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Payday 3 Art Heist
Image via Starbreeze.

Payday 3 Closed Beta Impressions | Feeling the Heat

The third installment thrusts the second game's mechanics into the modern age.

Thanks to the recent closed beta for Payday 3, I was able to dive in for about 10 hours to see what the new installment had in store. I overall came out impressed by how much it understood what made the rest of the series tick, albeit with a few points of concern.

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The closed beta itself offered access to the first of the eight heists that will be available at launch, No Rest for the Wicked. This heist essentially is a complete remake of the titular Bank Heist from the second game. I also had access to a few of the game’s signature weapons, alongside some of the possible skills.

Slow and Methodical, or Loud and Violent

Payday 3 Gang Fighting
Image via Starbreeze.

As the series is best known for, there’s rarely just one way to tackle a problem (excluding stealth or loud-only heists of course). In the case of No Rest for the Wicked, both the stealth and loud methods are fleshed out with plenty of steps along the way.

Stealth has by far seen the most changes, with the opening heist offering some much-needed depth that’s likely to make it far more enjoyable on replay. A great example of how this differs is seen prominently in two of Payday 2’s more memorable heists, Bank Heist and Car Shop. Trying to run either of these missions stealth is a completely different experience. Bank Heist is straightforward and a tad boring on replay (especially when waiting several minutes for a drill), while Car Shop is far more diverse with numerous variables to consider, making it feel fresh even after running it a few times. No Rest for the Wicked follows the latter’s design philosophy which can be a bit overwhelming for newer players, but for those willing to learn, it is a better way to prepare for running other heists in stealth.

That’s not to say that loud doesn’t get the same sort of love. First and foremost are changes to the game’s core systems. Gunplay feels much tighter and more refined, the movement offers a lot more in the way of speed, and most excitingly, AI is far smarter than their Payday 2 counterparts.

They act far more dynamic in combat, setting up for coordinated attacks playing to each special enemy’s strength. One bit of AI behavior I noticed more prevalently was with how shield units coordinated their attacks with the rest of the police force. They’d often call out to their teammates to follow behind them, similar to how real-life police will use an officer with a riot shield to take point in assaults. Enemy units are still easy enough to take down, but having them require a little more strategy is a welcome sight, especially on higher difficulties.

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While I’m worried this won’t be consistent, I was happy to see how No Rest for the Wicked cuts down on the lengthy wait times for loud approaches. There’s still some waiting involved, but the ability to speed up that wait is a game changer. Instead of waiting forever for the thermite to break a hole in the floor, you can collect additional thermite to make it burn even faster. Cops can also turn on the sprinklers to cool down the thermite but can be stopped if you kill them in time. I hope this sort of thing persists across the other seven heists, seeing as it forces you to stay on your toes and constantly challenges you.

Speaking of challenge, I was impressed by how much they reigned in the incomprehensible difficulty curve that Payday 2 suffers from. Rather than well over half a dozen levels to take into account, they’ve condensed this into four different settings that feel more streamlined. Unlike the previous game, they also don’t get easily grouped. Each one (Normal, Hard, Very Hard, and Overkill) feels more in line with what the name suggests. After 10 hours, I was only barely able to complete a run on Very Hard, something that would be a breeze in the previous entry. Different difficulties even change steps to the stealth side of heists, which is a welcome refresher and a benefit to replay value.

It should go without saying that visuals have seen a massive improvement thanks to Unreal Engine 5. That isn’t to say that Payday 2 is a bad-looking game by any stretch of the imagination, seeing as some vistas and grand scale views are beautiful, but its archaic engine hasn’t done texture work any favors. Colors are far more vibrant thanks to the newer technology, with some parts of the bank’s entrance in No Rest for the Wicked almost reminding me of Mirror’s Edge in color palette and style. When you see the entrance, you might see what I mean.

No Bank Run Goes Smoothly

Payday 3 Dallas Gunfight
Image via Starbreeze.

With all of this being said, Payday 3’s beta shows that it is a tad rough around the edges. Chief among these problems is the forced always-online setup. I don’t have the worst internet in the world, but ping is often a considerable pain point that could’ve been remedied by the ability to solo missions offline. I can excuse the lack of an option to do so with it being a beta and all, but I’m worried that could deter me from playing when my WiFi is less than cooperative.

Beyond network issues, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the current skill system iteration. Rather than a couple of skill trees to spec into alongside the perk decks, Starbreeze has gone for this strange mix of the two that simply doesn’t work. It’s a convoluted system that’s hard to understand, compounded by the fact that you unlock skill slots by gaining XP for individual skills that you need to manually select. The team says it’ll see iteration, so I hope I’m not saying the same thing at launch.

My last issue is likely to be fixed by launch, and that’s balance. As far as the closed beta is concerned, the shotgun and semi-automatic rifle are kings, with assault rifles suffering from ammo issues and SMGs proving to be nigh unusable in anything but Normal. Again, I suspect this will be fixed by launch, but it was a pain point regardless that should have a close eye kept on it.

The Payoff of a Decade

Payday 3 Moving Cash
Image via Starbreeze.

If attention is given to the few pain points (things the developers seem keen on fixing), Payday 3 is set to be a worthy successor to a monumentally popular game. The game’s various systems have seen welcome overhauls, thanks partly to switching over to Unreal Engine 5. Other areas have seen further development, such as stealth being far more in-depth and meaningful. Payday 3 was one of my most hyped games to come in 2023, and after playing the closed beta, that excitement is far from being deterred.

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Shawn Robinson
Shawn is a freelance gaming journalist who's been with Prima Games for a year and a half, writing mainly about FPS games and RPGs. He even brings several years of experience at other sites like The Nerd Stash to the table. While he doesn't bring a fancy degree to the table, he brings immense attention to detail with his guides, reviews, and news, leveraging his decade and a half of gaming knowledge. If he isn't writing about games, he's likely getting zero kills in his favorite FPS or yelling at the game when it was 100% his fault that he died.