If You Like Destiny, You Should Try Helldivers
Helldivers just released on PS4, PS3, and Vita yesterday, and our review of Arrowhead’s new game offers an enthusiastic recommendation for anyone looking for something new to try out this month. However, with its sci-fi setting, focus on cooperative play, and character upgrade options, there’s one group of gamers that definitely shouldn’t miss out on the title; players of Bungie’s Destiny should take a break from raids and bounties, and check out what Helldivers has to offer.
Destiny has been a divisive game, but there’s no denying the tremendous success it has had in keeping gamers playing since release in September. Many players have poured hundreds of hours into the shared world shooter, and continue to do so to this day. However, with a lengthy break looming between now and the next major expansion, many of our devoted Destiny players here in the GI office are looking for something else to scratch the itch, and I bet we’re not the only ones.
Enter Helldivers. Arrowhead’s new twin-stick shooter has a very different style of gameplay from Destiny, but look past the differences between top-down and first-person perspectives, and there are a number of similarities that make Helldivers a perfect distraction as you wait for the next big Bungie release.
Taking Out Aliens
Destiny’s setting is all about defending the last of humanity from multiple alien species set on wiping us out, and Helldivers is no different. From a base on the amusingly named “Super Earth,” helldivers set out to confront three distinct alien groups, each of which is trying to push through nearby solar systems to target humanity’s home.
Like in Destiny, a lot of the fun comes from learning the individual units of each alien group, and figuring out the best way to bring them down. The Bugs are torn straight out of the Starship Troopers movies, with burrowing devils that charge your location en masse and attempt to overwhelm by force of numbers. The Cyborgs offer a more traditional battle, as many of them fire off guns and engage in more traditional combat tactics, even as larger tank units barrel through defenses. The Illuminates are like a mix of StarCraft’s Protoss and Halo’s Covenant – a highly advanced alien species with lots of energy weapons and even a mind controlling unit that reverses your controller inputs.
Helldivers’ focus on changing up the action with multiple groups of combatants keeps the action fresh, and the ongoing galactic campaign communicates the feeling of working together with other players to shape the future of the game – a concept Destiny could do well to emulate.
Cooperation Or Bust
Much of Destiny’s strongest praise has been directed towards the raiding experience, where up to six players work together to fulfill teamwork oriented objectives. While the four-player action in Helldivers plays out in procedurally generated open maps rather than scripted encounters, the experience of working closely with your friends to time your attacks, fulfill objectives, and revive each other when things go wrong remains the same across the two games.
While I think Destiny players will appreciate Helldivers’ action, the cooperative vibe reminds me the most of a different FPS – Left 4 Dead. There’s a frantic quality to Helldivers’ firefights, in which enemies show up from any direction, and matches inevitably devolve into players shouting out for revives and unceasing cries that “we need to move!” Plus, each level ends with a desperate last stand as you wait for the shuttle to arrive to take you to safety.
The higher difficulty settings of Helldivers require close communication between teammates, and reward teams that move fast and stick together.
[Next Page: Leveling up in Helldivers]
Helldivers has a simple but engaging investment mechanic, which is all about ranking up through the military as you confront one planetary threat after the next. Like Destiny’s system of improvements, you’re working not just to improve your character, but also increase the power of your weapons and abilities.
XP in Helldivers is earned by completing missions, but in any given solar system you can select a mission on one of twelve difficulty settings – the higher the mission challenge, the higher the XP payout. As a result, cooperative play has the potential to dramatically increase your experience point win, because the highest difficulties virtually require a full team. Higher ranks provide new cosmetic and gameplay bonuses, from a new helmet to a better shotgun.
In addition to XP, your helldiver also earns research points, both through ranking up and finding samples in the field. These research points go toward leveling up your weapons and strategems, providing things like better range on your pistol, or higher damage for your air strikes. You may have similar upgrades to your friend, but your choice of upgrades helps set you apart.
Weapons and Specials
Another aspect of Destiny’s success is the option players have to select their own loadout of weapons and abilities for each mission. A Titan with Ruin Wings and a Super Good Advice machine gun plays differently from one with Armamentarium and a perk with a grenade cooldown increase.
Helldivers features a more linear weapon unlock path than Destiny, but once you are a few levels in, there’s a good bit of customization in how to approach a mission. Do you increase your speed at revival, or add a laser sight to your sniper rifle? Is that rail gun turret more important than bringing along some explosive mines? Each choice establishes the way you hope to hold ground during the fight, as well as how you hope to get out of danger when things get frantic.
Equally important, since Helldivers is usually played cooperatively, your selection of abilities can and should be coordinated with your teammates. On a snowy planet, you’d be foolish to not have someone bring along an APC for faster movement. Meanwhile, missions with unidentified objective locations are made way easier if one teammate brings along a UAV drone.
It may be a little thing, but one of the fun features of Destiny are the slick futuristic guardians themselves, and the way they mix sci-fi armor with a touch of superhero style. No class typifies that perspective like the Hunter, and it seems Arrowhead isn’t above a little nod to the cool Hunter outfit; the Helldivers look like they could hop over into Destiny and take up a gunslinger build.
Helldivers doesn’t have anywhere near the visual customization options you can find on a guardian in Destiny, but you do unlock several different helmets, body armor pieces, and most importantly, flowing capes for your character.
Helldivers is already one of my personal favorite releases of 2015, and a number of GI editors are already deep into the galactic war as it is plays out against the alien threat. While I’d highly recommend Helldivers to anyone looking for something new, I can speak as an enthusiastic Destiny player when I say that Helldivers has captured my attention as I wait for the nebulous release of House of Wolves.