Payday 3 review – Half-baked heist shooter that needs more time in the oven

Olly Smith
payday 3 review

Payday 3 brings some much-needed improvements to the heist horde shooter formula, while simultaneously making a few stumbles.

At the end of Payday 2’s storyline, the titular criminal gang was last seen breaking into the White House to steal a bunch of Presidential pardons while simultaneously solving a mystery involving secret societies and ancient gods. By the beginning of Payday 3, they’re back to robbing small city banks and shady underworld nightclubs.

In any other sequel, this narrative reset would stick out like a sore thumb — a disastrous reminder that video games have to start you out “at the bottom”. But for Payday fans, this more grounded approach to heisting, and subsequent removal of anime-level storylines, might just be the breath of fresh air needed to revive the franchise back to its glory days.

Spend an hour with Payday 3 and you’ll see developer Starbreeze Studios purposely distancing itself from some of these ludicrous aspects of the game’s predecessor. The difficulty has been ramped up, the stealth has been revamped, and the heists themselves generally feel a lot more elaborate.

Payday 3: Key details

  • Price: $39.99/£34.99
  • Developer: Starbreeze Studios
  • Release Date: September 21, 2023
  • Platforms: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, & PC

The cinematic heist game

For many people, the Payday series has come to be thought of as “The Cinematic Heist Game” – taking inspiration from popular movies like Ocean’s Eleven, Heat, and Reservoir Dogs. 

And Payday 3 is no exception to this, wearing its influences on its sleeve as the available missions include bank heists, jewelry capers, armored transport hijackings, and warehouse raids. Where Payday 2’s launch suffered from a lack of diversity in its level design, its sequel happily presents you with a wide variety of different heists to complete.

payday 3 review nightclub
One of Payday 3’s more gorgeous set pieces is an underground nightclub

This is especially great for people who enjoy stealth gameplay. Payday 3 takes a brand new approach to this, utilizing the inclusion of “stealth phases” to flesh out the game’s sneakier moments. Getting caught by guards now gives you many new opportunities, including being escorted out of private areas and being able to pickpocket key items from them. Being caught on camera doesn’t even result in an alarm anymore, which comes as a much-needed change.

These changes highlight Starbreeze’s desire to move beyond the clunkiness of Payday 2’s more unwieldy details. A move to Unreal Engine 4 highlights the much-desired retirement of the Diesel Engine, which was infamous within the community for its fair share of bugs and weird oddities. This results in an overall more polished surface, with far fewer awkward animations, cumbersome AI pathfinding, and clumsy controls.

Weapons, cosmetics, and other fun stuff

Payday 3 comes with a wide range of weapons to use, ranging from assault rifles and shotguns to grenade launchers and snipers. Starbreeze has made sure the most popular firearms return here, bringing a variety in the weapon builds you can use. 

This time around, attachments are unlocked by leveling up the gun itself, a feature more prominently seen in the Call of Duty series. Using your starter assault rifle for a few games will unlock scopes, grips, silencers, and other features that come with their own pros and cons. 

While these attachments are useful to obtain and ultimately improve your build, they don’t feel like they dramatically transform the weapons. A scope may enhance your aim, but you won’t notice any big recoil or accuracy changes by sticking a new grip onto your rifle. Your skill with Payday 3’s gunplay itself will always be more useful to your team, and while that helps the game feel more skillful, it does leave a lot to be desired with the gun customization system. 

payday 3 review loadout
Payday 3’s weapon customization brings some variety to builds

After racking up enough kills during a heist, you’re also given the opportunity to call in an ‘Overkill Weapon’ — powerful weapons with limited ammunition intended to tip the odds in your favor. This feature is intended to feel like a special moment, and a boon to your team that is properly earned.

There are currently two at launch – a grenade launcher and a high-power sniper rifle. While the sniper rifle dealt with special enemies far more effectively than any other weapon in the game, the grenade launcher ended up feeling weak in comparison. A rebalance of these may be necessary if Starbreeze wants both to feel like viable options.

Besides gaining new guns, you’ll also earn a tonne of cosmetic items as you level up. These consist of masks, suits, and gloves for you to dapper up your character for their next heist. Mask customization was a huge aspect of Payday 2’s appeal, along with the suit selection that came later on in its lifespan, allowing you to inject a bit of your own personality into the game. 

So it was an obvious choice to bring back these features. While the choice of masks and suits is a little limited at launch, there’s a foundation here to build upon this system with new cosmetic items being released periodically in the form of free and paid DLC. 

payday 3 review loadout screen
The loadout screen allows you to choose everything from your weapons and skills, to masks and armor

It also paves the way for microtransactions, which were rejected by the community in Payday 2 when introduced eight years ago. Starbreeze has confirmed they will also be showing up in Payday 3 post-launch, and as troubling as that may sound to some, perhaps minor cosmetic paid content can fare a better reception in 2023.

A social experience for better or worse

The heists themselves also feel far more weighted toward teamplay this time around. Payday 2 was popular for its solo-stealthing, where one player would try and complete the whole mission by themselves while their teammates would stand at the escape van waiting for them to complete it.

But due to the more forgiving stealth phases, Payday 3’s heists encourage players to collaborate more during play. More objectives can be completed simultaneously, and there’s less of a risk of the heist going loud because one player got caught. 

It’s this social element that has made Payday a popular co-op franchise since its inception, and it’s clear Starbreeze wants to continue encouraging this in the new sequel. However, there are a few setbacks that keep this from flourishing as the definitive co-op game.

payday 3 review ready screen
While there is no post-game lobby, you can see everyone’s loadouts in the pre-heist screen

If you’re playing Payday 3 with a pre-arranged group of friends, you’ll have fewer issues here. But if you’re a player who enjoys playing in public lobbies and bonding with strangers as you complete heists together, this will be less fun. There’s no post-game lobby, nor is there in-game voice chat. Finishing a match just throws you back to the menu screen, and you have to matchmake again to find a new team.

It feels like the antithesis of what made Payday 2 public lobbies fun; that feeling of vibing with a group of strangers over a couple of hours, beating a bunch of heists on a hard difficulty brought about a true sense of community. And it’s just not present here at all.

Similarly, the lack of a server browser also doesn’t work in the game’s favor. Finding a game requires you to search for a specific heist, and there’s no indication of how many players are actually enjoying that specific level at any one time. Without a server browser, or even a quickplay option, finding a match makes for a particularly frustrating experience.

It’s an oddity that many popular features from Payday 2 are reduced or stripped out entirely here — there’s no personal stats, no hostage counter, no option to kick unruly players, no music selection, and no bot loadouts. These were ‘quality of life’ features added to Payday 2 either at launch or in a later patch, and Starbreeze seems to have fully removed them for the third game.

payday 3 review bank heist
The Gold & Sharke bank is Payday 3’s crown jewel and easily the best heist in the game

Always online

The worst offender for this is the ‘online only’ stipulation. Payday 3 cannot be played offline, which comes especially as a burn for Steam Deck players and those with spotty home internet speeds. You’re never going to guarantee a crystal-clear connection, and the game can easily throw you out of a game just because of your network hiccups. If the servers go down for maintenance, you can’t play at all.

Even if you want to play the single-player portion, there isn’t actually an option to do that properly. You have to matchmake into an ‘invite only’ lobby, which can take up to a minute depending on your speeds, and then be sorted into a game where you’re playing with bot teammates.

And despite single-player being a popular playstyle in Payday 2, the experience is still rather lackluster here. Bots don’t feel as clever as they used to be, they can’t be told to stand in a specific place and don’t seem to be able to revive other bots. You can’t even pause the game.

payday 3 review jewelry store
Stealth is a viable option for solo players, even if offline single-player isn’t an option right now

And even playing alone, it’s fully possible to lag if your connection slows, which can ruin many stealth runs. While the game is clearly meant to be played cooperatively, some support for those who prefer to play alone is needed. In the end, despite being a multiplayer game, the online connection DRM doesn’t make any sense.

Despite these grievances, Payday 3 is still fun. The heists are top-tier quality, the gunplay is enjoyable, and the controls are buttery smooth. The core makes for a truly iconic co-op heist shooter. It’s better to have a solid foundation that can be built upon, rather than a game that is utterly broken from the ground up.

Verdict – 3/5

Payday 3’s high-octane action and extravagant heists make it another iconic entry into the heist shooter franchise, but it is ultimately held back by a lackluster user interface, matchmaking issues, and online DRM. While these problems can be addressed in later patches — as Starbreeze proved with its post-launch support for Payday 2, the game ends up feeling a little half-baked in its current state.

Reviewed on PC.

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About The Author

Olly is Dexerto's Evergreen Editor, managing guides and evergreen articles on the website. Olly has almost a decade of experience in covering entertainment, primarily video games and TV/film. Their keen interests lie in stealth games, shooters, Resident Evil, Tomb Raider, Studio Ghibli and handheld gaming. You can contact Olly at