Saturday, August 24, 2013

Payday 2 Discussion: How It Succeeds as a Sequel, and Where It Fails

The first Payday game was a lot of things, fun, cheap, co-op, sometimes repetitive, but not very often was it strategical.  Tactical, yes, but it never felt like you were really planning out a heist, it was more like being guided through illegal activities by rails at some parts.  Fortunately, Overkill realized that their game was less of a heist game and a bit more of a shoot-lots-of-cops game.  This time around, they've rectified some of those mistakes, but made a few more along the way.

Payday 2 has taken out some of the railings and restrictions of it's predecessor, both in missions, skills and weapons.  A more traditional RPG system of separate money and experience takes the place of the previous cash=xp system.  Linear skill trees have also been removed in favor of spendable, respeccable skill points that can be distributed into any tree, in any order so long as the total point requirements for the next tier are met.  Having a more open skill system allows for more of an individual character, especially when coupled with the new inventory system.  First and foremost, sidearms/secondaries from Payday 1 have been merged into a secondary category consisting of pistols, SMGs and a shotgun.  You unlock weapons for purchase as you level up, and then purchase weapons with earned money from heists.  There are more weapons than inventory slots, so some collectors may have to decide what makes the cut.  You can also buy multiple of a weapon, and mod each weapon.  Some mods are unique to a weapon, some to a certain subcategory (AK-likes, M4-likes, so forth) and some to an entire category such as pistols or rifles.

The planning phase returns, but is a bit more important.  There's the addition of assets, which are one-time buys that will help you out during the mission.  These range from the more generic ammo or doctor bags, to armored getaway cars and chutes that can transport bags of cocaine down a building.  There is also a new stealth system in place, sometimes aided by cameras which can in turn be broken, the operator killed or the feed hacked with an asset (although this only allows you to see through the cameras.)  A detection system similar to that of Hitman Absolution displays how suspicious you are, and when it fills up you're caught.  There's still room for recovery, though, because a swift bullet to the head can take care of a guard who has seen you, so long as no one hears you shoot him.  Each dead guard has a pager that must be answered, else the operator on the other end will sound the alarm.  There are, of course, plenty of skills that play into this new stealth aspect including a deployable jammer, extra pager answers, bagging bodies and so forth.

Gunplay has also been improved some.  Customizable guns means you can have the same base model as someone else, but yours may be tailored more towards your playstyle, be it stealth, raw power or accuracy.  Enemies seem to have more health, but there are fewer enemies at a time. There are more types of SWAT goons that come after you, and special enemies make a return, although one has been removed from the game by the developers and will be put back in later.

Although they have improved greatly on the gameplay aspects of the game, Overkill and Starbreeze have made mistakes along the way.  It was announced that there would be 17 heists in the game.  Although this may be true, it certainly doesn't feel like it.  One heist hardly ever shows up, and 5 share the same map.  3 of those are variations on the Bank Heist mission, and by variation I mean different names.  Four of these heists have different loot, other than one which contains a random selection of the aforementioned three.  Each of these four takes place on the same map, other than a set of variables such as doors or a few vault locations.  The last of these Bank Heist missions is a part of a larger heist, and has the same basic scheme, although another room and objective has been added on the roof, and different loot.  I don't want to spoil the mission, but it is a rather interesting twist on what seems to be a bread and butter mission.  Past that, there are two other missions that directly share maps, one requires drilling into safes, and the other is more of a smash and grab.  There are also escape missions that happen frequently after a high profile job, and since they are 'dynamic' the same escape can appear in any heist that has one.

Despite attempts from Overkill to dissuade consumers from this opinion, many believe that the game was rushed out of development for an early August release date.  It certainly seems this way, as all unlocks happen by roughly level 40, and there is a hard cap at 100.  There seems to be a huge content pit at the end of the game, just waiting to be filled.  Although Overkill has announced they are working on new missions, many are worried that these new missions will be paid DLC.  Although I am not against the idea of paying for extra content, no one should have to pay just to fill in the end of a game.  Ultimately, no one but Overkill and Starbreeze will know if the game truly was rushed, and if it was rushed, to whom the blame should fall.

However, Overkill has been doing an excellent job of updating the game and smashing bugs.  They have been updating almost too frequently, as the updates are often large downloads for seemingly small patches.  The first major patch was patch 5, which added a plethora of balances to skills and missions.  Although some dissenters thought this patch ruined the game, many claimed that it fixed a number of their issues with some very imbalanced missions, and particularly some skills in the stealth tree.

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