As someone who played and very much enjoyed the two previous Payday games, dropping into Starbreeze’s sequel for this Payday 3 review felt natural. Like a home from home. While it makes a comfy and familiar first impression, the truth is that the changes within this heist multiplayer game are far from surface level. There has always been a risk/reward dilemma in the series, and this is amplified wonderfully in the latest installment. A fresh coat of paint is also appreciated, but the mechanical changes under the hood are where Payday 3 really shines.
For starters, the gunplay here feels weightier and more refined. No, it’s not perfect, but it’s now closer than ever to what you’d expect from a top FPS game. You no longer feel like an amateur thief who has never even held, let alone fired, an automatic weapon. It even makes thematic sense that the gunplay has evolved because we’re still working with the same core cast of criminals we’ve known since the original, so they’ve grown more experienced and skilled over time. The same can be said for movement – where previously it felt slow and rigid, every character can now flow through a level with grace, even while in the middle of an all-out firefight.
Eight Payday 3 heists are available at launch, each with multiple solutions for how you can get away with the most cash. Stealth always felt like it was a grind to master in Payday 2, but it shines here and was often my preferred way to approach every level. There was always a rush of adrenaline whenever an alarm sounded off, as we improvised and assessed what options still remained, before powering on towards our ultimate goal of maximizing the monetary gains.
Matchmaking let me down quite often, and I only managed to start a heist with a full four-person team four times in the first eight hours of play. AI is still a considerable letdown, as they can’t contribute to anything other than the police body count. They won’t work towards objectives and just seem to exist to fire their weapons when the masks are on. This then heightens the frustration of the matchmaking issues. Payday 3 is a game best played with a group of friends because relying on AI or random players rarely brought me much joy.
In one case, while trying to complete the Rock the Cradle heist, I had players repeatedly dropping out once our cover was blown, instead of voting to restart the level. Eventually, matchmaking kept launching empty lobbies with a five-minute timer where no one else would join. I gave up and attempted it solo, which felt quite daunting seeing as it’s a heist that relies on stealth. Lo and behold, after a few attempts, I was able to complete it without raising any alarms. Moments like this make Payday 3 special, but the matchmaking turmoil took the shine off of the reward.
I appreciate the level of customization on offer in Payday 3. Not only can you add attachments to your weapons, once they meet the level requirement, but you can also create your own mask using a base template with detail layers and spray paints. The same applies to Payday 3 weapons, too. It’s clear where more content beyond extra heists will arrive going forward, which gives me confidence that Payday 3 will grow to be just as expansive as its predecessor.
The game’s explanation of its new skill points system is weak, but it’s really quite simple once you figure it out. You place your initial skill point in the master skill, and from there you need to complete challenges to unlock the pathway, working your way towards a final, overpowered finale. Skill points are still required once you unlock a new option, but making your way through the skill tree is a challenge within itself thanks to the 17 available skill pathways.
Difficulty levels are where the replayability really kicks in. Four difficulty modes, from normal to overkill, dictate the gameplay loop. Completing each heist once on normal is good fun, but you’re going to want to challenge yourself and eventually work your way up to overkill, where cameras are indestructible and a lead guard spawns endless radios. Overkill is not for the faint of heart and requires a team of four who are communicating effectively to succeed.
Where Payday 3 struggles is with its bugs. At launch, there are still a few too many instances of dead bodies clipping through walls and doors, and I’ve found that the in-heist navigation could be a lot clearer with where the waypoints are placed. This is likely to be addressed quickly and easily, but it’s always a disappointment to see these issues slip through the cracks on release day.
All in all, Payday 3 offers a surprising amount to do and enjoy at launch. Not only is the content there, but it’s all useful, all obtainable, and it all helps improve the basic gameplay loop of heist, spend cash, improve, repeat.
Robbing a bank has never felt so good, as Payday 3 is a clear step above its predecessor, which stood the test of time and recently enjoyed its 240th update. The future, however, looks even brighter, as Payday 3’s new heists, strong story, and improved gunplay should see the series recruiting new criminals well into the next decade.
Payday 3 takes its beloved predecessor’s multiplayer heist formula and elevates it across the board, making for a thrilling experience, provided you’ve got a crew to play with.