PAYDAY 3 Review – A Few Dollars Short

Two steps forward, one step back.

PAYDAY 2 has grown exponentially in the 10 years since it launched. What started as a modest collection of six tailored heists has quickly grown into a total roster of 87 highly replayable experiences. All good things must come to an end, though, and some of PAYDAY 2’s more archaic design choices have prompted Starbreeze Studios to iterate on their classic heisting formula in PAYDAY 3. The end result is a game that feels like it takes steps forward as often as it does back. It’s a great experience when it all clicks, but it’s hard not to miss some of the quality-of-life inclusions from PAYDAY 2.

While PAYDAY isn’t primarily known for riveting narrative prospects, the original gang has garnered quite the following across games. Longtime series fans are in luck, because Dallas, Chains, Wolf, and Hoxton are back despite their early retirement after PAYDAY 2’s ending. Alongside returning heister, Joy, and a brand-new character in the form of Pearl, the crew finds themselves in dire straits after attempted assassination and emptied offshore accounts. At a loss for who has it out for the gang and why, it’s time to hit the streets of New York City to recoup funds and find answers in the process.

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I mentioned in my preview that while sparse on details, it’s quite a novel setup that provides a suitable excuse to throw the original characters back into the fray. Cinematics set the mood pre and post-heist in atmospheric fashion and it ultimately does a good enough job of providing answers while leaving the door open for post-launch content. There’s also some neat callbacks and returning characters from the first two games, tying back to previous events that link to what’s happening in current time.

While PAYDAY 3 is largely iterative, there’re some excellent improvements to the core formula that really freshen up heists and how you can approach them. The most obvious is a vastly expanded casing phase, where you can spend more time scoping out the environment and formulating a plan of attack. Certain heists can still be completed without detection, and spending time understanding your objective and how the moving parts of each map feed into it is always rewarding.

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The moment-to-moment gameplay is also greatly improved. Shooting feels markedly better than PAYDAY 2, and making decisions on the fly is constantly thrilling. Trading hostages for time and resources, working out how to deal with security cameras and patrolling guards, among many other things lurk in the back of your mind as you work towards your main objective. Overkill Weapons are also a welcome addition, allowing you to call in an excessively powerful firearm with limited ammunition once or twice per heist so you can compete with the increasing firepower of the police and militia you go up against.

The heists in question are all undeniably excellent. They’re absolutely dripping with atmosphere and achieve different heisting fantasies across an array of settings and objectives. Rock The Cradle is a particular stealth-only highlight where you infiltrate a bustling nightclub in hopes of nicking a crypto wallet. Under The Surphaze is the polar opposite – an elaborate art museum heist where you traipse around tightly guarded exhibits under the cover of night. It’s always thrilling to see how these heists can dynamically unfold based on your actions and whether you choose to go loud.

PAYDAY 3 Preview

The variation in approaches and myriad difficulty modes with unique modifiers lay the foundation for the core appeal of any PAYDAY game, and PAYDAY 3 sports it in full-force. Tackling heists again and again is the name of the game, earning more cash, completing challenges, and upgrading skills all feed into an addicting loop that keeps you coming back for more much like previous games. While unlocks flow steadily in the early hours, things start to slow down a bit as a result of PAYDAY 3’s progression systems.


Gaining Infamy in PAYDAY 3 requires you specifically to complete challenges for experience points. While there’s something to be said for how it forces you to play with new guns and adopt new playstyles, it’s hard not to feel like rewards are spread too thin for self-imposed challenge runs. It isn’t maintaining stealth or finding all loot in repeat heists that nets you infamy – it’s always only challenges. It means that if you want to chase PAYDAY’s core appeal, you’re forced to go after specific challenges instead of doing things as you see fit. It’s a weird choice that doesn’t gel with what high level PAYDAY play is all about.

PAYDAY 3 Preview

To add insult to injury, these challenges can be extremely grindy. Hundreds of clears without detection, the same number when you go loud, excessive numbers of weapon kills. It feels tailor-made for hardcore players, but I doubt even they’d want to grind the same heist two hundred times over. If the resulting unlocks were mostly cosmetic, this wouldn’t be as much of an issue, but a vast majority of PAYDAY 3’s weapons are locked behind Infamy levels.

There’s also quite a few weird omissions in regards to quality-of-life inclusions and features that can be found in PAYDAY 2. The fantastic CRIME.NET matchmaking system has been changed out for a more traditional matchmaking format, reducing pre-heist planning to picking favours and hitting the ready button. The lack of in-game voice chat is also questionable given how important communication is in any given heist. Loadout naming, choosing to stay with your lobby, and many other small inclusions are nowhere to be found.

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Despite all of this, there’s plenty of reason to keep playing PAYDAY 3 if you’re going for all the unlocks. Between countless weapons, apparel, masks, and skills, there’s so much to play around with as you craft new loadouts and try out different approaches. Perks also add some cool new passive abilities that increase damage, resistances, or speed when certain conditions are met. While they aren’t quite as powerful or expressive as they were in PAYDAY 2, they unlock at a steady rate and help to shape your playstyle for a heist.

PAYDAY 3’s presentation is bolstered tremendously by its setting. The setting of New York City has allowed Starbreeze Studios to expand into visually dynamic heist locations that separate themselves from the other settings in the franchise. From the pristine halls of the Surphaze art gallery to the packed dance floors of the Neon Cradle nightclub, each heist successfully builds its own atmosphere and ambience in effortless fashion that reinforces the core fantasy.

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When things do get loud, Gustavo Coutinho’s thumping electronic soundtrack erupts in glorious fashion, further exacerbating the high-octane nature of shootouts. The game is also incredibly polished on PC, maintaining high framerates no matter how crazy the action gets. Bugs were also nowhere to be found in my time with the game, which is a refreshing change of pace for the often dysfunctional live service launches.

While PAYDAY 3 will no doubt please series veterans and newcomers, it's still a few updates a way from being definitively better than PAYDAY 2. When everything is working seamlessly, it offers some of the highest highs in the series thus far, but frustrating omissions and questionable progression design restrain PAYDAY 3's ability to be consistent.
Vastly improved casing phase
Tactile gunplay
Inventive and thrilling assortment of heists
Loads of room for build-crafting and
Fantastically well realized setting and production values
Stifled progression system
Excessive challenges
Lacking many features and quality-of-life inclusions