Payday 2 is not exactly a new game, but the game is available for free if you add it to your library right now. With the promotion, a lot of players are playing for the first time. Payday 2 is a complicated game at first, so we’ve compiled some tips and information to help you succeed.
What is Payday 2?
Payday 2 is a cooperative shooter for up to 4 players, where you take the role of a member of a secretive gang of bank robbers to complete larger than life robberies, espionage, and other exploits.
Rather than being a super-realistic shooter, Payday 2 plays more like the classic FPS games of old – the characters can take a little bit of a beating and rely on health pickups and other means of recovery to survive.
Payday 2 has two distinct styles of play, “loud” and “stealth”, and most of the heists can be played in either style. In a “loud” heist, you face off against endless waves of law enforcement officers, while going “stealth” you only have a handful of security guards and bystanders to contend with – at least unless you raise the alarm.
Payday 2 also mixes in some RPG elements, with purchasable upgrades and skill points creating a rich set of choices that you can adapt to your play style.
When you first start up the game, you will be encouraged to visit your “safe house”, a location that mainly serves as a trophy case to showcase your achievements in the game. Once you finish your business there, you should do the two “Basics” tutorials under the Crime.Net menu in-game.
This guide will give you an overview of what to do after that, as well as a primer on the game’s stealth mechanics to help you get up to speed.
This covers the default key bindings – you can customize key bindings in the game’s options.
- WASD keys are used for movement.
- The left mouse button is used to fire.
- The right mouse button is used to aim down sights.
- 1 selects secondary weapon, 2 selects primary weapon. C swaps between the two.
- The E button is used to melee.
- R to reload, V to toggle auto/semi auto on weapons with selectable fire.
- The F button is the shout/interact key, and used for most interactions.
- The G button is used to throw bags and place deployables.
- The 3 button is used to launch grenades and other throwables.
- The Space key is used to jump.
- The Ctrl key is used to crouch and works as a toggle by default.
- The Q key is used to activate weapon attachments (laser/flashlight).
- Z orders bots on your team to stay in place, they won’t move unless they are trying to revive someone. Shout at them with F to release them.
Out of the frying pan into the fire
By the time you finish the two tutorials, you’ll have a modest amount of experience, enough for level 1 or 2, and hopefully, cash to get a few small weapon upgrades. You can go directly into your first small heists at this point.
I highly recommend finding friends that already have experience in the game, as this will soften the learning curve considerably, allow you to get an initial boost in experience that will open up skill builds and weapon choices to you, and make the game more enjoyable.
Playing with randoms tends to be a toxic experience like any other multiplayer game these days, and the matchmaking isn’t particularly impressive. I’ve found that many players in public games are extremely hostile to newcomers, especially those playing stealth maps or loud maps on the higher difficulties, so getting a bit of experience under your belt with friends before you venture into public games is highly recommended.
If you have to go it alone, most of the heists with two skulls or lower difficulty (normal, hard, very hard) can easily be completed by a new player, depending on your FPS skills. The higher difficulties (overkill, mayhem, death wish, and one down) reach a level of punishment where even godlike FPS talent is unlikely to save you without having some carefully assigned skill points and appropriate hardware.
Mallcrasher, Jewelry Store, and the various flavors of Bank Heist are all very simple maps to go through Loud on the easier difficulties.
There are three possible states of game play during a heist, Casing Mode, Stealth Mode, and Loud Mode. You will also hear players referring to Stealth and Loud as styles of play and skill builds, as these two styles have distinct, and frequently polar opposite requirement for skills and equipment.
In most heists, you will start in Casing Mode right off the bat, with your mask off and weapons safely hidden away. This lets you get your bearings, and is also a sign that you can delay or completely avoid the arrival of law enforcement via stealth tactics on that map. When you are ready to begin, and in the right place you can hold G to put your mask on and transition to Stealth Mode. You won’t have your weapons and can’t do much beyond looking around until you put your mask on, but casing mode allows you to get past civilians before the heist start properly. You can’t get back into Casing Mode once you mask up, so choose carefully when to put your mask on.
Once your mask is on, but before the map goes loud, you are in Stealth Mode, meaning, that the endless waves of cops haven’t yet been triggered and you can stealthily pick off guards, deal with civilians, and complete objectives. Unless you are trying to stealth, and properly equipped for the task, this tends not to last long, but even when intending to run the heist loud, it can be useful to get as much of a head start as possible before the cops get called.
A heist in Payday 2 “goes loud” when police are alerted to your presence. This happens when the cops are called or an alarm is raised. If anyone hasn’t yet masked up, they will automatically do so and there will be a brief period of slow motion “bullet time” for a few seconds that lets you line up shots on remaining guards and figure out where you will go for cover. Once you are in Loud Mode you will get endless waves of law enforcement throughout the remainder of the heist.
Some heists start loud or always go loud after a period of time, a few will start you in Stealth Mode instead of Casing Mode, and there are a couple that require you stay in Stealth Mode or you will fail the heist.
A little boost…
The game doesn’t really come to life until you have enough points to start to play with some of the skill builds. If you are playing with friends, it’s likely that they will have already carried you through a few heists on a higher difficulty to get you up to around level 30-50 to start off with and open up some choices.
If not, there’s a way to speed through the first few levels by doing one of the easier stealth heists at a high difficulty setting. Bank Heist, Jewelry Store, and Diamond Store are three of these heists. Due to being smaller, less complex heists, they don’t scale anywhere near as much with difficulty as other heists do, and therefore you can complete them on the highest difficulty without too much of a hassle and gain a lot of levels very quickly. You can feasibly do these as soon as you have access to a suppressed weapon, as the skill requirements are minimal.
As you level up, the skill points you acquire can be assigned to specialize into a particular playstyle and gear. Skill points can be backed out and reassigned as necessary, so don’t worry about being locked in. You’ll gain access to slots for your skill builds starting from hitting level 50, which make changing between builds easier.
The builds fall into several broad categories — Stealth builds focus on the skills needed to complete heists in stealth, armor builds focus on surviving via a heavy armor tank, dodge builds focus on surviving via damage evasion and maneuverability, and various utility/specialist builds such as medic builds and turret builds also exist to round out your crew.
There are near-infinite combinations of skill builds possible, and while some of those combinations are more powerful than others, a large part of the process is melding your skill build to your play style and player skill. A solid build at level 100 can enable a mediocre player to contribute meaningfully in the higher difficulty heists, so long as they have teammates that can pull a little extra weight. Build choices can even be fine tuned to specific heists, so don’t be afraid to experiment a little.
Perk Decks complement your skill build and provide both personal bonuses and team-wide bonuses that round out builds. Unlike the skill tree, the points you put into your perk deck aren’t refundable, but you gain points any time you complete a heist, in proportion to the experience received, so you can eventually unlock all the decks and choose between them. Pick a deck, and finish it completely from left to right before moving on to another one, so that you have at least one complete perk deck to play with.
On lower difficulties, build choices matter very little for loud heists, and a lot more for stealth.
The Basic Stealth Build
Stealth builds are a little less flexible than loud builds, as there are a few skills which are the backbone of successful stealth heists. In roughly the order you should train them, these are recommended skills. Most of these are on the Ghost skill tree.
- Basic – Hardware Expert (Technician/Breacher) – This makes your drills silent, letting you complete objectives in stealth without clearing out the place.
- Basic – Chameleon (Ghost/Shinobi) – This reduces the time before you start getting detected, and is a prerequisite for other stealth skills.
- Aced – Sixth Sense (Ghost/Shinobi) – This allows you to see NPCs through walls and to purchase stealth-related assets during preplanning.
- Aced – Cleaner (Ghost/Shinobi) – This gives you more body bags.
- Aced – Nimble (Ghost/Shinobi) – This allows you to loop cameras, speeds up lockpicking, and allows lockpicking of many safes.
- Aced – Chameleon (Ghost/Shinobi) – This lets you pick up items in casing mode, which is very handy when there’s a keycard laying on a desk that you need.
- Aced – ECM Feedback (Ghost/Shinobi) – This lets you open many electronically locked doors with an ECM jammer.
- Aced – ECM Specialist (Ghost/Shinobi) – This lets you carry two ECM jammers instead of only one, increases the duration, and most importantly, allows an ECM jammer to delay pagers.
- Aced – Optical Illusions (Ghost/Silent Killer) – This reverses the concealment penalty of suppressors, making them lower instead of raise your detection rating. You’ll have to take Second Wind as a prerequisite, which isn’t much use in stealth.
- Aced – Inner Pockets (Ghost/Commando) – This is pretty much icing on the cake at this point, lowering the penalty for melee weapons and ballistic vests. Duck and Cover is a prerequisite here, which is again not much use for stealth, but by the time you get here, you should be able to at least finish the dash to the escape van if it goes loud at the end of a heist.
- Basic – Forced Friendship (Mastermind/Controller) – This increases your supply of cable ties for taking hostages.
- Basic – Confident (Mastermind/Controller) – This improves the power and range of your intimidation.
- Basic – Stockholm Syndrome (Mastermind/Controller) – This keeps civilians intimidated longer.
By the time you finish all of this, you have all the skills that are really important to running stealth heists. This will leave you with roughly half of your skill points available by level 100. There aren’t a lot of other skills available to you that are massive benefits to stealth, so you can play with the rest of the points as you see fit.
From here, you could max out the drill skills under Technician to run smoother heists, you could go for Aced Jack of All Trades (Technician/Engineer) to get an extra deployable, and you could go for Aced More Firepower (Technician/Breacher) to have a ton of trip mines available to use in sensing mode to highlight guards. Depending on the heist and your playstyle, you may even be able to free up more skill points by skipping the skills from the mastermind tree, skipping the ECM skills, and skipping Inner Pockets/Optical Illusions.
Stealth Mechanics 101
Stealth in Payday 2 is a game of control and situational awareness more than it is a game of being sneaky. There are several elements to detection.
Is suspicion indicated by the blue “?” above an NPC or Camera. Suspicion will turn into detection if the activity that was noticed continues, or fade away if you leave a line of sight and earshot. Detection is indicated by the orange “!” above an NPC or Camera. Once an NPC or Camera has detected you, you are moments away from police being called. The ! will quickly turn into a flashing icon of a phone if not dealt with immediately. Your detection rating, proximity, and activity determine how fast suspicion turns into detection for NPCs and Cameras that can see you. Having higher concealment stats on your items translates into lowered detection rating, down to a minimum of 3 detections.
An onscreen “detection meter” appears when you in close proximity to a guard or camera that will detect you if you linger too long, with practice, you can use this to tell whether you should back away, dash through, or take them out.
Guards will detect you if you get too close or if you linger in their line of sight. They will also detect unsuppressed weapons fire, dead bodies, tied up civilians, damaged cameras, drills, loot bags, and shattered or broken glass. They are very observant, but they aren’t particularly smart. They will call the police in a very short period of time once they are alerted, and if they see you, they will try to shoot you, potentially alerting the entire map with the gunfire. They carry a “pager” with some sort of dead-man switch – no matter how you kill or subdue them, you will have to answer their pager or their dispatcher will call the cops. You can only answer 4 pagers per heist. Many maps have 4 or fewer guards, but on larger maps, you’ll have to pick and choose which guards to deal with and which to evade. Guards tend to be uniformed, but on some maps such as Big Bank, they may wear plain clothes.
Cameras detect exactly the same things as guards, but they are in fixed locations that are randomly chosen out of a pool of possible locations on the map. On many maps, the cameras are connected to a Security Office or Camera Console with a guard manning the camera – sneak into the office, kill that guard, and the cameras go inert for the remainder of the heist. On other maps, there’s no security office, and you must avoid or disable the cameras. You can temporarily disable cameras by “looping” them if you have the Nimble skill – this will give you 30 seconds where the camera is blind, or you can shoot a camera out. On higher difficulties, the cameras often have “Titan” armor, making them utterly impervious to damage. Even when it’s possible, shooting out a camera has its own downside – a patrolling guard will eventually come to investigate, at least, if there’s one left breathing…
Civilians are not as observant as guards. They will ignore you completely until you put your mask on, and they will sometimes ignore broken glass and other damaged property. They will, however, notice dead bodies, tied-up civilians, drills, masked gunmen running around, the sounds and sights of gunfire, and most importantly, other alerted civilians. Their tendency to have a chain reaction to other alerted civilians in their immediate line of sight makes them a unique challenge. Civilians panic for a moment, and then alternate somewhat randomly between cowering in fear, running away, and calling the cops on their cell phones. They can be intimidated by being in close proximity to a criminal (you) or by having a criminal yell at them and will lay on the ground when commanded to do so but this won’t last long. You have a small supply of zip-ties which you can apply to a civilian on the ground to restrain them, after which they won’t try anything else. Tied civilians can even be ordered to move so that you can keep them out of sight. Once you run out of ties, your options are to keep an eye on them and keep shouting them down or to shoot them and pay “cleaner costs” out of your take of the heist.
Thugs are other criminals, they behave much like guards, but they have no pagers. They are however quick on the trigger, will alert civilians on the map, and will call the cops on you.
Other Alarms are coded into the map itself and are unique to the particular heist you are playing on. These include glass breakage alarms on windows and display cases, metal detectors, lasers, silent alarm buttons bank employees will attempt to press, and even pressure-sensitive floors. They are plot elements of the specific heist you are playing and will call the cops if triggered. Most of these can be bypassed in some fashion.
You have equipment available specifically designed for dealing with stealth maps. Suppressors prevent the NPCs on the maps from hearing your gunfire, even though other players will hear it. ECM Jammers are extremely versatile – the basic usage is to temporarily disable all cameras, phones, and radios on the map. With skills, they will pause the timer on pagers, allow you to open some electronic locks without a keycard, and allow you to open ATM machines. They also have an ECM feedback mode – which will create electronic noise that overloads police radios and stuns all law enforcement on the map (but will also alert the entire map). You always have started with a small supply of cable ties (aka zip ties) to turn intimidated civilians into well-behaved hostages, which can be moved around to keep them out of sight. Finally, Body Bags let you move dead bodies to a more inconspicuous location, hopefully preventing a passing guard or civilian from finding them at an inopportune moment. Your bag supply is limited, so don’t bag bodies unless you see a need to move them.
The basic stealth strategy is:
- Avoid detection by cameras at all costs as long as they are up because you can’t do anything about them if they detect you.
- Avoid doing things that you know trigger alarms on that particular heist, such as breaking alarmed display cases.
- Evade the guards and civilians as long as necessary, only killing/subduing when you can do so without causing a chain reaction.
- Do the takedown if necessary, subduing the main mass of civilians after you’ve dealt with wandering guards and civilians.
- Complete the objectives.
Cameras are your arch nemesis as long as they are active because anything you do in front of them beyond quickly darting through is game over. Looping cameras is realistically the best you can do in most cases until you can disable the camera operator since guards will come to check damaged cameras.
Broken and shattered glass are to be avoided, as it will alert passers-by that something is amiss, forcing you to remain vigilant for the remainder of the heist after breaking a window, and potentially blowing the heist.if it happens in a high traffic area. A little trigger discipline here will save a lot of hassle.
On maps with 4 or fewer guards, it’s easiest to just kill the guards, You want to get them alone to do this. When you kill a guard, any guard, you have a very limited amount of time to answer their pager. Their body will be outlined in yellow, and after a few seconds, it will start to flash.before time runs out/ To answer the pager, you stand over them, looking down at them, and hold the F key. Once you start answering, do not let go of the key for any reason, or the alarm will be raised.
On maps with more than 4 guards, you have to pick and choose which guards to deal with and which to evade, substantially increasing the difficulty. If a guard detects you.
Civilians are only a problem if they get away and call the cops, or if they start a chain reaction. Keep them under control with shouts, zip ties, and/or bullets to the head once they are alerted.
Any time you kill someone in stealth mode after you deal with any pagers, you need to decide what to do with the body. If it’s in a location you can secure, you might be able to just leave it there, but if it’s in a heavily trafficked location, you’ll need to bag it and move it somewhere secure so that it doesn’t raise alarms.
Takedowns are an element that’s frequently involved in completing heists on smaller maps. Often, an objective is in the midst of a room full of civilians, as is the case on Jewelry Store, Diamond Store, and Bank Heist. The key to a successful takedown is control – dealing with the wandering civilians and guards on the periphery first, and then doing the takedown swiftly and methodically so that nothing has a chance to go wrong. Voice comms help greatly here if you don’t have them, carefully divide up responsibilities beforehand and agree on a signal or a time from the heist clock. Often there will be a critical element here that has to be addressed during or immediately prior to the takedown. For example, on Bank Heist, it’s the alarm buttons under the teller counter and by the back door that you have to prevent employees from reaching, and on Diamond Store, it’s the glass breakage alarms.that you have to disable before a stray bullet reaches them.
We’ve only begun to address the depth of this game, but there’s a wealth of information out there, and experienced players to help you get beyond your first few steps.
Payday 2 is a very entertaining cooperative shooter that lends well to casual play once you get over the initial stumbles of its learning curve. It’s a game that’s best played with friends, but can be rewarding solo or with randoms. The grind is as much or as little as you are willing to make it, and the stealth gameplay is pretty unique. It lives up to the fantasies of high profile bank robbery well and even dips into bits of espionage and organized crime. The ability to play in small instalments out of a library of dozens of different heists gives it enormous replay value. Even though the game was released in 2013, it’s still receiving regular updates and new content.
Give the game a try while you can get it for free, find a friend, and go rob a bank.