Between all the announcements at the Tokyo Game Show, some may not have noticed that Starbreeze Studios’ Payday 3 had been released. You would think it’d be noticeable, perhaps with a new peak concurrent player count or rave reviews from players (critical opinions are slightly mixed). After all, this is an auspicious occasion for the franchise, as the sequel is arriving nearly ten years after Payday 2.
Not only is it exclusive to current-gen consoles to ensure it’s the best it can be, but there are numerous revamps to the weapon progression, Skill unlocks, stealth, difficulty and opponents. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been some issues – you must always be online with no offline option (unless you’re playing the tutorial). Cross-platform play and cross-progression necessitate the same, but you can’t even play solo without going online.
If you’ve played any online title over the past several years, the obvious question becomes: What happens if servers go down? Well, you wouldn’t even be able to play a huge chunk of the content you paid for. Then again, maybe they won’t go down, and it’ll be fine.
Since it officially released on September 21st, Payday 3 has been rated “Mostly Negative” on Steam, with only 34 percent of its 21,856 (and rising) user reviews being positive. Limited as the number of user reviews on Metacritic is, it’s currently at a 1.9 user score on PC, a 4.1 on PS5 and 5.9 on Xbox Series X. Which is pretty terrible, or slightly above average if you’re on Xbox.
So what the hell happened? You guessed it. Server issues.
Like many modern titles, Payday 3 had an early access period where those who bought the Silver and Gold Edition could play a few days early. For the most part, the server performance was fine. There were other issues with the game – like PS5 players somehow downloading an older version, which Starbreeze attributed to PlayStation not having the correct build on its store – but most could get in and play.
When Payday 3 finally launched worldwide on September 21st, it faced matchmaking troubles almost immediately.
A quick look at the official Payday 3 Twitter provides a somewhat comedic but mostly tragic timeline. The development team went from celebrating a PS5 player earning the Platinum Trophy before the worldwide launch to authentication issues within 1.5 hours. It was resolved, and things seemed fine, with Starbreeze celebrating that it was the top-selling game on Steam by revenue.
Unfortunately, not ten minutes later, reports of slow matchmaking came in. Some fixes were deployed after about eight hours, but the instability remained. Another few hours later, the team reported that services were working “slowly but surely.” Several hours later, it was confident in being “back to full force.”
Of course, matchmaking went dead again in just a few more hours. This constant back and forth of servers seemingly being back online and all issues resolved before things failed again continues. As of this time of writing, matchmaking went down, recovered and went down again, all within two hours. The words “Let’s get you back in the saddle, this is a small branch bank” with Shade continue to echo for most players long after it became a meme.
It’s unknown what the exact issue is, but there are only losers in this scenario. Developers have to work through the weekend, trying to deploy fixes that aren’t working, and players can’t play the game they spent money on. “At least it’s only $40” is one of the defenses I’ve seen, and it’s doubtful whether Starbreeze or Deep Silver (who published the title) will officially employ that anytime soon.
Many would probably say these server issues are expected for modern online titles or that this happened to Payday 2 at launch, but remember that bit about solo play? How it wasn’t possible unless you were online? Yes, that was also unavailable. The thing that everyone warned would happen – because it happened to almost every other major title that attempted this – has come to pass. That most definitely wasn’t an issue in Payday 2 because it had an offline option.
Beyond fixing matchmaking and servers, Payday 3 has several other issues. The revamped progression system requires gaining Infamy Points to increase your Infamy Level (which is your overall account level). Weapons and gaining Skill Points are locked behind Infamy Levels, the latter necessary for equipping Skills that make a difference in your overall playstyle. So do you earn them by finishing heists, with higher difficulties awarding more?
Not quite – you need to complete Challenges, ranging from “Complete X heist on Normal or higher difficulty before/after the Assault phase begins” to killing a select amount of Dozers, Cloakers, Shielders etc. It can take more than one heist to progress a Challenge, so you can finish one solo while stealthy at Overkill difficulty and get no Infamy Points because it’s completely irrelevant. Some Challenges require using guns that aren’t very good to earn Infamy Points.
For all the hype about player freedom and playing your way, a system restricting that feels counter-intuitive. Furthermore, it disincentivizes going for more bags during a heist. Why do that when you can get the minimum amount and speed run for that sweet XP or Infamy Points? Farming the mission quickly also offsets the low amount of Cash earned.
Of course, none of the above even begins to scratch the surface when it comes to other issues. When playing solo, you essentially need to matchmake for a heist. Got that? You must matchmake to play solo. That means waiting in the matchmaking queue, and naturally, because it’s online, you can’t pause (and lag is possible because, of course, it is).
Enemy AI is reportedly quite underwhelming, though at least the Cloakers are on point. There’s no pre-game chat or pre-planning map before a heist like Payday 2 offered. You can’t filter and sort Challenges, which means going through multiple pages of the Challenge Book to see which ones have progressed.
There’s no Crime.net or lobby browser. Weapon customization is lacking thus far, and you must continuously earn XP to level it up and unlock mods. There’s no filter between primary and secondary weapons. Selecting the secondary weapon slot should present only secondary weapons, but primary weapons are present, which means you can waste money on something which isn’t even usable in that slot. As you probably guessed, the user interface isn’t very well designed, and the ping system, which replaces the previous interaction system, feels clunky overall.
Again, one could say that Payday 2 had numerous issues at launch and that these will be fixed with time. And hey, Payday 3 looks better while having better gunplay and fun heists. However, when these many years have passed and Payday 2, despite its many ups and downs – including loot boxes, other platforms not receiving updates, and more – is in a pretty good state, you expect the sequel to be an improvement. To build on the things that made the original better.
At this point, basic quality-of-life features are missing, hamstrung to a poor progression system, and ultimately unplayable due to server issues. None of this accounts for the bugs or the presence of microtransactions, by the way.
The development team will no doubt continue to address matchmaking issues, but deeper-rooted problems, like the lack of offline play, may require more time (if they’re ever addressed). Long-term, it’s all down to whether Starbreeze can deliver compelling content and build on the base game positively.
The franchise has come a long way, with Starbreeze even facing bankruptcy and failures like Overkill’s The Walking Dead. There’s no doubt that Payday is important for the company and its future, so here’s hoping that it can correct its missteps soon.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.