Many jobs in Payday 2 can be completed in stealth. If players avoid getting caught on camera, evade or silently kill security guards, and keep any civilian witnesses from calling the police, the alarm will not be raised and the players will receive an experience bonus. Otherwise, players will have to achieve their objectives, carry out any loot they find to a dropoff point, and then reach their escape point under the pressure of constant police assault waves. Most of the enemies are SWAT units sourced from DC Police, then FBI SWAT, GenSec private security contractors and finally the DHS as difficulty increases. Mixed in with these are special units; all versions of Payday 2 include the “Shield” and the “Taser” – both named for their signature equipment, the “Bulldozer” – a SWAT team member in a modified near-bulletproof bomb suit, and snipers. The Crimewave Edition and PC version include the “Cloaker” – an infiltration and hand-to-hand combat expert. Exclusive to the PC and Crimewave editions are near-indestructable SWAT van turrets, capable of area denial, a medic capable of returning an enforcer to full health with no status effects, and Captain Winters, a well-protected veteran police officer who sustains assaults and buffs enemies until he can be driven off.
If a player takes too much damage they will be knocked down and incapacitated. If no one helps them back up, or if they are downed a number of times without healing, they will be taken into custody. On lower difficulty levels players in custody will eventually come out of custody after a set time period, but otherwise their teammates must take a hostage to trade to get them back into the game. A job is failed if all players are downed or in custody (but some jobs have unique failure conditions).
Players can use skill points to obtain various abilities and bonuses on skill trees representing five criminal archetypes and playstyles. The Mastermind skill tree is pictured in this screenshot.
At the end of each heist, the player is presented with a screen with three cards, one of which is to be chosen by the player (called a “Payday”). These bonus cards can be either weapon modifications, masks, colors or materials for masks, or experience or money boosters. Players can purchase and customize masks, although these are purely cosmetic and have no effect on the gameplay.
Throughout the game, players accumulate money and experience. The money is divided into two parts. 20% of the money is given to the player to spend on weapons, masks and skills, and 80% is placed into the player’s “Offshore Account”, which is intended as part of the story to be the player’s retirement fund, however the player can use it to purchase heists from a broker, to buy bonus cards without performing a heist, to become infamous, or a player can press a button in their safehouse to ‘burn’ all of it.