Helldiver, you are limited to a primary weapon, secondary pistol, one passive perk and strategems: Powerful abilities that require you to enter in a command code to use.
The strategems are your trump cards and allow you to do everything from call in air support, drop down power armor, ammo supplies and more. These strategems can also be upgraded using research points to be made more effective.
When you’re playing with friends and if anyone dies, someone will need to use a reinforce strategem to bring them back. In singleplayer mode, you’ll have two lives which replenish after each completed objective.
What makes Helldivers interesting is the concept of the galactic war and how it impacts the meta-game.
Helldivers main selling point is how everyone contributes to the war effort by playing the game. As more players earn influence points, the sectors leading to the enemy home world will become taken over and eventually all the players can take part in a siege on the enemy home world. By contributing to a successful campaign, you’ll unlock special cosmetic options. Conversely, the enemy may attack Super Earth and the players may be called to defend it, if they fail, the war ends and they’ll have to move on to another faction. There is also a special super hard mission for each front that will require a full team to take on an epic encounter for a special reward.
What’s interesting about the progression model is that each war front of the three alien races will provide you with different rewards along with the standard rewards you get from leveling up. This means that there are a lot of upgrades to find and helps to give you a reason to keep playing following the end of a war.
This kind of setup makes the importance of having a strong community all the more so, and it takes me to my problem with the game.
Helldivers is an excellent multiplayer coop game, which should come to no surprise for people who played Magicka before it. However, it also suffers from the same problem that Magicka had in the lack of scaling content for multiple people. Helldivers is designed first and foremost as a coop game; from fighting higher tier enemies to some of the mission objectives. If you try to play the game solo, the later challenges will be hard to the point of borderline impossible due to how the game balance is set.
There were plenty of times where I died simply because I didn’t have backup and there was no way to get out the situation by myself. Enemies are so powerful and have enough health that one person will go down very fast or run out of ammo quickly from fighting solo.
The game is a completely different experience when you have a full group of players, where you can begin to plan your group’s equipment around each other and work together for a common goal. It’s these moments when you have four players going at it on the hardest setting that Helldivers shines the most.
Another issue I have with the game comes down to the progression model. While you can go up to level 50 and there are a lot of upgrades and strategems to get, there isn’t much in terms of vertical growth like new challenges and situations. At this moment, there is only difficulty level 12 in the game, which leaves you with 38 more experience levels to grind out.
Similar to Forced, this is a game that lives or dies based on the online community or having friends to join you; the game is not only better with friends, but is also better balanced; due to everyone being able to define their Helldiver differently to work with the group. I can’t stressed this enough, if you have no intention of playing Helldivers with other people (local coop or online,) this is not the game for you.
Helldivers continues Arrowhead Games’ track record of insanely creative coop experiences. The framework here gives them a lot of freedom to expand on things now that it’s available on Steam, which I really hope they do. We need more coop games and Helldivers’ combination of arcade play with customization is a great one.
For a lot of footage of me dying for freedom, here are the videos I’ve made of me playing the public beta and eventually beyond of Helldivers.