Helldivers 2: How to Dive Into the Surprise-Hit Squad Shooter – CNET


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Helldivers 2 is this year’s surprise-hit game, packing a humorous nationalism-in-space theme and frenetic third-person shooter gameplay. Exclusive to the PlayStation 5 console and Windows PCs, the game has sold more than 8 million copies since its Feb. 8 debut. (Sorry, Xbox fans — seems like it’s not coming to your console anytime soon.)

Developed by Arrowhead Game Studios, Helldivers 2 is a cooperative third-person shooter. It’s set 100 years after the first game, and you play as an elite trooper known as a Helldiver, plummeting to planets from spaceships to fight the enemies of mankind. You’ll have to fight off alien attacks and protect outposts of Super Earth across the galaxy, which you can do alone or with up to three squad mates.

Helldivers 2 has been buoyed by its over-the-top action and gameplay — and a price point that’s considerably lower than what you see with most new titles. It’s priced at between $33 and $40. The typical charge for a big triple-A game release is $60 to $70.

But some casual gamers, who just want to jump into a silly, fast-paced action title with friends, are finding that Helldivers 2 takes a little bit of getting used to. In addition to some issues that the game’s developers have been having with cross-platform friend requests, Helldivers 2 carries over its unusual “stratagem” mechanic from the first Helldivers (essentially how you call in supplies and fire support), and it requires rethinking the usual run-and-gun strategies you might employ in other shooters. 

Despite a tutorial that’s fun and satirical, you don’t get much guidance on choosing missions or upgrading your arsenal for the battlefield. Here’s some of what we’ve learned as we’ve gotten up to speed on the fight for Managed Democracy across the galaxy.

A three-person squad of Helldivers marches through the jungle with various weapons.

In Helldivers 2, you can launch into matches solo, but in some of the game’s challenges you benefit from the backup of one to three squad mates.

Arrowhead Game Studios

Getting started with Helldivers 2

After you’ve purchased the game, you’ll need to play it either on the Steam platform, if you’re a PC gamer, or on a PS5 with an active PlayStation Network subscription. When you start the game, you’ll have the option to link your Steam and PlayStation accounts to enable cross-play, in which PC and PS5 players can friend each other and join up on missions with up to four players.

When you launch the game, you’ll see an intro movie about the glories of Super Earth and the necessity of galactic war, followed by a tutorial which’ll show you how to move around, use guns and grenades, and launch stratagems.

Stratagems are codes you enter while on missions in order to call down supplies, ordnance attacks and other goodies from your own Star Destroyer-like orbiting ship. You enter the codes like old-school video game codes, using your controller’s directional pad or the WASD keys on your keyboard — for instance, “right, right, up” for an Orbital Precision Strike or “up, down, right, left, up” to “Reinforce,” or bring back a dead teammate with a brand-new body and gear. 

One of the tricky things about the game is getting used to entering these codes even as you’re fighting with space insects and heading toward your waypoints on a map of the planet you’re on. Fortunately, the codes are always the same, so it’s helpful to memorize your most-used stratagems — including calling for reinforcements when your teammates die gruesome deaths.

You’ll land with a limited amount of ammunition, which can be replenished by finding ammo crates on the ground, typically next to buildings, or by using the supplies stratagem. You’ll want to explore random buildings anyway to find samples, which are used to buy upgrades for your ship, like shorter cooldowns for your strike stratagems. Just keep in mind that when you die, you’ll lose any samples you’ve collected — after you come back to the fight, you’ll have to pick them up off your dead body. And samples are collected for the whole team, so don’t race (or kill) your teammates to get the samples.

Speaking of killing your teammates, Helldivers 2 has friendly fire, so watch where you shoot, throw grenades, and call in airstrikes. Don’t take it personally if you’re on the wrong end of an orbital strike, and remember, you’re all on the same team — just lean in to the hilarious nature of occasionally getting blown up for the sake of Space Democracy.

It can be hard to figure out what to do when you land, so pay attention to the objective. Missions vary, but they generally follow a loop of visiting a location or two to recover data, destroy a building, or complete some other task, and then heading to an evac zone to call for a dropship to retrieve the squad. If you don’t know how a mission plays out, stick to your squad mates and watch what they do (or if you’re up for it, ask over voice chat what to do — some missions require coordinated actions). You’ll get extra experience and req credits if everyone makes it out alive, so stick to the evac zone when a dropship is called in, and get on board when it arrives — you’ll have only a short time to board before it leaves.

When you get back on board a ship after the mission, you can spend various in-game currencies to purchase upgrades. Medals will let you buy new weapons, stat-changing armor and cosmetics. Req credits can buy new stratagems, while the aforementioned samples can purchase ship upgrades. When you’ve unlocked different weapons and armor, you can switch them up in the armory — but don’t worry, the AR-23 Liberator assault rifle you start with is one of the most balanced and versatile guns in the game and can carry you far.

Teaming up and picking missions

As we mentioned earlier, some players have struggled with making cross-platform friend requests. If you’re playing alone, you can team up with random players by using Quickplay and then adding as friends people you meet along the way.

You can link up with friends on PC by using Steam’s platform menus, or by using the Helldivers 2 interface to add friends to the game from a list of your existing Steam contacts. Same goes for PlayStation 5. In settings, you must determine whether you want cross-platform gaming enabled (leave it off if you only want to play with teammates who are on the same platform) and whether you want to play in public games or friends-only games. 

Note that even if you enable friends-only games, you can still join missions with strangers who are hosting public games. If you want friends to come to your ship, invite them to join you. If you want to play on someone else’s ship, you can request to join their ship.

One of the hardest things to get used to in Helldivers 2 is simply figuring out what missions you should play when you’re starting out. The difficulty ramps up really quickly, and even veteran players will get blown up repeatedly during the more difficult missions. When you’re starting out, stick to the first two or three difficulty levels (“easy” can still be very challenging for new players). 

When you head to the ship’s mission selector, either seek out missions that are waiting for players (it’ll show 1/2, 2/3 or 3/4 representing each game lobby). If you have a full squad of four players already, look for missions that don’t have any players in them yet. Each helldiver must get onto a hellpod and choose their stratagems, then select Ready to launch the mission.

General gameplay tips

You’ll find plenty of advanced gameplay guides online, but the basics are: 

  • Remember there’s friendly fire, so avoid shooting or blowing up your teammates. 
  • Keep an eye on your ammo and remember that picking up supplies will add stacks of ammo into the weapon you have selected. 
  • Reloading weapons like machine guns and utilizing stratagems can take a while, so try to avoid doing that in the middle of a firefight. 
  • Communication is key: Make sure you’re on the same page as your teammates on what stratagems you’re choosing before you launch a mission, and continually communicate during the mission as to what you’re doing next and whether you need help.

Have fun! Helldivers 2 isn’t meant to be taken too seriously. And remember: You’ll die again and again and again. That’s part of the fun.

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