Payday 3 is going back in for one more job – okay, several more

Payday 3 is a direct, incremental continuation of Payday 2, and Starbreeze Studios says that's all part of the grand plan.
Payday 3 xbox game pass september 2023

‘It was never our plan to make a radically different game,’ says Per Storlokken, design lead and interim game director on Payday 3 at Starbreeze Studios.

It’s easy to see that. I only spent three intense weeks of my life devoted to Payday 2 when it first launched in 2013, but found it exceedingly easy to slip right back into Payday 3 ten years later – though admittedly, guided by a very competent Starbreeze chaperone.

Nevertheless, over two separate heists, my squad of thieves performed a simple bank vault job, as well as a far more elaborate art heist job, and killed too many cops to count. If you’d told me this was simply Payday 2 with a decade’s worth of post-launch improvements integrated into it, I would believe you.

Payday 3 is just that, in a way. After Payday 2 found a passionate audience, it continued to receive countless updates in order to support that unprecedentedly loyal base. Starbreeze points out that it’s consistently floating around the Top 20 most-played games on Steam, even today, and has supposedly amassed over USD $300 million in revenue.

But having such a passionate and hungry audience came with some major challenges. Payday 2 was never built to have such a long tail, and balancing ideas for new content with what the audience actually wants to play is also a tricky thing to manage, especially when you’re not totally well-equipped for it.

‘We didn’t expect to do so much with [Payday 2],’ says Amir Listo, global brand director and longtime Payday producer. ‘It created difficult situations where systems were designed for the short term rather than the long term. Payday 3 changes that.’

Storlokken adds, ‘Over time, we got a lot of learnings from dealing with the community. And I mean, we’ve made some pretty big mistakes, but those are the ones you learn from, more than anything.’

In a way, Payday 3 represents Starbreeze taking a moment to establish a strong new foothold, and use that as a basis to keep on climbing. The game has shifted over to Unreal Engine 4, for example, which the studio views as an easier platform to continue building on. Whenever the team wants to add something new, they ‘don’t have to redesign large portions of the game’, says Listo. There are also plans to make the transition to Unreal Engine 5 after launch, and the console and PC versions of the game will have crossplay and version parity.

As Storlokken puts it, the team wants to ‘set up a game where we can interact with the community in interesting ways.’ They’ve already got 18 months of post-launch content planned, with the idea that hopefully the audience response will be strong enough to keep them going. New characters, heists, and weapons are all on the table. Missions will once again have numerous variables to keep things interesting, such as three different possible security firms, each with its own unique traits.

Image: Starbreeze Studios

But while largely a continuation of Payday 2, Payday 3 does make some important refinements that will hopefully be key in keeping the game enjoyable for existing and new players alike. Storlokken tells me that the team went through several new ideas, but because of the deeply intertwining systemic elements of each mission, a lot of those ideas got scrapped – they didn’t scale well with multiple players, or in bigger, more complex missions.

Some of the understated, but more meaningful changes effect the whole flow of Payday missions, such as an increased discrepancy between different stages of the heist, which sit between the discreet, stealthy beginnings and the loud, bloody climaxes.

The reason for these core changes was that ‘[Payday 2] was very single-player focused, you didn’t really benefit from having teammates,’ according to Storlokken. ‘We’ve spent a lot of time trying to make sure that if somebody joins your team, it should be something that you looking forward to, rather than not.’

Aside from the obvious, like being able to manage more tasks with more players, Storlokken points to the fact that Payday 3 no longer has the binary stealth fail states that Payday 2 did. If you’re discovered by a guard before you decide to ‘go loud’, not all is lost. You might be escorted off the premises, but there’s still a chance to have another go at doing things the Ocean’s Eleven way. There are also additional opportunities to diffuse situations before they escalate, says Starbreeze.

Once you go loud, Payday also introduces a new ‘negotiation’ phase that sits before the impending Heatlike sieges and firefights the series is infamous for. Sadly, long conversations with detectives over the phone demanding pizza and a chat with your wife, ala Dog Day Afternoon, aren’t exactly what the game has in mind.

Rather, you’ll be given the option to order detained hostages outside the building, to give yourself more time to complete your objectives before the cops come pouring in. Any hostages not sent out can be grimly used as human shields to help deter fire when the action gets frantic.

While the bank heist mission in our Payday 3 preview simply felt like good ol’ Payday with a few new tricks, the complexity of the art heist had our first-timer brains scrambled. With several locked doors, randomised passwords and locations that had to be confirmed via reading computer screens, having to use a spectrophotometer to verify authentic paintings, and a daring rooftop escape – it was a lot to take in, and a little intimidating at first blush.

But that feeling – the nervous feeling of playing a Payday mission for the first few times before you have everything internalised and worked out – is a special one. If nothing else, should Payday 3 provide those anxious moments across several new big jobs to unravel, then that’s basically a job accomplished.

As the Starbreeze chaperone politely called the shots to steer us toward success, I felt like the hapless lackey you see in heist films, pointing the gun and diligently performing orders as told, quietly sweating under the mask while trying to keep cool, just hoping to get out alive, above all else.

That’s a pretty accurate heist fantasy to me.

Payday 3 will be released on 21 September 2023 on PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X/S.

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Edmond was the founding managing editor of GamesHub. He was also previously at GameSpot for 13 years, where he was the Australian Editor and an award-winning video producer. You can follow him @EdmondTran