A decade after the last game in the multiplayer heist franchise, Payday 3 is finally coming on September 21, 2023. A closed beta test was conducted with a select number of media, content creators, and public players. We got to play around with an early build of the game for about 5 days. Here are our Payday 3 first impressions.
Payday 2 is one of the most content-rich PvE multiplayer experiences of the last decade. The steady flow of post-launch DLC kept the dedicated player base engaged for so many years. That’s because the Payday games offer dynamic, high-stakes, high-reward gameplay scenarios that are just so addicting and easy to pick up and play.
If there was only one thing holding Payday 2 back, it’s the outdated game engine that was used which made the game nearly impossible to support for console users. While the bugs and jankyness of the gameplay became more accepted as the game’s charm and identity, an upgrade was long overdue. That is exactly what Payday 3 is hoping to do.
Payday 3’s closed beta only allowed us to play through 1 heist. In terms of the level design and aesthetics, it was very reminiscent of the very first bank heist in Payday 2, which immediately made me feel at home. The game was made with Unreal Engine 4 but will be transitioned over to Unreal Engine 5 sometime post-launch. The visuals look great but definitely not in line with the graphical powerhouses of modern AAA releases. Payday has always been a franchise that doesn’t concern itself with its graphical fidelity. Its colors and art direction are vibrant enough to get the job done. The real value of the package is in its gameplay.
The beauty of the Payday experience is in its dynamic gameplay design. You could replay the same mission over and over again and yet, you’ll still be experiencing a different run every time. This is because of the different ways certain elements are distributed at a level. A key to a safe can be located in the office this round while in the next run, it has to be pickpocketed from a guard. It’s a very simple yet elegant system that keeps every session feeling fresh in its own little unique way.
The success of this dynamic mechanic is further proven in the closed beta. For all 5 days, only 1 mission was playable. That’s one map with only 1 clear goal. Blow through the safe, get the money, and escape. Everything that happens in between is up to you, your team, and the cards you’ve been dealt with the randomized factors at play.
Payday 3 still plays more or less the same as its predecessors. The only difference is that the shooting feels a little bit better and less like you’re just using a toy gun. That’s really all the game needs to be considered an improvement over the second one. The gameplay experience has already been well-loved by the community for a decade at this point, there’s really not much reason to give it a complete overhaul.
Progression felt similar to the previous game. After finishing a heist, you’ll be rewarded with boatloads of cash and XP. This is depending on your performance during the actual heist itself. Did you kill any innocents? Were you able to accomplish optional tasks? Did you loot more money than what was required? Afterward, there’s a pretty extensive selection of specializations you can choose which will determine various buffs and special equipment you can bring in the next heist.
I wasn’t able to see all of the weapons and cosmetics available since a lot of them weren’t in the closed beta build but if this was anywhere near the abundance that there was in Payday 2, then we shouldn’t be worried.
In terms of online connection, we were initially warned that we might experience some trouble given that most of the connecting plays would come from the US or EU regions but once we loaded in our matches, we were pinging from around 30-50 so there was no problem on that end. I only really had one disconnect in all 5 days.
However, the one big caveat of the entire Payday 3 closed beta experience was its technical performance. I was running the game on a very reliable Asus ROG Flow X16 and yet I was struggling to keep it at a stable 60-70 fps. Most of the time, the game would drop to as low as 30-40 fps at the most random times. As if that wasn’t hard enough to deal with, constant freezing and stuttering would occur. Given how fast-paced and high stakes the gameplay is in a Payday game, this was something that was definitely frustrating to deal with.
Just having a quick look at the Steam forums shows that a lot more people are experiencing performance problems despite having good rigs of their own. It was worth noting that the friend I played with reported that he was constantly reaching 100 fps with no trouble but that’s because one can consider his setup as one of the more well-equipped ones.
From what I can tell, the technical problem is definitely an optimization issue. There was a rumor that the closed beta build was an older one that has since then been patched and polished in time for the full release. The last time we heard such a thing was during the pre-launch of Battlefield 2042 and we all know how that went. Hopefully, Payday 3 becomes a much smoother experience by the time of its release.
I’d say I still had a mostly fun time with Payday 3. The gameplay is as rock solid as ever and the dynamic elements keep every run feel more different than the last. Performance issues aside, I’m still very excited about the full release of Payday 3. With crossplay already confirmed, here’s to hoping that the console versions are up to par with the support that PC players get and I can’t wait for the amount of content to lose another 10 years into.