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Payday 3 plays great, but that’s not the biggest challenge this shooter faces

When Payday 3 launches this September, it’ll have been over a decade since the release of its predecessor. A follow-up to one of the most popular games on Steam, Payday 3 looks to update the cooperative heist experience by deepening the interactions players can have before and after the cops arrive with character and weapon customization, as well as a new story. I went hands-on with Payday 3 following its gameplay reveal at the Xbox Games Showcase and found it executed solidly on all those fronts.

PAYDAY 3: Gameplay Trailer

Payday 3 is shaping up to be more of what fans of the series will love, although it’s hard to be sold on this game ahead of its release. While my time with it was promising, the 10 years between games has been tough on Starbreeze, a studio that’s dealt with Payday 2 post-launch controversies, rough console ports, and a The Walking Dead game that flopped. In an interview, I asked Starbreeze what it has learned from the tribulations it has faced over the last decade, so fans have an idea of where the studio is at heading into the game’s launch in a couple of months.

A proper successor

Payday 3 is very similar to its predecessors at its core: Up to four players can pull off a series of heists together, like breaking into the bank. To be successful, they have to work well together to scope things out and fight off enemies when things inevitably take a turn for the worse. Payday 3 doesn’t do much to radically shake up the basic formula across the two missions in this demo build: the fairly by-the-numbers bank robbery in No Rest For the Wicked and Under the Surphaze, where players steal valuable art from a gallery.

Before entering a match, players will notice some improvements over Payday 2, like deeper character customization and a robust skill tree system that players can easily reset and adapt to as new skills are added post-launch. Once a mission starts, you’ll notice the earliest phases of the heist have been deepened. There are many options and ways to scout out a map before a heist, and you can now even move around without a mask on at the cost of more limited mobility.

Players fight in a vault in Payday 3
Deep Silver / Deep Silver

And if your crew is really good, you can pull a heist off without much of a struggle. My demos did not go that way. Whether it was because someone on my team was spotted somewhere they weren’t supposed to be by a guard, or someone hit the wrong button and accidentally threw a grenade (sorry), things went south, and Payday 3 transformed from a stealth game to a full-blown shooter. It’s now possible to trade hostages to earn more time inside a building or respawn a fallen ally, but you’ll likely be hunkering down at the extraction point as waves of cops come at you by the end of a mission.

My time with Payday 3 showed that it’s a faithful continuation of the series. The formula hasn’t been transformed in significant ways. Still, some new features make the experience more customizable and should make heists more interesting before they devolve into a firefight. Currently, it seems like fans have a lot to look forward to with Payday 3 — that is, if they trust Starbreeze to pull off this game’s launch and post-release support.

Starbreeze’s promise of respect

While Payday 3 is shaping up to be an entertaining multiplayer game with the right group of friends, it’s a bit hard to have a ton of faith in this game heading into its launch. Over the past 10 years, Payday 2 made its way through many controversies and scandals, like a massive microtransaction controversy in 2015. More importantly, Starbreeze’s last game, Overkill’s The Walking Dead, was so panned at launch that console versions were canceled, the PC version got delisted, and Starbreeze nearly went away entirely as a company.

That trust is something that can be broken, but anything broken can also be fixed.

As such, I’m approaching the studio’s next release with a fair bit of caution, as should most interested Payday 3 players. During a Q&A portion of my preview, I asked the Starbreeze team directly what they learned from those past mistakes that makes them believe players should trust them now. Almir Listo, global brand manager, who’s been through all the ups and downs with Starbreeze for the last 12 years, says those experiences taught the studio how to handle its relationship with the game’s community heading into the launch of Payday 3.

“Let’s face it, having a large community is not an easy feat, and having a large community and making them happy is even harder,” Listo says. “What we’ve learned over the years is that this relationship is like any other relationship in your life with a significant other; it’s something that you build over time. That trust is something that can be broken, but anything broken can also be fixed … I do believe that with Payday 3, what we’re seeing from our community and players is respect. People respect our decisions and that we’ve hung in there. We, as developers, now need to show our respect to them for sticking with us through thick or thin all of these years and all of these events.”

Four players fight in Payday 3
Deep Silver / Deep Silver

Essentially, Starbreeze believes it has learned the right things from its past mess-ups so it doesn’t make the same mistakes again. It can be difficult for new live-service games to take off, but Payday 3 technically has the built-in community from the start to pull it off. With a solid gameplay base to offer players, Starbreeze’s next challenge is to make Payday 3’s launch as successful as it can be.

Payday 3 is coming to PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X/S on September 21. It will be available on Xbox Game Pass on day one.

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Tomas Franzese
Gaming Staff Writer
Tomas Franzese is a Staff Writer at Digital Trends, where he reports on and reviews the latest releases and exciting…
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