Payday 2 Review - Is It Good or Bad?

Best first-person shooter, best PC games, strategy, chaotic, exciting, FPS
The PAYDAY gang triumphantly incinerates a throne made of stolen cash, brandishing their tools of the trade.

What is the big deal with Payday 2?

Eight years after its release, people are still buying Payday 2. Not the updates, not adding on downloadable content (DLC), but actually purchasing the base game itself. Considering the developers of the game have gone through major ups and downs, almost losing its fan base at one point, the staying power of Payday 2 is very impressive. Continue reading to learn about the good and the bad, and explore why the game is still so popular to this day.

About Payday 2:

Payday 2 is an M-rated co-op first person shooter that immerses the player in a high-stakes criminal community. As the player progresses towards ultimate infamy, they will amass an enormous array of fully customizable weapons, skills, and characters that can be perfectly paired with the diversity of each heist. The game offers seven levels of difficulty to ensure that even the most harmoniously organized team with a thoroughly detailed plan is challenged. 

Payday 2 was released by Swedish developers Overkill Software and Starbreeze Studios, published by 505 Games, on August 13th, 2013 for PC. Over the next two days, it was released for Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. In 2015 the game was updated for Xbox One and Playstation 4, and on February 27th 2018, Payday 2 was released for Nintendo Switch.

505 Games introduced Payday 2 through a dramatic trailer, which was followed up by episodes of a web series that both advertised new heists and told the background story. Their Youtube page is saturated in overwhelmingly positive comments from the community, which reflects current and overall reviews found on Steam. Initially, the publisher underestimated the popularity of the game. In a now unavailable press release, Starbreeze CEO reportedly announced that Payday 2 began generating revenue before it was even released. The publishers subsequently found themselves scrambling to send out more physical copies to eager players as store shelves quickly ran dry. Within the first 5 months of its release, Payday 2 made SEK 121.1 million (a little more than 13 million US dollars by today’s standards; just under 19 million in 2013.) With players gobbling up the new game, Starbreeze Studios witnessed a complete turnaround in business.

Payday 2: Story

Player has just thrown a bag of gold into the escape van before turning back towards the vault to collect more. The bus was purposefully driven through the wall to create a convenient route to the escape van.

Payday: The Heist has ended. Hoxton has been incarcerated. Dallas, Wolf, and Chains lay low for a few years before Dallas returns to heisting. He recruits his younger brother, Houston, to replace his imprisoned colleague and the criminals relocate to Washington D.C. After successfully completing a few jobs for Bain, their contact to, the group is called on by Vlad, a Ukrainian gangster who needs to hire a little muscle. The next associate that they appeal to is Hector, a drug trafficker who has some dirty work that he wants the gang to deal with. Hector’s runner up is The Elephant, a politician in need of assistance dealing with the competition. Eventually, the group catches the attention of The Dentist, a man with many connections who offers to help free Hoxton in exchange for some favors. Over the years the team grows as more heists are completed and accomplices are added to the ranks, including notable members like John Wick. The heisters bounce between contracts and clients for a while until Bain lands in prison, in need of a rescue team. After breaking him out, the gang realizes that a heist from their past has come back to haunt them forever.

When initially released, the missions were not specifically in timeline order. Instead, the backstory of the characters was built as each episode of the web series was released. It was only after several updates and added heists that a timeline was made, resulting in a “Career” play option. Because of the way gameplay was prioritized over a backstory, the player can choose any board and experience an enjoyable challenge.

Click the link to see the complete web series!

Payday 2: Gameplay

The player has found a keycard, a much faster way of opening a security door without setting up a drill. Keycard was found during their stealthy search for hard drives, a laptop, a computer, and a phone: the necessary components to frame the Senator.

Much of the game is set in Washington D.C.; however the gang travels quite a bit, moving with the money. Playing environments vary considerably, with just a few examples including scarred mountainsides, picturesque towns where money falls from the sky, and several city blocks above a parking garage. Smaller boards may consist of a single, multi-level building or several smaller buildings that make up a block or so. The setting of the board may be entirely indoors, partially indoors and partially outdoors, or entirely outdoors. The player will even find themselves on yachts and in the White House! The boards are satisfactorily detailed, becoming very maze-like and presenting a new challenge with each playthrough. Non-playable characters (NPCs) that are found here typically consist of authorities, employees, and civilians. If playing solo, the artificially intelligent (AI) heist companions casually wait by until authorities have been alerted to your presence, at which point the AI joins in. If playing in a co-op, all players have free roam of the entire board.

Players navigate through the boards in the body of their selected character, with over 20 playable characters to choose from. Characters are customizable, from their masks down to their shoes. As the player completes missions, they will unlock new characters to use as well as new modifications for their characters. Alternatively, they may be acquired in a DLC. In the grand scheme of things, the character is largely for appearance and presence only - the phrases the characters say change along with their semblance, but that’s about it. 

The antagonists in this game are the authorities, cameras, employees, civilians, and some special weapons such as turret guns. In many heists, the main goal is to avoid detection by anyone while completing the mission, whether it’s robbing a vault, stealing some diamonds, or framing a politician. If caught, the mission will “go loud,” and the main goal shifts to staying alive during the ensuing SWAT assault while still accomplishing the original assignment. There are also plenty of heists that are not meant to be silent at all, creating the perfect opportunity to use a variety of explosives. Assaults are made up of many different types of enemies, including armored agents, SWAT shields, heavy shields, Bulldozers, Tasers, Cloakers, Snipers, Medics, and Turrets.

Pre-planning the heist and customizing your load-out is a significant first step towards getting your payday. Becoming proficient in sneaking around, hacking computers, drilling safes, and stealing things is important, too! To really survive, however, the player needs to learn how to fight. With seven levels of difficulty, any player can try their hand at being a professional thief.

Click the link to view an introductory gaming guide for Payday 2

Payday 2: Combat

As the player completes jobs and increases in reputation, they gain skill points which they can invest into Skill Trees. There are five skill trees to choose from: Mastermind, Enforcer, Technician, Ghost, and Fugitive. Each skill tree has three sub-trees. Within these sub-trees is where the player will select their skills. The higher up the tree, the more points the skill costs, as these skills are often more desirable. The player may allocate points into any of the five trees, allowing them to completely customize their characters’ abilities. Points max out at 120, so choose carefully!

When it comes to combat in Payday 2, weapons are just as important as skills. They’re just as customizable as well. Available weapons include: Primary and Secondary long range, throwable, melee, and consumables. By custom tailoring the Primary and Secondary weapons, the player creates guns that are completely unique both in appearance and stats. There are a range of silent and explosive throwables, and an interesting selection of bludgeoning tools, from comical spoons to invigorating taser knuckles. The consumable slot could be reserved for extra ammo, turret guns, trip mines, and more! The game makes it easy to build the ultimate custom weapon set for each job. As you steal… *cough*… earn money, you can afford to buy new weapons that are unlocked through progression. However, if you’re feeling impatient and are playing through Steam, you can purchase weapons using USD in the Steam Marketplace!

The online feature of Payday 2 plays a significant role in the games popularity. With the option to play online or offline, you can wreak havoc with friends by executing the perfect heist, or practice a board offline to prepare yourself for your next online escapade. When playing online, four people can share a contract. There is an interactive map that shows contracts purchased by another player, along with the difficulty of the heist and who is hosting it. Just select the job you want to do and join the party! Alternatively, you could purchase a contract. This would make you the host of the room, giving you the power to kick players out of your group if the teamwork isn’t there.

Teamwork in Payday 2 will go a long way in your success. This game is not designed to pit players against each other, but rather fosters a drive to create the perfect destructive force. A competent team can finish a mission much more efficiently. As the players become accustomed to a board, the SWAT team’s patterns become easier to defend against. Don’t worry, though, with seven difficulty levels this game never gets boring. 

1.) Normal
2.) Hard
3.) Very Hard
4.) Overkill
5.) Mayhem
6.) Death Wish
7.) Death Sentence

Higher difficulty levels bring tougher enemies - and more of them. Combat interactions are accurate, so if you’re a poor shot, there’s a good chance you’ll be dead pretty quickly. It is in the blaze of non-stop gunfire and glory that you will truly test the durability of your strategy. By experimenting with skill sets and weapon combinations, you will realize how vastly they can change gameplay. Let your heart race to the driving beat of the soundtrack and have fun!

Click the link to see an example of combat in the Mall Crasher mission on Normal

Payday 2: Quest/Mission System

The word “quest” doesn’t quite fit this game in the typical sense. A quest implies that there is a long search for something with an exciting journey along the way. While players do travel to different locations to perform heists, this is more of a background feature. In Payday 2, your quest is to complete the job and get out alive. Jobs can consist of a variety of tasks, including robbing banks, ambushing transports, stealing information, and a number of other scenarios. The board is reset randomly each time you play, so the player is always navigating a new situation. This game really tests your skills by presenting multi-pronged challenges: don’t get caught, navigate the board, complete a series of tasks, and stay alive.

Before beginning the heist, a brief plan is laid out, listing the broad objectives. Once the board has started, each objective is given to you one at a time. A day on the job might look something like this: 1.) Locate the security room. 2.) Hack cameras 3.) Steal the thing 4.) Escape. In this example, if authorities are alerted to your presence, the police will be called in which could potentially change your objectives. That being said, not every mission is the same. Many boards don’t involve sneaking at all. For those missions, arm yourself to the teeth, gather anybody who is willing to run the gauntlet with you, and just go for it.

Side Jobs are a great way to experience different boards and earn unique rewards. By updating daily, weekly, and monthly, the creators have ensured that there’s always a new way to play the game. Side Jobs may involve finding small items placed in various boards, completing a board on a specific level within a time limit, killing a certain amount of enemies with specific weapons, as well as many other alternate missions. Possible rewards consist of Continental Coins, Cash, Masks, Weapons, Weapon Mods, and Character Customization Items.

Another way to play is called Holdout. You can play Holdout after reaching Reputation Level 65, but after going infamous once it is available to play at any level.  In this mode, the team will have one hostage to defend from nine assault waves of increasing difficulty. In between each wave, the authorities offer ransom for your hostage. If you take the ransom offer, you are rewarded one Card Drop for each successfully survived wave, with Bonus Cards after waves 3,5,and 9. However, if you die you get no rewards at all. This creates a gambling effect as you increase in difficulty. Continue on to Wave 8 and risk losing it all, or take the ransom for Waves 1-7 and go? The choice is yours.

One more feature the creators included to change up gameplay is called Crime Spree. You must be level 60 or have gone infamous once to unlock this mode of play. The player selects from three random boards, each rewarding a different number of Rank points for completion. As you collect Rank points, modifiers are given to enemies to increase difficulty of play. Examples of modifiers include the ability to drop a smoke bomb, heavier armor, better firepower, increased health and damage, and many more. Some modifiers the player can choose, while others are forced upon you. With each completed board, the player will gain a variety of rewards, including money, experience, Continental Coins, armor skins, mask parts, and weapon mods.

The last play option takes a different approach to a similar objective. While completing many of the jobs, the player is tasked with protecting the loot long enough to escape with it to the Safe House. Unfortunately, the Safe House is not impenetrable. Sometimes protecting all of the loot you’ve stolen over the years is necessary when the Safe House gets raided. In this mode, the player must prevent three waves of police from taking their hard-earned money.

If the player has explored all of these gameplay options and still wants more, they can apply Mutators to the game. Mutators provide the option of drastically altering the dynamic of the game by changing certain features or adding unusual effects. For example, if you find that the enemies don’t provide enough of a challenge, add a mutator that allows a dead enemy to respawn as two weaker enemies. Want to make the game more realistic? Turn on Friendly Fire. Perhaps you feel the game should contain an element of science fiction? There’s a mutator for that. Just use a shotgun to kill your enemies and watch them be abducted by aliens.

Payday 2: Graphics

Player is guarding the entrance to a bank, shooting SWAT members as they come in to the building. Player is shooting at a regular agent while a Tazer and an armored agent try to move closer on the left.

The graphics for Payday 2 are pretty good. Outdoor environments have varying weather patterns, leaves on the trees that drift in the breeze, sunlight, interactive chain link fences, etc. The creators paid heed to detail, including litter on urban streets and junkyards, and lush plants and designer decorations inside wealthy residences. While the graphics are overall very good, one of my favorites being blood spray from fresh wounds, the visual effects do not blend the lines between the artificial and reality. For example, blood spatter often leaves a blocky, poorly defined stain on the floors and walls, which also appear a bit flat; long hair bounces around in an elastic way, and some of the interactive items stand out cartoonishly from the background. 

The game itself is very fast-paced, so ultra detailed graphics could slow down gameplay, which would actually detract from the experience. Keep in mind that Payday 2 is first and foremost a PC game. The developers did a good job making sure that players don’t have to own an Alienware to be able to partake. This game has so much to offer that the lack of astounding graphics does not negatively impact the experience. 

To watch a video explaining PayDay 2 graphics and how to adjust them, click this link!

Payday 2: Developer

Payday 2 was developed by Overkill Software and Starbreeze Studios and published by 505 Games. Upon the initial release of the game in 2013, developers promised that there would be no microtransactions in the game, so players would not be forced to spend money to enjoy Payday 2. This promise held true for some time, until the developers created a reward that was free to receive, but players had to pay to access it. This update caused an uproar among players, so the developers responded by changing aspects of the update. However, by the close of 2018 they announced the end of development on Payday 2 due to lack of budget. A year later, the developers released a new announcement. They would once again offer new DLC, but it could not all be free. The CEO of Starbreeze Studios apologized for having to charge players for certain DLC, but promised that the community would have a direct influence on current and future development. The developers continue to release frequent updates in order to keep the game relevant and interesting. For example, December 2021 featured a new Christmas song in the lobby and jingle bell sound effects, snow, and Santa hats in the gameplay.

As with many multiplayer online games, Payday 2 has its fair share of glitches. A few examples include dead bodies getting stuck inside objects, two-headed monstrosities, loot bags duplicating uncontrollably, and a vehicle being rendered undriveable. I’ve even seen a video of a hostage dancing on an invisible pole. Many of these glitches earn a chuckle before being overlooked. Others can give the player astounding advantages, such as extra loot or extra experience. Periodically, the glitch can make the game unplayable, which can be extremely frustrating if you’ve already invested twenty-five minutes into the board and now find it incompletable. Many players will turn to the Steam community to report glitches such as these, and the developers will use this information to release patches and bug fixes. It is important to note, however, that regular updates and bug fixes are only available for the PC version of Payday 2. Because of this, many people consider the console versions of the game unplayable. 

Payday 2: Price

The current price of Payday 2 varies greatly depending on what system it is for. On Steam the PC version is $9.99. The cost of the same base game for Nintendo Switch, however, is $49.99 + tax. Payday 2 is currently offered for PC, Xbox One, Playstation 4/5, and Nintendo Switch. However, developers publicly recognized that console versions of the games would never match that of the PC version, and once again had to apologize for their shortcomings. Updates have been released for Xbox One and Playstation 4/5, but in 2019, developers admitted that they likely would not be able to update the Nintendo Switch version, and therefore certain features would never be available to console players.

There are plenty of buyable add-ons that may provide extra explosive power and stat boosts, assisting the player in a successful run-through of their missions. But many players feel that the purchasable DLC is a waste of money, as the in-game weapons are deadly enough and stat boosts may be gained through in-game play. More money simply means the player doesn’t have to rely on luck to get their desired perks.

Final Verdict

With one representing a terrible game and ten being fantastic, I would rate Payday 2 as a 9. This is one of the most intriguing first person shooter games that I have ever played, with in depth customization, an enjoyable soundtrack, and non-stop playability. Payday 2 has even increased my overall gaming skills. Thanks to regular updates featuring new and exciting content, the game is still incredibly popular, and community involvement is included and valued in contributions to the game.

Nevertheless, there is always room for improvement. With Payday 3 being discussed, members of the community have suggested several changes to the game to improve playability. This includes allowing community members to create their own heists, citizens with concealed carry permits that fight back, and more advanced AI. It would also be great if console versions of Payday 2 could be updated and shared across platforms.


  • Deeply customizable
  • High intensity
  • Difficulty levels for all players
  • Online or offline play
  • New heists and updates available regularly
  • Constantly changing boards
  • Can play this game for years
  • Can play with your friends


  • Console versions lacking/missing features
  • Graphics aren’t phenomenal
  • Somewhat lacking in adventure/storyline
  • Chances of a poorly matched team

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Gamer Since: 2001
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Currently Playing: Payday 2, Oddworld - Soulstorm, Superliminal, Chess Ultra, Rocksmith 2014, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Five Nights at Freddy's Security Breach
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