It doesn’t get much worse for a multiplayer launch: broken matchmaking, frequent crashes, and a kernel-level anti-cheat system that everyone hates. Helldivers 2’s first day was not a great start. And while stability seems a touch worse on PC, there have been problems across the board, regardless of the platform. The bugs were winning.
When I first jumped in, I was stuck playing solo. Nobody on my friends list was playing yet, and matchmaking was completely broken. For a game designed for squads, with no bot feature, this is a mammoth-sized problem.
It’s possible to solo Helldivers 2, especially on the lower difficulty levels, and even without teammates you can still drop back into a mission after death, but it’s a slog. Vastly outnumbered and relatively fragile, completing missions was an uphill struggle. I quickly gave up. Sorry, Superearth, you’re just not worth the hassle of saving.
Which was a shame, because it’s actually a whole heap of fun raining down death on bug nests with orbital lasers and watching alien nasties explode in a shower of gooey blood. The basic firearms are satisfyingly punchy, and fights are intense thanks to ammo quickly running out and the need to manually reload after every clip is spent. In some games that’s a pain in the arse, but here it emphasises your vulnerability, and is less of an issue when you’re in a full squad and frequently requisitioning ammo and new guns from your ships.
Despite being vulnerable, there’s still a power fantasy at play here, especially when you’re wielding one of the bigger weapons, like the murderous machine gun or the endlessly entertaining flamethrower. It’s absolute carnage. Unexpectedly, given the bombastic action, there’s also a hint of a military sim here, where movement causes weapons to sway, making it harder to hit targets, and each gun has distinct handling. You can also jump into a prone position, which is absolutely necessary when you’re in a squad, because friendly fire is a real killer, but much less of a problem when you’re clinging to the ground.
Even though you’re going to be in a squad of four at most, Arrowhead has made an effort to make it feel like you’re part of this huge war. As well as being given personal goals, there are community-wide objectives that drive the conflict forward. At the moment, the goal is to liberate two worlds in the region close to Superearth, after which we’ll be able to push the bugs back to the quarantine zone. It gives the conflict an overarching narrative, but doesn’t lock you into anything. If you want to fight on more distant worlds, or get tired of fighting bugs and want to blow up some robots instead, that’s entirely fine.
Thankfully, it’s now much easier to get stuck into the conflict. Arrowhead acknowledged the problems and, before the first day was over, pushed out a hotfix, which landed on PC first. I’d been playing on PS5 because it was much more stable, but with matchmaking still constantly failing, I switched to PC. I experienced one crash pretty early on, when I was checking out the armoury—which also happened to Morgan, suggesting that this screen in particular causes problems—but after that everything went pretty smoothly.
After a couple of hours of missions, I didn’t have any more crashes, and crucially matchmaking actually worked. Activating quick play has been throwing me into squads immediately, allowing me to finally enjoy myself. This is not to say that the problems have been entirely resolved, though.
In every squad, at least one person appeared to crash, and there are a few other bugbears. Cross-progression, for instance, doesn’t seem to be working—at least for me. Since I’d been playing on PS5, I wanted to carry over my progress and successfully linked my PlayStation account to Steam. Despite this, the PC version started me off in the tutorial again and didn’t acknowledge any of my progress. Thankfully, I didn’t get very far on the PS5 version thanks to the lack of matchmaking, so it wasn’t a huge loss.
Less of an issue but still kinda annoying: voice chat is enabled by default, and you have to actively select push to talk or mute if you don’t want to annoy your teammates. You get to make this choice right at the start of the game, and after that in the options menu, but you know what some people are like: they dive headfirst into the action and don’t pay attention to boring things like this, ensuring that there’s usually at least one person in the squad transmitting all of their keyboard clicks, heavy breathing and whatever’s on their TV. At least it’s easy enough to mute them.
The price of war
I’ve got one more bone to pick: Premium Warbonds. Warbonds are a battle pass adjacent system, and the first one, Helldivers Mobilize, is completely free. There’s already a premium version, though, called Steeled Veterans, which requires you to spend supercredits to access, after which you can unlock the items within using medals earned from missions. Some of the items are cosmetic, but there are also weapons with special modifiers, too, so by not spending supercredits you are kinda missing out. This isn’t a competitive game, so it’s not pay-to-win, but it does run contrary to what Arrowhead told prospective players, that it’s not a “FOMO-driven system”.
One thing to note: supercredits can be earned in-game, not just by spending real cash. But don’t expect to be stuffing your pockets with them. It just leaves a bad taste in the mouth, even if it is pretty much par for the course when it comes to live service romps. It would be nice, though, if a live service game could just let players enjoy what they’ve already paid for before they try to make us part with yet more cash.
Despite all of this, I’m cautiously optimistic about the future of Helldivers 2. The immaculate Starship Troopers vibes, the frenetic combat, the need to balance exploration with extracting before your ship strands you—it’s all great stuff. We only got review code yesterday, but we’ll have our full Helldivers 2 review up next week.