STAFF REVIEW of PAYDAY 3 (Xbox Series X)

Friday, November 24, 2023.
by Ayden Heilman

PAYDAY 3 Box art The Payday gang is back and out of retirement in Payday 3, the long-awaited sequel to Payday 2, one of the biggest cooperative hoard shooters. It’s been a really long time since the release of Payday 2 due to its extensive post-launch support, which means there is a heap of content for Payday 2, good and bad. The third entry has a seemingly insufficient amount of content and an odd, sloppy progression system though.

Most heists start with a 'casing' mode that allows you to walk around the place you're attempting to rob and plan your set of actions. This planning phase for Payday 2 was janky at best; merely bumping into somebody could set the place up into an uproar, which was especially sucky when you were doing stealth heists. Payday 3 addresses this issue by adding restricted areas and smarter AI. Instead of instantly sending the SWAT after you, they will escort you out. After this initial escort, if you get caught again, they will take harsher action against you. Along with other quality-of-life changes to stealth and AI, it feels a lot more comprehensive, which gives you more incentive to actually go through with stealth fully. Being the tank in my group, I felt that Payday 2's stealth never felt polished or worth my time, even with the higher payouts you get for doing a heist stealthily. That was different in Payday 3, though it is a lot more refined and more engaging in general.

If you decide to go loud like I usually do, or get caught attempting to stealth, there will be a grace period with you and the cops. During this time there is a timer, and in order to raise this timer, you trade in hostages. This period can be a very important part of the heist, allowing you to carry out tasks without having to worry about hoards of cops, or, in other words, the assault. Eventually, after a while, or when you do something overly aggressive, the assault will start. Hostage management is also a lot more player-friendly than its predecessor. Instead of having to yell at every citizen who isn't obliging, you can just aim your gun at them, and a couple of seconds later they can be either tied up, moved away or used as a body shield, which can be useful in firefights.

The cops will come in from every direction you could possibly think of. With this constant onslaught it might be hard to notice the new enemy types and even revamps to the older variants introduced to Payday 3. Most notable to me was the shield. Instead of an impenetrable wall, you can shoot the window slit, and after a few well-placed shots it will break, allowing you to kill them. Some other notable ones that I noticed were the hostage rescue squad, as their name suggests, whose whole purpose is to infiltrate and extract hostages from the situation. Bulldozers in Payday 3 feel a lot more menacing than they do in Payday 2, especially with their new shoulder charge move which will flatten you in mere seconds. That shoulder charge, paired with the bomb suit-like armor and a drum mag shotgun, makes them a force that can tear you and your team apart if you aren’t coordinated. Bulldozers suffer the same weakness the shields do, though: if you shoot the visor on their helmet enough, it will break, allowing you to headshot them.

At launch, Payday 3 has eight heists connected to an unintuitive story. The heists all varied pretty well and did not feel like bank robbery after bank robbery. Going from robbing a neon nightclub, to robbing a truck that's seemingly inaccessible on a bridge that's really open and under construction is nice. You aren't just stealing money from bank trucks or a bank; you're also stealing money out of a crypto wallet or robbing an art gallery blind in the middle of the night.

To say Payday 3’s progression is absurd feels like an understatement. In Payday 2, you got XP from many factors such as completing the heist on harder difficulties or going fully undetected. It gave a sense of freedom. Payday 3 strips that from you, only allowing you to get XP from completing challenges. Admittedly, it wasn't noticeable at first since, naturally, you complete a lot of the easier challenges after doing a few heists. But when you notice the odd progression system, you start noticing the limitations that a progression like this presents for Payday 3.

With the challenges forcing you to play in different ways than you are, it quickly turns into a grindfest. With challenges like “Beat No Rest for the Wicked 15 times on Normal or higher difficulty after the Assault has started” or "Beat No Rest for the Wicked 60 times on Normal or higher difficulty after the Assault has started,” it quickly becomes apparent that you are going to inevitably have to play the same heists with guns you are not particularly interested in over and over in order to level up.

Payday 3’s leveling nature also impacts aspects like guns, even with the lack of guns at launch. With only around 20 guns at release, they can feel a bit lacking in numbers, but the completely revamped shooting system and newer-feeling guns make this up for me. Each gun has a unique feel and punch to it, except for some of the pistols. Also, paired with the attachments that you can put on your guns, it gives the overall experience with guns a nice, polished feel.

With 17 different skill trees and 105 individual skills, Payday 3 offers a fairly similar array of perks to Payday 2 but differentiates itself with some unique ones. There is a good variety of choices when it comes to possible builds; just like in Payday 2, you can have builds centered around the sentry turret gadget which can prove to be very useful. Or follow suit with some of Payday 3’s more modern themes, like a hacking build meant for quick stealthy heists and getting in and out as quickly as possible. Along with skill trees like the manipulator and mower. With the manipulator, the hostages are easier to take and serve a greater purpose, and the mower reduces recoil and improves your overall damage. You can have some good fun experimenting with the different types of builds you can curate.

With Payday 2 having some extremely good music, Payday 3 surprisingly lived up to the same quality and style. It ramps up when combat gets more aggressive and slows down when combat wains. Music in the Payday series has always been hit for the majority of people and I feel like this new entry lived up to that. Graphically Payday 3 is a huge upgrade from Payday 2 since they moved from Diesel 2.0 to Unreal 4. It’ll look even better in the future too since they are going to upgrade Payday 3 to use Unreal Engine 5 sometime in its post launch life.

I'm not saying Payday 3 should have the same amount of content as Payday 2, but with the low amount of heists and guns and the sloppy progression system, the game in its current form is mediocre when compared to the previous entry. With that being said, if it gets the same treatment as Payday 2 with post-launch content, Payday 3 could live up to be something really good that surpasses its predecessor. Right now, though it's not much, but I do think the future can be bright for this game.

**PAYDAY 3 was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 7.0 / 10
Gameplay: 6.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.5 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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