Who’s to say in this crazy world if crime truly pays, but if last week’s Payday 3 beta test is anything to go by, patience certainly seems profitable.
I played Payday 2 pretty obsessively for a number of years. ‘511.5 hours and 659 achievements’ kind of obsessively, to be exact. I was around for the absolute rollercoaster that was 2’s DLC and gameplay redesign cycle. I even attended PaydayCon Melbourne back in 2016. After that much chaos and more, I frankly didn’t know what to expect of 3. Will it be more of the same? Something different? A complete mess? The answer to all of these questions, to varying degrees, is ‘yes’.
The beta showcases just a single one of the eight heists the full game promises, a robbery of a small branch bank. You can get through the whole thing stealthily or guns blazing, as fans will expect, but what’s refreshing here is how successfully the binary between those two states has been blurred.
Where Payday 2 limited players from doing much of anything before masking up and drawing weapons, Payday 3 now gives them the freedom to pick locks, hack computers, and carry loot bags. In turn, security guards can now cuff and detain unmasked players caught doing suspicious things without the alarm necessarily getting raised. It’s a brilliant change that encourages players to at least try to go in stealthily at first because there isn’t really anything to lose in doing so, and it makes the act of heisting itself much more dynamic and engaging on repeated plays.
If things do go loud, or more likely when they go loud, Payday 2 veterans will probably be in for a bit of a shock as to how much more brutal and tough the NYPD’s forces are than Washington DC’s were. Once your armour is depleted, bullets REALLY hurt. Enemies coordinate with each other and with their specialist units much more effectively than before, using shields to lead charges while they fall in behind them or positioning themselves so that they sandwich you between a SWAT squad and a poisonous gas cloud. Bulldozers, especially, are now a thing to be feared as they’re easily able to absolutely demolish your entire crew if not dealt with smartly.
Armaments and skills are now improved through use, so inevitably the boys in blue will become a bit less of a headache as players level up.
Hostages are now a much more useful and important gameplay tool than before, with cops now being intensely careful in how they attack you when they’re around. If you’re confident in your crew’s ability to not hit them yourselves, then piling as many hostages as you can immediately around whatever position or objective you’re defending is a good tactic to temper police aggression.
As great as the improvements to enemy A.I. are, it also really highlights just how painfully fucking dumb your fellow heisters are. Several years ago, Payday 2 received a significant update to heister intelligence and also gave players the ability to customize them with significant perks to further help offset their idiocy. None of that is present here, and with less than two months to go before release, I’m not confident that this is a thing that will change ahead of launch. As someone who hugely enjoys doing stealth heists solo it’s a major bummer knowing that you can’t even rely on your bot-buddies to pick up bags that are at their feet and move them to the escape van. Hell, even the much-maligned Crime Boss: Rockay City from earlier in the year featured the ability to give basic commands to your team and even allowed you to directly hot-swap between them.
Given the truly staggering amount of both paid and free DLC that Payday 2 ended up with over the course of the past decade, 3 was always doomed to feel a bit shallow in comparison. I was frankly a bit taken aback by just how light on weapons, masks, and customization options it currently appears to be though. Of course, this is only a beta, and trailers have shown at least some weapons not present here, but given that the game is launching at a budget price and with two season passes, I can’t help but be a bit concerned about just how lean the base game will be come September 22nd. The weapons that are present here all feel good, and the rate at which you unlock attachments for them through use feels well-paced at least, so that’s something. The beginner assault rifle’s damage output is way too weak for how low its ammo pickup rate is, but hey, that’s what a beta like this is presumably for, right? There’s a premium currency system at play which some weapons and cosmetics require, too, which always raises my hackles a little. This currency can be purchased using cash you earn from heists in stacks that grow increasingly expensive but which reset weekly. Time will tell what happens with that, but I instinctively don’t like it.
Technically Payday 3 has been running like a dream on my recently purchased MSI Stealth laptop, though the always online aspect has been a complete mess. For the first day of the beta, character XP gain was completely disabled, and everything ran pretty smoothly. On day two, it was enabled, and on day three, the whole game had to be brought offline for hours because of a problem the XP system was causing with the servers. This eventually led to the game coming back online with XP disabled once more. It’s been back online now with the XP system fully running with seemingly no issues for the past day, but Overkill Software’s insistence on keeping Payday 3 an always online, live-service experience feels like it’s inevitably going to cause further headaches.
As a Payday 2 veteran, I’ve come away from this beta really looking forward to Payday 3. The gameplay fundamentals have been refreshed and updated in ways that make it feel like a smart evolution of what came before. There’s still an enormous amount of questions hanging over the final product, but at this stage, it feels like it’s been worth the long wait.
Also, changing Payday 2’s ‘throw bag’ button to now be ‘throw grenade’ is a damn good bit.
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