Payday 3 Review

October 5, 2023


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Xbox Series

It boggles my mind that Payday 2 is over a decade old. Although I haven’t spent much time playing it recently, it was the game I enjoyed as a teenager before I got into Arma 3, and one that I still like booting up every now and again to complete heists in virtual reality. However, the only reason I’ve logged 400 hours on it is because I willingly suffered through years of post-launch gameplay reworks, the title’s weird microtransaction phase, and its very buggy launch. After spending what little time I had over the past couple of weeks that wasn’t devoted to Cyberpunk and Starfield trying to imagine myself dealing with all that nonsense in Payday 3, though, I couldn’t, because, unlike in 2013, there are now plenty of properly good co-op PvE shooters on the market, not least of all the game that I endured during its early stages. And while Starbreeze’s latest title may very well become a fantastic heist-em-up in a few years, right now, it’s little more than a worse version of its predecessor that costs four times as much.

Although I’d love to put some sort of disclaimer on that statement and praise Payday 3’s graphics or gameplay, I honestly can’t, because the game genuinely feels like a title from the early 2010s. For all ten of you who’ve never played one of the most popular franchises on Steam, the premise of Payday is about as simple as it gets: you take control of one of a handful of different criminals, who for reasons that are explained through in-game cutscenes but don’t actually matter, decide that it would be a good idea to start robbing various places by using relatively generic first-person shooting and stealthing. All three of the titles in the series can be enjoyed either solo with the help of three very stupid bots, or online with three friends or randoms from matchmaking, and the bulk of the series’ heists can be completed either quietly or by using the loudest assault rifle imaginable. Finishing jobs earns you XP to unlock new skills and cash to buy new guns, you can customise your facemask if that’s your thing, and there are always a smattering of challenges to complete for the sake of it. 

I hate how realistic games are

Payday and Payday 2, and subsequently Payday 3’s core gameplay loop is, unsurprisingly, pretty fun. It’s enjoyable to rob civilians while fending off waves of first responders or trying to sneak around security guards, earning new gear always makes for a great time, and there’s a certain satisfaction that you get after surviving an especially tough encounter with a few of your mates. However, the problem with Payday 3 is that so little about this loop has changed in the ten years since its predecessor launched. Although the title looks a bit better than its antecedent, and movement is a smidge smoother, the only real way it differentiates itself from the previous games in the franchise is by adding a handful of gameplay gimmicks that have bugger-all effect on anything. 

The game doesn’t even have any properly new content to speak of. At launch, there are a mere 19 guns and 8 heists in Payday 3, almost all of which were clearly copied from Payday 2. It takes less than an afternoon to run through all of the title’s missions, and only another few days to max out your character level, after which there’s almost nothing to do besides re-running robberies to earn money for cosmetic skins or experience for weapon attachments. There also aren’t a lot of the features that were included in the oft-mentioned Payday 2, including a safehouse to upgrade or multi-stage missions, and instead, it almost feels like Payday 3 is still in the alpha stage of its development because of its almost complete lack of things to do and negligible improvements over its predecessor despite costing four times as much.

The fact that Payday 3 is in an abysmal state technically also makes it feel like a pre-release build. The title runs terribly, has more than its fair share of bugs, and its servers frequently crash. You also always need to have an internet connection active to play, regardless of whether or not you’re doing heists with other people, and it’s a struggle to find a lobby with random players. It will also have microtransactions in the  near future, plus at least 12 paid content packs within the next year, which is scummy to say the least. 

I have seen deer with better self preservation instincts than Payday 3’s AI 

Almost needless to say, then, Payday 3 is absolutely not worth buying. It’s possible that Starbreeze Studios will square away its latest title at some point in the coming years just like they did with the previous instalment into the Payday franchise, but until then, there aren’t enough good things about the title to warrant purchasing it. At the time of writing, Payday 2 has ten thousand more active players than Payday 3, and that’s for a good reason. The former is a content-rich heist ‘em up with virtual reality support, and the other is a lacklustre shell of a game that’s only truly enjoyable if you forget that you could be playing the former. If you manage to do that, there are certainly worse ways to spend your time and money, but not many.

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Payday 3, while having a decent play loop, is a direct downgrade from its predecessor and is loaded with anti-consumer mechanics and major technical issues.
Derek Johnson

Somebody once told me the world was going to roll me, and they were right. I love games that let me take good-looking screenshots and ones that make me depressed, so long as the game doesn't overstay its welcome.