“No one cared who I was until I put on the mask” is a great line from Nolan’s Batman movie “The Dark Knight Rises”, and it’s fitting that it’s also the first achievement you’ll pick up in Payday 3. Your missions all start off simple enough – you’re just an average everyday citizen swimming in a stream of nobodies. The cameras don’t know you, the tellers at the bank don’t know who you are – you are everyone and you are no one. Sliding the mask over your face, suddenly you have the rapt attention of everyone involved. The heist has begun, and the clock is ticking.
Payday 3 is, as you’ve likely discerned at this point, the third installment in the Payday series from veteran studio Starbreeze, and the first under their new leadership and with publisher Deep Silver. We’ve purposely held off on our review due to a rocky start, but now that it’s on solid ground from a multiplayer perspective, it’s time to put on the mask and see if the wait was worth it.
First and foremost, and especially if you are coming from the console side of the world, you’ll be happy to hear that Payday 3 has a common code base. The previous games had divided their codebase, with PC and console being inexorably divided. This time around, everyone’s on the same train, and as such, cross-play is enabled and functional. In fact, once matchmaking was ironed out, most of the time I was playing with a mixture of PC and consoles in nearly every match. This unity is also important as the team also has announced a full year’s DLC – Syntax Error (Winter 2023), Boys in Blue (Spring 2024), The Land of the Free (Summer 2024) and Fear and Greed (Fall 2024). In addition, Starbreeze has confirmed additional characters, enemies, skills, weapons, seasonal events, cosmetics, and other quality of life changes like voice chat and simple stuff like the ability to “un-ready” in the lobby. The biggest announcement, however, is that the game was developed on Unreal Engine 4, but that it’d be ported to Unreal Engine 5 at some point post-launch. It’s clear they intend for this game to be played for some time.
There are a total of eight heists this time around, four less than Payday 2’s launch but two more than the original. While on paper this seems like less content than the sequel, the heists on offer here feel bigger in scope than those found in Payday 2. You’ve got the classic bank jobs, both large and small, but you’ll also be pulling off raids on art museums, corporate penthouses, underground nightclubs and other non-typical settings; all of which can be executed quietly or loudly, barring one mission.
The progression system in Payday 3 is asking a lot from the player. There are 150 levels to unlock, with equipment and cosmetics attached at various levels. As mentioned, there are eight levels to play, with elements of randomization in each (more on that in a moment), but since you only earn XP for leveling up via challenges, you’ll be playing these levels a lot to get anywhere near level 150. This is exacerbated by the fact that most random matches have no sense in their skull, going loud almost immediately, meaning you’ll rarely get to see the better side of Payday 3 if you aren’t playing with friends.
There are varying elements of randomization in all of the levels. Using the bank heist as an example, cameras can be placed in different locations, covering various elements and approach points for the bank. Guards are randomly placed and roam. Looking at the larger nightclub mission, the badges you need could be on any guard. The codes for the vault are also randomized and could be in the vault, in a stack of papers, or on a shelf in a tucked away maintenance closet. These randomization elements help keep you busy with having to look around the level for various elements, but there are plenty of items that don’t change. The layout of the buildings is always the same, meaning the vault is in the same spot, the air vents are always the same, and the cage parts for the nightclub are always in the same location. Combined with the “Leeeeeroyyyyy Jeeeeenkins” level of randoms you’ll likely encounter, you’ll probably spend more time with the non-random elements instead.
That said, teamed up with three of your friends, Payday 3 comes to life. The objectives in each level provide interesting routes for both stealth and mayhem, and are varied enough to ensure each heist feels different from the last. To me, Payday is all about being able to adapt to a new plan on the fly, and with so many options to breach each level, I found a lot to love in this department.
When you do complete missions, you’ll get payouts based on how well you did. The jewelry heist has a huge swing from almost nothing to a solid payday. The jewelry store owners have placed a bunch of fake jewelry in the store, and if you nab that it somehow detracts from the bottom line. If you do it stealthily, you can scan the bags of jewels and weed out the junk, yielding the higher payout. If things go loud, there’s a real chance you won’t get access to the scanning room, meaning a pretty paltry payout. Similarly, the armored car heist has no quiet option that I can find, meaning you’ll be shooting cops by the score as you drill into the bottom of the truck, pop the doors, and throw bags out the back. That mission has FAR bigger payouts than the jewelry store heist, no matter how you tackle it. Similarly, the warehouse mission is incredibly difficult and the payout isn’t that much higher than the aforementioned armored car heist. It’s all tied to the slow progression system, and badly in need of a rebalance.
Speaking of going loud, every mission starts with masks off. You make your approach, spot your objectives and potential ingress and egress points, and then work your way through the mission. Using the bank again, one potential scenario would be to head into the front door to disarm the alarms. Picking the locks on the teller room, you’ll find a power box. Throwing that lever will power down the alarms, but you aren’t out of the woods yet. You’ll also need to disable the electromagnetic lock.
Somewhere on the second floor (this is a randomized element) is the electrical room. To get into that room you’ll need either a red or blue keycard. This can be stolen off the belt loop of a guard, or looted if they happened to have left it somewhere out in the open. With that card obtained, you’ll need to sneak into that room and hack the computer to put the security system into maintenance mode. Now, it’s time to deal with the vault.
Heading to the first floor and in the back of the bank you’ll find the vault. Connected to the door are a series of wires – you’ll follow the red one until you find the breaker. Throwing the lever on the breaker will cause several symbols to appear on the computer back in the power room. Back at the vault door, flipping the switches on the control panel that correspond with these symbols will finally pop the locks to the vault. You aren’t quite done.
Heading back into the offices, you’ll need to locate the bank manager. Taking him hostage, you’ll have to drag him to the vault door. Pushing his face into the door’s retinal scanner will release the first part, but you’ll also need a door code. The meeting room nearby has one of four randomized codes, one of which will finally open the door to the vault. Once you’ve gotten it open, you’ll have a few moments to disable the dye packs on the money before you can finally schlep them out to your van. Whew! Most of the time, and before you even get to the second step, somebody will do something obvious, causing the whole thing to go sideways. Your only option at that point is to assemble a funnel over the vault ceiling, throwing thermite on top until it finally burns a hole so you can jump down inside. This exposes another problem – once you go loud, there’s no going back.
Putting aside the fact that you can’t jump until you’ve put on the mask, it’s practically welded to your face, and most times it’s not even your choice to put it on. Guards can spot you while you are attempting a stealth mission, heading over to investigate or arrest you. Well, your character is quite agile and can easily flee the area. Unfortunately, once a search starts, it never ends. This means you’ll be in a perpetual state of going loud at any moment, making it impossible to take your time any longer. In most stealth games, the guards will eventually give up, giving you an option to return to a stealth approach. This is needed in Payday 3, especially in longer missions. What happened in the entrance of a warehouse shouldn’t be magically conveyed to a dock guard all the way across the map. It makes for frequent restarts or yet another loud run of a mission you just want to try out in stealth.
If you’re someone who enjoys playing solo, there is an option to make your lobby private. However, the game is online only, meaning you’ll still need to be connected to the internet while you’re playing, even with bots. In terms of how much I would suggest playing solo, the bots are well… a little less impactful than one might hope for. They certainly assist with eliminating cops and providing assets like health and ammo, but they aren’t going to help you complete objectives or perform any stealthy actions. This goes both ways though, meaning they aren’t going to just randomly shoot a guard for no reason while you’re attempting a quiet heist. It’s nice to have them for extra back up, but it can be frustrating when you’re being beaten to death by a Cloaker and your bot teammate does little more than sit and watch from two feet away. I would say they are serviceable for the most part, but are absolutely not a replacement for actual players, especially on higher difficulties where teamwork is vital.
When you do end up with a bot on your team, either through launching without a full team, or when somebody gets mad because things went loud and just quits mid-mission (there’s no penalty, so this happens often), you’ll find that there is a bit of a diminishing return on their intelligence. They can handle simple firefights relatively well, but struggle with specials. They also occasionally just show up to watch you get beaten into soup, standing there while a Cloaker beats you unmercifully. They also will not accomplish objectives, and there’s no way to force them to, so you’ll find that they are useful for the first two missions, but are little more than meat shields for anything after that. I’m happy that they can fill in at all, but some ability to influence their agency would be useful.
While raking in boatloads of cash is fun in its own right, what use is a pile of money without something to spend it on? You’ll typically be using your heist spoils to do two things: purchasing gear like guns and masks, and converting C-Stacks. This is a currency that differs from cash, but it’s one that cannot be purchased using real world money. It’s essentially the game’s version of crypto currency, which can then be used to buy curated weapons or unique cosmetics. C-Stacks can be earned through completing challenges, but you can also exchange money you earn from heists to get more, though every time you complete this action the cost increases. This cost resets on a weekly timer, essentially limiting the amount of C-Stacks you can feasibly exchange per cycle. Developer Starbreeze has confirmed that microtransactions will be making their way into the game in the future at some point, though in the form of another currency, and will not be making C-Stacks purchasable.
On the technical side of things, matchmaking has improved dramatically since launch, but there’s still work to be done. Even with cross-play turned on, you’ll find yourself solo or in a group of three with a bot on your team entirely too often. This only gets worse as you go into the latter missions as fewer players have unlocked those. I’m sure Starbreeze will continue to work on this, but at least it’s in a workable state, even if that means quitting and rejoining a few times to get a full crew.
Corvo is a writer who loves to explore journalism through video games. Writing and editing reviews for triple-A games and indies alike, he finds his passion within expressing his experiences in a fair and accurate manner. Some of Corvo's favorite games are Destiny 2, Mass Effect, and Disco Elysium.
A life long video gamer, Mark caught the Tabletop itch in college and has been hooked ever since. Epic two player strategy games are his favorites but he enjoys pretty much everything on the tabletop, just no Werewolf please. When he gets a break from changing diapers and reading bedtime stories he can usually be found researching new games or day dreaming about maybe one day having time for a ttrpg. Some of Mark's favorite games are Star Wars: Rebellion, A Feast for Odin, and Nemesis.
Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming.
Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter.
Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 27 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
The joy of pulling off an elaborate heist is alive and well within Payday 3, if you’ve got the crew to back it up. Holding out against an unstoppable police force or sneaking around undetected to haul out as much cash as you and your friends can carry is a blast, but it’s an experience that is severely hampered when queuing up solo. The mission structure and heist objectives are enjoyable, but carry risks of becoming repetitive when things go loud, which they often will when playing with strangers.