Based on the first couple of days with it, Helldivers 2 strikes me as hilarious, smartly designed, and intense whether I’m playing solo, with a squad of other random Helldivers, or serving up a nice hot cup of Liber-tea across the galaxy with buddies. I still need to see more of its varied missions, unlock a wider selection of its huge catalog of weapons, emotes, armor, and abilities, and see how Managed Democracy’s campaign against alien bugs and robots plays out during the long haul, so I’m not ready to give a final review just yet. But for right now, I’m enjoying traveling to exciting new places, meeting exotic life forms, and killing them for the glory of Super Earth. God, what a sentence.

After a gut-busting opening piece of mandatory propaganda (refusal to pay attention is treason) that explains that Super Earth is under attack from the robotic Automatons and the “legally-distinct-but-still-totally-the-bugs-from-Starship-Troopers” Terminids (which are also definitely not Warhammer 40K’s Tyranids!), you’re dropped into Helldiver basic training. Your instructor tells you that he isn’t easily impressed… before letting you know how impressed he is by the fact that you’re not backing down. After mercilessly gassing you up (remember, Super Earth is run by fascists; everything they do is awesome and perfect) and telling you how invincible you are – while conveniently avoiding the fact that the average Helldiver has a lifespan of about, oh, I don’t know, about 30 seconds – you’re given command of your own destroyer space ship (I named mine the Elected Representative of Family Values) and sent to the front lines with your buddies.

Once you’re out in the Galactic War, you’re free to head to either the Automaton or Terminid front to bring Liberty and Managed Democracy to their occupied planets. Each world has multiple missions with multiple objectives, which range from destroying Termanid eggs to activating your local, nuclear-armed ICBM. Just a regular day at the office.

Every mission so far has felt different, even if I’d done those objectives before.

What’s nice is that once I’d picked my landing zone and dropped in, every mission so far has felt different, even if I’d done those objectives before. That’s largely because maps are distinct and unique, even on the same planet because of the way the terrain changes – one map might have a lot of water and hills, while another might be heavily forested. On top of that, each mission usually has a couple of optional objectives to complete, like blowing up outposts or terminating a treasonous broadcast. So especially if you’re checking those out, no two missions play out the same way.

You don’t start with a big selection of gear — a couple of primary weapon options, a sidearm, and a grenade — but shooting feels satisfyingly weighty, especially with the DualSense’s haptics. Plus, Helldivers 2 forces you to coordinate to succeed as a group – or play smart if you’re alone. You’re racing against the clock and your squad’s limited reinforcements (AKA extra lives) so you have to pick your priorities, manage your resources, and choose where to spend your time. It’s always challenging.

What makes Helldivers 2 cool, though, are the little touches.

What makes Helldivers 2 cool, though, are the little touches that make sure you’re always thinking about how to manage your limited resources while hordes of bugs and robots throw themselves at your squad. Reloading, for instance, discards any remaining rounds you have in a clip; bullets don’t just teleport back into your inventory. If you want to call down reinforcements, special weapons, or a resupply, you’ve got to rapid-fire a series of directional inputs on the d-pad, which can be a little challenging when you’re running from a horde of bugs hellbent on tearing your Helldiver limb from limb. These abilities all have cooldown timers, forcing you to be careful when picking when to deploy them and to coordinate with your teammates.

It’s also generous with rewards. Don’t have a cool weapon yet? You’ll probably find something during the first mission or two. One of my favorites I’ve seen so far is the Anti-Material Rifle, an anti-armor behemoth of a rifle that let me take on the huge, bile-spewing bugs without ever getting close to them — and that’s handy because they can kill you in a single volley if you do. You don’t get to keep these weapons once the mission ends, but it does allow you to try them out before you permanently unlock them with in-game currency you get from completing mission objectives, which is a nice touch.

Speaking of unlocking stuff, Helldivers 2 has a ton of goodies for you to earn. Yes, there’s a paid battle pass with lots of weapons and armor, but there’s also a free one with more stuff than the paid one, and naturally you also unlock gear the old-fashioned way, just by completing missions. Helldivers 2 has microtransactions, sure, but thus far I’ve never felt like I was missing out on anything important by not going near them.

Helldivers 2 has a ton of goodies for you to earn.

Better still, a lot of these unlocks can make a huge difference in how you play. One of the first things I earned was the ability to call in a stationary turret that automatically blasts away. I found out the hard way that friendly fire is a thing and this thing can kill you if you stand in front of it, which makes for some really funny moments, but it’s a legitimate game-changer when you have to hold off a swarm of bugs or defend your extraction zone. I never leave the Elected Representative of Family Values without it.

If there’s a downside here, it’s that there’s just so much stuff to unlock that it’s tough to decide which things to get first. Should I save up for an airstrike, the Anti-Material Rifle, or a portable supply pack? Without a guide (like the one our IGN Guides team is actively cooking up as we speak) to help me craft a potent build it’s a bit like flying blind, but again, none of those options are battle pass items so it’s not like it’s trying to trick you into spending money for something you don’t know if you’ll want. You get these by just playing. That might sound like faint praise, but in an era where so many games are trying to nickel and dime us for absolutely everything, the fact that Helldivers 2 doesn’t force you to deal with a battle pass to make your experience better feels awesome.

I still have a lot more to play before I issue a final review and a score. I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface when it comes to unlocks and I’ve spent most of my time killing bugs. Those robots look like they could use some freedom, and I wouldn’t want to deprive them of it. So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to make myself a nice hot cup of Liber-tea and get back at it, and hopefully I’ll be able to squash enough enemies to finish off this review next week. Managed Democracy isn’t going to spread itself, you know.

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