I've finally played enough to give an impression on the pros and cons of Payday 2 after Overkill rolled out the latest update and I can firmly say that the pros definitely outweigh the cons. Now if you want a summary of the experience in traditional review format, you can check out Pete's review of Payday 2 right here. What follows is a no-holds-barred look at the good and bad in equal measure.
Let's start with the cons.
Teammate AI is utter tosh
Yeah, it's been said before but it can't be stressed enough. The game's teammate AI doesn't pick up or help with quest items and will sometimes make the decision of not following you when necessary. It's embarrassing for pro heisters. There isn't much else to say beyond this other than you can really practice your one-man heisting skills with the AI turned on... that's about it.
The Diesel 2.0 just isn't up to snuff for large-scale, streamlined maps of an appropriate size that we've come to expect from “new gen” or “next-gen” games. In result, we have stages that fit the bill of being Half-Life sized maps of small proportions, suitably made to house adequate amounts of NPCs and light physical destruction. The small maps can sometimes make the game feel cramped as you're trying to plan slightly more elaborate heists or getaways.
Lack of host migration
This is probably the biggest gripe in the cons list next to poor teammate AI. When a host quits, gets disconnected or exits for any reason the whole thing bottles up like an empty Budweiser in the ocean with a cork on the top. It's unfortunate, especially when you're well into a heist and then the entire thing crashes for one reason or another.
Lack of day night shift
This is a minor thing really, but heists taking place during the day or at night would have been killer, as opposed to being preset to a day or night heist. Preset times set for the heists limits some of the mission parameters and possibilities, but then again there is a whole measure of logistics involved with that. Still, would have been nice.
Now it's time for the pros.
Same stages made random
I know some people weren't fond of the recycled stages but I loved this concept. I've played way too many AAA games where you barrel roll through a highly detailed stage and then never have to touch it again. Overkill reusing stages with random elements and mission parameters really opens up the game for high amounts of replayability and this is what keeps a game fun. It's also one of the reasons Killing Floor – despite its repetitiveness – is still as fun today as it was when it first released. I'd rather have the same stages that keep the fun factors high, than a large variety of stages played once and never touched again.
Variety through difficulty
Despite recycling a lot of the same stages over, Payday 2 actually has a nice cache of different levels to tackle with wildly different objectives based on the difficulty of the heist/mission. Many of the heists with multiple “Days” (which is equivalent to multiple stages in a level) will see teams taking on missions in levels you may have never seen before. This really helps add scalability and depth at higher-levels. It's almost the complete opposite of MMOs where end-game is real thin at the top and the lower-tier of the gameplay has all the good stuff.
Free-form skill trees
I was worried that with a strong focus on player stats that Payday 2 might lose some of its identity but it's just the opposite. The game's free-form stat system allows players to build a dedicated character class or a free-form class that dabbles in a little bit of everything. This helps give the game and the player a bit of identity to craft the playstyle that best suits them. Overkill also managed to implement a stat system that doesn't feel grindy or gimmicky either, which is tough to do in today's gimmicky, pay-to-win market.
An unlock system that keeps you playing
Some people complain about the random unlocks from each mission but I have to add this feature under the list of “Pros” because you can play older levels and still unlock something useful or new. It's rare that games have you scale to a high level and then let you gain something significant by playing old levels with newbs. Payday 2 has it setup where you can earn anything from anywhere, so playing with newbs on a low-level heist still has its advantages and this helps tie back into the high replayability factor.
There isn't much to say here other than that you can customize your mask and guns anyway you see fit. You can build a cache of weapons that suit different purposes, from high suppression yield to silenced automatic weapons for a stealthy takedown, the options are wide and varied. Short range, mid range and long range are all available and offer multiple parts for each weapon so you'll be playing for quite some time to unlock everything for every weapon. That's not to mention that mask customization is just straight-up sexy. Unlock new materials, colors, logos and various designed masks to shape the identity of your character. It's awesome.
The game is just fun, period
I should have ended the article with that sentence because that's what matters most, but I think you're at least owed an explanation as to why the game is fun: the gun mechanics are some of the best out there. While it doesn't quite hit the levels of immersion as Garry Mod's customizable weapon set on the Workshop (but then again, what game does?) it comes about as close as you could expect from a game like this. The strong enemy AI opponents and civilians provide random and unpredictable moments that keeps even the most high-level players on their toes and the whole goal of trying to stealth a mission is both nerve-wrecking and exhilarating. Tension never felt this good!
Obviously, there are more pros than cons (though it may vary to the platform you're playing the game on). It's great that a developer managed to put fun-factors, replayability and gameplay diversity first and foremost above the cinematics, voice-acting and linear script work.
Payday 2 is available right now and you can learn more by paying a visit to the official website.