Review – Payday 3
There’s nothing quite like the thrilling, heist-based gameplay that Payday 2 provided just ten years ago. It’ hashad some fantastic support over the years, and it delivered an incredibly strong post-launch offering, occasionally going a touch too far, with exhaustive DLC lists and some lootbox controversies, that the developers have thankfully backtracked quickly. It was also a game that felt a little bit dated at launch, and got worse over the years as the more ambitious heists started to tax the engine. Payday 3 has been a long time coming, and it unfortunately doesn’t hit all the right notes, but it does come close.
Set after the events of Payday 2, the gang has retired. However, an old enemy has resurfaced and taken apart all their efforts. With no money and a thirst for payback, the crew comes back together to do what they do best: perform daring heists. The story of Payday has always been pretty background noise to what was happening. It’s a touch more prominent here with slideshow cutscenes to bridge the gaps between heists. At the very least it’s completely optional and you don’t even need to click on the cutscenes to progress.
At launch, there are eight different kinds of heists to take part of. This is a very insignificant amount of heists, although, based on the franchise’s past, this should be expanded on nicely in time. However, I’m reviewing what is present at launch, and it would be completely unfair to compare it to complete the Payday 2 heist list. Judging them as a standalone experience, these heists, for the most part, are exceptionally well designed. The first few are pretty basic heists, usually a small building with a few guards patrolling. The weakest of which is one that involves hijacking and escorting a truck across a bridge.
The second half of the heists, though, are exceptional, with a much grander scale than the first half. Infiltrating a nightclub to steal someone’s crypto wallet proved to be the best heist in the game, whilst a bank heist provides the most pure Payday experience. The majority of these provide strong stealth and combat routes that really increase replay value. Increasing the difficulty also changes the game around with more guards and modifiers to make it more challenging and constantly makes me rethink my strategy all the way up to Overkill difficulty. Whilst there’s not a lot of heists they can keep you busy for a long time as you begin to master them and climb the difficulty ladder.
In a rather bizarre move, Payday 3 is now an always-online title for no apparent reason. This even applies to the game’s solo mode, which makes this all the more baffling. You will need to put on your lobby to Invite Only and still have to wait for matchmaking to find a server, regardless of whether you are playing by yourself or with a couple of friends. At launch, the servers just refused to work with constant matchmaking errors and incredibly long queue times even for a goddamn private match. In multiple instances, I’ve had to queue upwards of twenty minutes to be able to play a private match. This is completely unacceptable for a game that has no purpose in being an always-online title.
Whilst I understand that online launches can be rough on game servers, don’t expect perfection. It’s the fact that Payday 3 doesn’t have any reason to be always online in the first place. There’s no competitive aspect to the game, no Destiny-style loot systems, online economy, or even your standard social hub that is often now used as an excuse to be online only. The servers should get better with time, but this isn’t an excuse. If I’m expected to be online to play solo, I fully expect the servers to be online as well, especially since Payday 3 is best with friends.
Once you do finally get into a lobby, you will notice the fantastic pre-planning phase has been replaced with a basic lobby. It’s not the biggest deal-breaker but it was an immersive touch in the second game that elevated it. The user interface as a whole feels completely rushed and unfinished. However, when you do finally get to play Payday 3 it is an absolute treat. That same thrill from before is back, and it’s mostly better than ever thanks to the vastly improved gameplay mechanics. It feels so much more modern and responsive, even down to simple movement.
Stealth is one aspect that has been massively overhauled here. In Payday 2 playing stealthily was absolutely my favourite way to go, but it had issues. In “casing” mode you have much more utility, being able to pick locks, pickpocket guards, and interact much closer to the environment (you annoyingly can’t climb). Getting caught in restricted areas will get you escorted out of the area; playing smart will let you use this to your advantage by letting another team slip by unnoticed. It’s a much more dynamic and exciting stealth system, even if it does feel a bit basic. Enemy AI detection is still very unreliable, and they will hilariously forget about it as soon as you stop trespassing. However, it is always fun to play in a stealthy way, and walking right out of a bank carrying bags of money is pretty badass.
Concealment has gone with a fixed value now, so you don’t need to worry about carrying larger weapons when playing stealth. The big benefit of this is that when things go sideways you won’t need to restart the heist. Instead, you will go with the chaotic flow. When things inevitably go wrong during stealth sections, the combat mechanics hold up nicely and keep things feeling fresh. New movement abilities and wave-based structure ensure there’s some downtime between huge police waves. This allows you to trade hostages for a little more time, or start moving your bags of loot towards the exit and hope you don’t get caught in a bad spot.
Progression has also seen some huge changes and this is a really mixed bag. The skill trees and perks from the predecessor have been combined into one system. There’s still plenty of build variety, but it feels rather limiting at the same time, as you only have seven skill points to build with. If you are used to the expansive list from the predecessor, you will be disappointed. As for the weapon list, it’s also pretty limiting. A lot of the progression in this game is into a frustratingly long, grindy approach to cosmetics, having to level up to the 100s for basic customisation options like patterns or colours.
The amount of weapons and gadgets are also really disappointing There’s only a small handful of weapons in the game and their customisation isn’t as extensive as previous games. Attachments are now tied to the individual weapon level completely, discouraging using anything new, and they are minimal at best. In an attempt to add more weapons, you can also buy weapon presets which have bonus stats, fixed attachments and I guess a neat skin to look at. New equipment, such as MicroCams, are an absolutely amazing new addition that lets you keep track of guards and peek around corners.
Fans of the franchise will know that the games have never been real lookers, and has always been hampered by Overkill’s own Diesel engine. The move to Unreal Engine has allowed them to push beyond that, and what we have here is an uneven-looking game. It’s a huge step up from the predecessor, with much more detailed environments, even if they still look a little bit dated. However, the character models seen scattered through the maps are all lifeless and can be hilarious to look at.
Payday 3 is a huge step up from the core mechanics of the Payday franchise. The updated gunplay and casing mechanics all come together for a gameplay experience that, as a whole, just feels better. However, it falters at just about everything else. The game is really light on content, progression has been ruined, and the rampant server issues are unacceptable, with the game refusing to work properly even if you want to play by yourself. Perhaps they’ll finally get the balance right in Payday 4? Maybe the developers will be able to fix things up and regain their fanbase’s trust? The future is a bit bleak, but only time will tell.
It can be hard to decide if Payday 3 looks good or not. Sometimes the environment design is great, but lifeless character models and exteriors can let it down.
The same heist gameplay is here and better than ever with vastly improved stealth gameplay. However, there’s not a lot of it here.
The franchise’s soundtrack has always excelled, and it’s no exception here.
Payday 3 could be a fantastic game, but limited content, terrible server stability, and grindy and meaningless progression let it down.
Final Verdict: 6.0
Payday 3 is available now on PC, Xbox Series X|S, and PS5.
Reviewed on PC with an RTX 4070, Ryzen 5 3600X and 16GB RAM.
A copy of Payday 3 Gold Edition was provided by the publisher.