The first time someone joined my Helldivers game, his drop pod landed squarely on top of me, splattering me across the landscape. My erstwhile teammate was also apparently fairly new to the game, and proceeded to parade around the map with an enormous horde of aliens snapping at his heels while he tried to figure out how to call reinforcements in so I could rejoin my own game.
Helldivers is a top-down, cooperative action game set in a generic sci-fi setting. Up to four players work together to complete objectives during missions to unlock experience points, gear, and research points to upgrade their gear. Chains of missions can be beaten to conquer planets, which feeds into the Helldivers meta-game, which is quite clever. In the meta-game, humanity is fighting a war on three fronts (corresponding to the three alien races you’ll encounter). Each front is divided into sectors, and as you conquer each sector you get closer to the enemy home planets, which when defeated knock that enemy out of the current “war”. Every planet individual players defeat contributes to the point threshold in each sector, which is conquered when the required threshold is reached. Occasionally the enemy will go on the offensive, forcing you to defend planets (and ultimately Earth). If Earth falls, the current war ends and a new war begins in a presumably alternate reality.
Arrowhead Game Studios is known primarily for Magicka, another top-down, cooperative action game where players complete button combinations to call down spells. It was infamous for its utter chaos, as friendly fire (whether purposeful or accidental) was an ever-present danger. In fact, it’s kind of a feature of the game because of the hilarity that ensues, but you can’t take yourself too seriously, or expect to make a tremendous amount of progress, otherwise you’ll end up getting frustrated at the constant lightning bolts and blizzards your team mates keep summoning to wipe out your entire team – and maybe some of the monsters too.
Helldivers requires a similar sense of humor. It’s designed to be played with four players, and each player is constantly calling in orbital bombardments, resupply drop pods, vehicles, and equipment. Each one of these can kill you when they enter the map. You’ll die if you stand in front of a teammate while he’s firing, if you’re too close to his mech when he walks, if you jump out of your vehicle while it’s still moving and it runs you over, if you jump off the side of a cliff, drop a grenade at your own feet, or die from the actual enemies in the game. It’s all part of the fun, but it presupposes that everyone is taking a similar, light-hearted yet directed approach to the game. Unlike Magicka, there are actual objectives which need to be completed and items to be collected on every map.
In my experience, the vast majority of those I played with had the best of intentions and took the chaos in their stride. It’s to be expected that everyone will die at some point, whether by his ally or the enemy. What becomes frustrating, though, are the players who aren’t willing to spend the time to collect all the scientific samples, which leads me to the progression system.
As you level up, you unlock additional weapons and gear you can equip for missions. Each of these items can be leveled up using research points. You receive one research point every time you level up and one for every ten scientific samples you collect during your missions. As you level up, though, each additional level requires exponentially more experience points (and you only get experience from successfully completing missions – you don’t get any from killing enemies), which results in research points becoming more and more difficult to obtain. You can usually collect enough scientific samples during a mission to receive a research point, but only if everyone works together to collect them all. This leads to the unfortunate situation where the scientific samples are far more valuable than whatever experience you gain during the mission – unless it’s an extraordinarily high difficulty mission.
I find myself setting up private games regularly just so I can collect samples in peace, without having to corral the rest of my team to follow. I would always end up opening my games to the public, though, as it’s just more fun with a team. I appreciate that you can play solo, though, when you feel like it. It is certainly worth mentioning here as well that you can play local multiplayer. If you have a gamepad and a keyboard, two players can play using your computer, which far too few games allow now.
There’s a wide variety of weapons, vehicles, and equipment to use, so you can vary your playstyle as you please. Unfortunately, there is not a matching variation in the environments and objectives, and you will see these recycled regularly and often. Despite that, each map requires a different approach which prevents you from feeling excessive deja vu.
I’m having an incredibly fun time with Helldivers regardless of repetition issues, and am finding the community welcoming and competent for the most part. On the basis of pure fun, I wholeheartedly recomment Helldivers. However, I haven’t talked about the large amount of DLC, which unlocks some useful and powerful gear.
The base game is $19.99, and to buy all the DLC in a single pack will set you back $24.99 (or you could buy each of the fourteen individual DLCs at $2.99-3.99 a piece). Not all of it is necessary, and much of it is comparable to gear you unlock in the base game, but some of the items don’t have any comparable parallel, which makes those DLCs feel like necessary add-ons. Particularly egregious is the Terrain Specialist Pack, which gives you a perk which allows you to run full speed on snow and swamp terrain (terrain which can fill the entirety of a mission). The two other DLC which I would consider necessary are the Entrenched Pack, which provides additional defensive turrets and slowing effects not present in the main game, and the Ranger Pack, which unlocks an unmanned drone which reveals objectives and sample locations on the map.
All in all, Helldivers is tremendous fun and provides excellent value. It’s a shame that several DLC are considered essential to enjoy the game to its fullest, but I suppose you can always get those on sale.
The image is taken from the Helldivers Steam page.
Released: March 3, 2015 (PS3)/December 15, 2015 (PC) | Developer: Arrowhead Game Studios
Platforms: PC, PS3, PS4 | On Steam