Payday 2 does not simply pick-up where the original left off. In fact, Payday 2 shares little in common with its predecessor outside of its concept. Though that might sound a bit startling, it is actually a very good thing that Payday 2 has evolved as much as it has. While the original relied on its cooperative aspects to deliver diversity, Payday 2 does more to prevent the “through the motions” gameplay that plagued the original. Wider mission variety with more ways to accomplish your goal coupled with improved and, most importantly, more meaningful player progression makes Payday 2 feel like a AAA title and deserving of such a price tag.

The basic premise of the game remains the same, you and up to three other players are tasked with acquiring large sums of cash, precious jewels or art, or even incriminating evidence against rival gangs or for corrupt politicians. However, missions no longer just revolve around the idea of casing the joint and the running in guns blazing. New to Payday 2 is the ability to complete a missions in stealth. Not just part of the mission, not just most of the mission, all of it, to the extent that some players may never need to don their familiar masks. Stealth, for obvious reasons, requires much more finesse and careful planning than the guns blazing option and, for better or for worse, requires a much greater time investment. While difficult to accomplish early in your career, pulling off a full stealth heist is an immensely satisfying feat, oftentimes much more exciting and rewarding than fighting your way to victory.

The drill is both your best friend and your worst enemy.

The drill is both your best friend and your worst enemy.

With stealth being a legitimate strategy, the game needed a counter to players being able to simply sneak their way past the various security measures littered through the various levels. Here is where randomization plays its part. Though the basic design of each level never changed, key locations within them can. Guard patrols vary each time you play the same level which can interrupt timings and  vaults can change locations into much less favorable positions which make stealth extremely difficult without excellent crowd control. Other instances such as bad information or a deal gone wrong can turn what would have been an easy heist into a fight for survival.

It is during those fights that the gameplay improvements in Payday 2 will be much appreciated. Shooting feels much more satisfying than the original and the guns themselves feel more powerful. Police are unfortunately still as unintelligent as ever, but are numerous enough that their lemmings tactics will eventually drain you of your ammo and put your backs against the wall. Combat is not easy, but it isn’t terribly difficult either as long as you put yourselves in good positions and communicate. It is also crucial to have a diverse group, each player having skills and equipment appropriate for the mission.

Payday 2 once again features four classes, but these classes are much more diverse and have a much greater impact on gameplay. In their earliest forms they do little more than provide a single piece of equipment, a jammer for the Ghost, ammo bag for the Enforcer, and so on. As you level you unlock skill points which, along with cash earned from completing missions, can be applied to the skill tree for your class to gain new abilities and equipment options. Though an Enforcer only gets a single ammo bag at first, once fully upgraded they can access two bags, in addition to a heavy armor suit and a saw capable of breaking into doors, vaults, ATM machines, and many other loot filled objects and locations. Players can further diversify their role by diving into other skill trees and getting abilities that complement their role further. That same Enforcer can dive into the Mastermind tree and gain the ability to tie up more hostages or even convince enemy guards to join his cause.

Cards, along with cash, are your reward for completing a heist.

Cards, along with cash, are your reward for completing a heist.

Cash is also used to purchase new weapons, attachments, and masks. The ability to purchase new weapons unlocks as you level up, though attachments and masks must be earned by completing missions and selecting the correct card. Cards are earned at the end of each successful heist and award new equipment or cash. Though it leaves a lot to chance and can make for long waits for the things you want, it can also lead to some epic loot drops that make the waiting worth it. Some attachments are weapons specific while others can be used on several. Masks must be built and can then be customized with unlocked paint schemes and materials, because nothing screams scary like a Skull mask with wicker material and the player behind it screaming “I’m the wicker man” in a raspy voice. Cash is also used to initiate missions and buy various assets for them which can make the mission easier. They can range from extra ammo and health bags pre placed in the area, to armored escape vehicles and support snipers. You have to be careful though, failing a mission means you’ll have to purchase these assets all over again.

Another new aspect to Payday 2 is multiple mission heists. Each mission is a day in the heist, each with its own objectives leading into one final concluding mission. One such heist begins with you cooking meth to trade with a rival gang. You can succeed by getting 3 bags of meth, or opt for more to get some bonus cash, all while holding off wave after wave of police assaults. As the mission continues you hand over the meth to get the intel you are looking for on the second day, with the conclusion coming on the third day when you finally kill off the fleeing gang member and steal their bomb ridden cash. One of the more interesting elements of this new approach is that you can fail any or all of these days. It is possible to blow up the meth lab by adding the wrong ingredient, or get chased by the cops by leaving during an assault wave which adds an extra escape mission to the series. You can also fail the meth trade and have the gang burn the intel, or after acquiring it choose to take back your meth in a bloody gun fight. Your reward changes based on how well you perform each day and can make for very different experiences from heist to heist. Add to the the varying difficulty levels and you have a highly replayable experience as you adapt to the changing circumstances.

Don't worry, there are plenty more where these came from. Maybe we should stop robbing banks and start robbing Precincts.

Don’t worry, there are plenty more where these came from. Maybe we should stop robbing banks and start robbing Precincts.

A major drawback to Payday 2 is mission selection, or specifically the act of doing so. The game will randomly generate missions at different difficulty levels which can lead to a long wait time if you are looking for one specific mission on a specific difficulty level, especially if that mission is popular. There is also the fact that many missions are level restricted. This means that higher level players will have to continue on lower level missions to play with friends, or that lower level players will be force to grind their way up to the higher levels. It creates and unnecessary divide between players in a cooperatively focused game.

The biggest issue facing Payday 2 is its bugs and their frequency. These aren’t just A.I. bugs either. Some bugs affect the skill trees and their abilities. One such example is the Mastermind’s domination ability, which can make others enemies submit to you, and the fact that more often than not it does not work. There is also the ability for guards and cameras to see through walls, and the fact that some civilians won’t respond you your commands to get on the ground. Getting tazed through a wall isn’t particularly fun either. The amount of bugs, their frequency, and their effect on core gameplay is very disappointing and is the biggest mark against an otherwise excellent game.

Better skills for more kills.

Better skills for more kills.

While Payday 2 won’t be winning any awards for its voice acting, it’s soundtrack may. The casing phase is underscored by simple tones that do well to build a bit of tension. The music has an excellent build up just before an assault wave begins, one that when heard will immediately see you and your comrades moving to the nearest cover and holding out. The music during combat is very good and keeps the intensity alive, knowing that until it is gone you are always at risk. the music, even if it isn’t always perfect itself, is used to perfection to deliver the scene in a way few co-op shooters do. Payday 2 also happens to be a pretty game with the settings turned up. Though nowhere near as technically pleasing as games like Battlefield or Crysis, it has a good enough look and runs well on modest systems, mostly thanks to its console support.

Payday 2, while not a AAA title, can often feel like one. This isn’t just a sequel to a downloadable title, this is a premium game worth of the price tag associated. Yes it has its flaws and a few too many bugs, but that fact that it can be such a fun game despite that is a testament to how good the game is. No matter what you play on, Payday 2 is a game worth adding to your collection and, with the right support from the developer, is a game you should still be enjoying a year from now.




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