Payday 2 takes ideas from a lot of different sources and blends them together into a really fun, and at times, surprisingly deep game about pulling off various crimes. It’s a four player co-op shooter, with skill trees and its own version of loot drops.
There’s no real “story” per say. Each heist has a basic plot behind why you’re doing the job, but there’s no overarching narrative that really ties them all together. This is a shame for those who need a story to keep them going. However, if you can accept that each heist is a detached multiplayer experience that won’t naturally flow into the next heist, you should be just fine.
With a decent variety of heists to choose from, some of which re-use maps, but with different objectives, there is a decent amount of game in here. Add to this that each mission has certain variables so things will always play out slightly differently each time. This is important, because Payday 2 is a game where the same missions are designed to be played over and over again - similar to games like Left 4 Dead.
What helps make this repetition fun is that as you level up and learn new skills, new options become available and you can play the mission differently than you did before. That, and the in-game money and loot do a good job motivating you to keep playing. The money is used to buy new weapons, masks, upgrades, and more - all of which you must first unlock as rewards at the end of each successful mission.
Most missions are able to be stealthed through, and it is extremely satisfying when your team can work together to pull off the “perfect crime” without the cops getting involved. This is very difficult on most missions though, and a lot of the time something will go wrong. When that happens, you’ve got about 30 seconds until all hell breaks loose and the place is swarming with police, SWAT, FBI - you name it.
At this point Payday 2 effectively becomes a Horde Mode game with waves of enemies trying to stop you from your goal. This usually involved waiting for something to be drilled into, or a computer to be hacked - before having to then carry one or more bags of money, gold, weapons or whatever you’re there to steal and make it to your getaway ride.
From an action perspective, Payday 2 is a fairly ‘by-the-numbers’ first person shooter and the sheer volume of police that are sent to their death against you can be both silly and ridiculously overwhelming at times.
However, even when things go wrong and you die, you’ll usually start it right up again to see if you can do better. Payday 2 can be very addictive and a lot of fun, with most missions being about holding your ground and a few forcing you to push forward in a situation.
Success in Payday 2 all depends on having the right team to play with. Make no mistake, this is a co-op game and if you want to play alone you might as well not bother. The teammate AI is bad and cannot interact with objects, making certain mission almost impossible in solo-play. Seriously, play with friends or make new friends online - it’s what makes the game great.
It’s also important to have a well rounded team. The game has four skill trees to put your points into and each “class” can bring valuable options to missions. It’s all this added depth that makes Payday 2 a true sequel from the first game, which was very a shallow experience by comparison.
On the downside, I have experienced a lot of technical issues. I’ve lost count how many times the game crashed on me, or I suffered issues like losing connection to the host which boots you out of a mission, losing all progress. This can be extremely frustrating, especially on the longer missions that can take up to an hour or more to complete. For you to be near the end and have the game crash without warning is hair-pullingly annoying. The main reason for this is that all the rewards, money and experience is gained at the end of a successful mission. So if you don’t finish, you get zip.
My other concern is a lack of endgame content. With a good crew of higher leveled players, most missions don’t pose much of a challenge anymore. Hopefully the developers will regularly release DLC with new missions to help with this, but we will have to see what schedule they have planned for doing that.
As it stands right now, Payday 2, while it won’t be for everyone, is a lot of fun. Although the stealth mechanics are basic, there’s enough strategic depth and teamwork required so that stealthing missions can be challenging, and extremely satisfying when successful. And even if you fail, the often chaotic action when the cops show up can be equally challenging and a lot of fun. While the technical issues are a pity, these can hopefully be fixed; and even with those issues, I still couldn’t get enough and found myself wanting to come back to Payday 2 again and again to get that bigger score.