PAYDAY 3 is a 4-player online co-op shooter.

PAYDAY 2 is one of the most popular and longest-running games in the genre, having received ten full years of ongoing support and new content from the developers. Unsurprisingly, despite frequent updates, it's showing its age in various areas, so it's time for a radical overhaul with the release of the official sequel.

No one cared who I was, until I put on the mask.

As far as the plot goes, we have a simple story of revenge and payback, between our veteran not-quite-innocent group of heisters, and some big shots they wrought havoc on, in the past. It's somewhat surprising how serious PAYDAY 3 tries to be, as opposed to the over-the-top situations our team got into in PAYDAY 2. I even think that at least at one point, when revealing the motives of one of the antagonists, it goes overboard with the dramatic element - PAYDAY 3 is set up around the pure escapism of the perfect heist, and I don't think it's the right game to raise real moral concerns around the long-term consequences of our actions on third parties. After all, it ultimately doesn't attempt such analysis in any meaningful way, it just makes a throwaway comment and lets it drop, just to spoil our mood for a few seconds.

In terms of gameplay, it can be argued that PAYDAY 3 is two games in one, a stealth simulator and a pure shooter.

Back to our old tricks...

The game is divided into distinct missions, and all of them have two different ways of approaching the game, a stealthy one and a "shoot to kill" one. Most crews will likely make at least one attempt at a stealth run... and then someone will most likely do something wrong and they'll have to pull out the guns anyway.

We are heisters, and there is one thing we know how to do well, and that is to steal, preferably items of low weight and high value. Each of the available heists has an end goal to steal for successful completion, but there are many intermediate stages until our team gets there. How we try to accomplish them determines the type of run.

Random loot... can't say no to that.

If we choose stealth, we have to be aware of cameras, guards, and even mere passersby or bystanders if we're masked up with weapons out (something necessary to be able to climb anything taller than a ledge, for reasons). Any potential hazards we spot can be tagged for our teammates to see. It's worth noting that as long as we're in our civilian clothes, being spotted in restricted areas by a guard does not imply an automatic stealth break, since if keep calm and pretend simple absent-mindedness, we can get away with a simple warning - and if not, there's room for our teammates to set us free before the general alarm goes off. So being careful not to be noticed, we must follow our handler's instructions from objective to objective until we disappear with the loot. Translated with (free version)

By far the most likely outcome of course, especially in the first few runs of a heist, is that the stealth approach will fail miserably - not to mention that there is always the option of a crew simply going in guns blazing by choice. In which case, PAYDAY 3 turns out to be a very good shooter game, with a solid feel for the weapons, improved over the previous game AI, and a relentless pace that still knows when to let up so the team can focus on objectives instead of survival. The variety in enemies is low, which is probably unavoidable in a roughly realistic modern urban setting, but they make up for it in quantity and good synergy with the specialty units.

Best laid plans…

The implementation of both stealth and gunplay is of high quality, and this definitely counts as a positive aspect of PAYDAY 3. And while it's safe to say that each player has their own preferences in this area (I'm a stealth guy, which I'll elaborate on a bit more later), there is one key difference between the two approaches that goes beyond the scope of individual preference, more specifically this: there's no doubt that striving for stealthy completion requires far better communication and cooperation between players.

I have no way of knowing if I was just lucky, but the community seems to be relatively polite and willing to forgive mistakes until a new teammate learns a heist. For me personally, the best moments in the game were when an obviously experienced heister took it upon himself to show the others the optimal way to stealthily complete a mission, with close calls with guards providing more adrenaline than any gunfight.

The loud way, at least up to and including the hard difficulty level, has significantly lower requirements in terms of communication, though it is still advisable not to run around like headless chickens, far away from the rest of the team.

We have already had to immobilize some nosey people. Can the stealth run be saved?

With the gameplay itself being PAYDAY 3's strong suit, it's time to talk about the two thorns in the game's side that, at least at this point in time, preclude it from really high praise.

The lesser of the two is the tech issues - not the graphics or sound, which do a good job without being impressive, but the online connectivity functionality. I mention this as the lesser thorn because the situation has already improved dramatically compared to the disastrous first two days of launch, but some problems in matchmaking remain, while the always online requirement for a game that not only can be played solo, but running so is the best way to practice stealth, leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

The biggest thorn is the game's progression system. There is a profile level that determines the type and level of equipment we can buy for our characters - for now only with in-game currency, but real life microtransactions are in the official plans for future addition. The main problem is that xp for leveling up is not earned by simply participating in heists (as was the case in PAYDAY 2), but only by completing specific challenges, which number in the hundreds and involve many aspects of gameplay. And although in the early stages of the game various challenges and consequently level ups are completed literally by chance, soon the easy ones run out and the player has to actively engage in them if they ever want to have access to sniper rifles or purple earrings. And while in theory this might just be fun, practically anything worthwhile requires endless grind, and the hours of engagement to reach the truly upper echelons are estimated in the thousands.

The grind is real.

Starbreeze's initial response to player outrage was dismissive, but when the reactions became more intense the developers folded and finally announced a complete rework of the game's progression system, but this will take months to be implemented, and we have no way of knowing if the new system will actually be better.

Ultimately, PAYDAY 3 offers a fun combination of stealth and action/shooter gameplay in a way that no other game outside of the series does, and that certainly has merit on its own. But it still needs a lot more content if it's ever to replace its established predecessor at some point, and it needs significant redesign in the key area of progression to avoid alienating its audience.

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We would like to thank Enarxis Dynamic Media for providing the review code.

Go to discussion...

Chance to pass stealth check - 70%


Corps and heisters.

PAYDAY 3 at this stage is a fun game at its core, married to a not-so-fun progression grind. Until the expected redesign arrives, devotees will certainly enjoy the 10 to 15 hours it takes to adequately learn the missions for stealth runs, but are unlikely to devote the time needed to unlock the more interesting thingamajigs.

Νικόλαος Δανιηλίδης

Great Old One, hardware enthusiast, game collector, man of culture.

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