Death Sentence Screen

What makes Payday 2’s Death Sentence a “Death Sentence?”

Why is Payday 2's Death Sentence difficulty so hard? Also, why are there always two medic bulldozers beside each other healing themselves? Let me share what I've learned so far after going down a thousand times playing in this difficulty.
Why is Payday 2's Death Sentence difficulty so hard? Also, why are there always two medic bulldozers beside each other healing themselves? Let me share what I've learned so far after going down a thousand times playing in this difficulty.
Death Sentence Screen
Nervous sweating, the photo.


Death Sentence is the hardest difficulty in Payday 2. It’s a difficulty for infamous players who wish to challenge themselves. I have roughly 200 hours of playtime and Infamy VI as of writing this… And Death Sentence still gives me a hard time. Mainly because 90% of that playtime was spent on Death Wish. You’d think that moving to Death Sentence after all those hours would be easy right? Turns out that Death Sentence feels like an entirely different game.

The difficulty spike between Death Wish and Death Sentence is massive. There are times where I would go down more than ten times in one heist. It was only after a ton of restarts did I realize that the pacing of this game has changed from “run and gun” to “hide and seek.”

Once I learned to take cover and to take my time, I found myself surviving a little bit longer. Instead of going down fifteen times in a heist, I started going down around four times per heist, and hey, that’s pretty good for someone coming from Death Wish.

What makes Death Sentence Difficult?

The Cops Hurt… A Lot.

 A single mistake in Death Sentence can be punished severely. Simply being out of position can get you downed in an instant. It only takes a few shots to bring you down, and that’s already with full armor and health.

You face the ZEAL SWATs now, which is pretty much the same heavy SWATs in Death Wish but a lot more painful. Also, if you thought bulldozers and minigun bulldozers were tough, just wait until you meet the medic bulldozer. The devs really showed no mercy with the damage output they gave the cops. I hope you got a doctor’s bag or a first aid kit nearby.

Assault Waves Can Easily Overwhelm You

The cops hurt, and they also come in waves. During the sustain part of an assault wave, you’re going to have to tough it out and survive the wave until it ends.

Doing objectives while the wave is at sustain is dangerous with how many cops spawn during it. Plus, the AI gets aggressive and starts charging you as well, forcing you to constantly change cover.

It gets even worse when Captain Winters shows up and keeps the assault going unless you take him out…

And it gets even more worse when you’re playing with friends because the number of cops that spawn increases the more heisters you have in your party.

You have to time doing your objectives when the assault wave dies… Or else you will.

Death Sentence Bulldozer
In this photo, I was praying that Low Blow would give me the crits I needed.

You’re Going to Take Cover a Lot

Running around will get you killed quick. I used to stand out in the open, guns blazing and all, but Death Sentence has humbled me a lot. Finding cover is absolutely essential to survive any Death Sentence heist. This is probably the biggest change in playstyle you’ll have to do if you’re trying out this difficulty for the first time. P.S. Don’t rely on dodge to save you all the time.

Majority of your gameplay will be spent crouching behind cover, picking off cops until the coast is clear to do an objective. Gone are the heists when you can Rambo your way out of a sticky situation.

Managing Resources is a Balancing Act

Sometimes you might find yourself running out of ammo, especially if you’re using a gun with a low ammo pick-up rate, or when the game decides to spawn dozens of bulldozers. Running out in the open to pick up ammo boxes is a last resort, and swapping to an ammo bag instead of a doctor’s bag is a gamble on how good you can pop heads.

Your armor is another thing you should always keep an eye on. Your armor fully goes away at about two to three shots from enemy SWATs. Quick glancing at your armor or reacting to the audio cue of your armor breaking is vital to staying alive.

If you’re not used to Death Sentence yet, your health bar can, and will, evaporate in a blink of an eye. My first Death Sentence runs always ended with me having eight or more downs in every heist. I learned the hard way that once your armor breaks, that’s the time to take cover.

Take all of these in consideration and you have a recipe for a stressful time if you’re not used to micromanaging these.

Doing Objectives Will Take Longer Than Usual

Doing objectives and waiting for them to finish is probably one of the most stressful waiting games I’ve had in a while. Not to mention when you have heists that require you to transport heavy bags. Those heists will definitely take a lot of time. 

With the other points I mentioned, doing objectives will take more time than it used to be. Setting up the thermal drill Death Wish used to be so simple, but now you have to wait for the perfect time to do that by playing patiently and then acting when there’s no one around. It feels like time slows down when you want it to speed up.

Regarding Stealth Heists:

This is what you’ll usually see when you’re as impatient as me during stealth heists.

Stealth heists are a different topic altogether. The main takeaway is that starting from Mayhem until Death Sentence, there isn’t that much difference between them. What you experience in Mayhem stealth is mostly the same as Death Sentence One Down. A few differences are the EXP and money you gain, the titan cameras and safes, enemy health when they’re alerted (they’re still one-shot capable when they’re not alerted), and maybe more guard spawns in some heists.

You might want to activate One Down while doing Death Sentence Stealth; It’s mostly just for the achievement because One Down doesn’t add any difficulty in a fully stealth heist.

If you’re already okay with doing stealth in Overkill difficulty, you can bump it up to Death Sentence One Down immediately afterwards and you’ll probably do fine.

That being said, stealth heists are usually an RNG fest and you’ll be resetting a lot, but that’s for another day to rant about.

A Few Tips on Death Sentence

Here are a few things that I’ve learned from dying in Death Sentence for the nth time:

  1. Take cover always.
  2. Try to time doing your objectives with the assault wave.
  3. Make space so you don’t get overwhelmed in a single room.
  4. Use a build and skill deck that you are comfortable with. (I love Hacker and Anarchist btw.)
  5. Learn the heists from top to bottom.
  6. Use a good UI mod. Just make sure you’re playing fair!
  7. Play at your own pace. Lower the difficulty if you need to. (Trust me, the salt is horrible.)

I’ll probably have another blog post ready to talk more in depth about the tips I made. For now, these are a few points that I keep reminding myself of, especially the last one.

Side note on activating “One Down”: Activating One Down makes you go down only once before you go into custody. The “Nine Lives” perk, when aced, will give you an additional down even if it’s activated. One Down does not modify exp gain nor grant extra rewards. It’s basically there just for a challenge (or if you want the DSOD achievement.)

Question: Is Death Sentence Fair?

When you play at this difficulty for the first time, it will really feel unfair. The odds are really against you, and it will get frustrating. There are lots of times where I feel like the game wasn’t made for Death Sentence.

Heists like Hoxton Breakout Day 1 or Goat Simulator have you out in the open most of the time. Green Bridge is another heist that has enemies spawning left and right which forces you to reposition every second. In a difficulty where taking cover is your lifeline, it feels like I’m getting shot anywhere I go.

The thing is though, if you’ve seen experienced players in action, they would easily go through heists even will all the stuff I just pointed out.

I guess I have what gamers call a “Skill Issue.”

Lesson learned: Don’t rely on the AI too much.

In my opinion, Death Sentence is “fair” only after you really know what you’re doing with a coordinated team. I placed “fair” in quotations because even if you do know everything about the game, that’s not enough to save you from the randomness and bugs in this game.

Things like bad RNG, the AI standing in front of a turret, the laser sights not being properly aligned, they all affect Death Sentence runs. And the fact that I need a few UI mods to show the cooldowns for skills is crazy (I’m using VanillaHud Plus by the way.)

Even seasoned heisters will say that this game is really inconsistent. They even use mods to make their runs easier because the smallest details really do matter in DSOD. Sometimes the game just doesn’t want you alive and throws a ton of BS your way.

For most of us that don’t have the epic gamer skills, this difficulty feels unfair at times, especially at heists that don’t provide enough cover. But with enough time and practice, new Death Sentence players will eventually get used to it, and soon they could do it with one down enabled.


Death Sentence really is the proper name for the final difficulty in Payday 2. When they say Death Sentence, they really mean it.

It’s not everyone’s cup of tea. I kind of prefer the pacing of Death Wish instead of stressing over every detail in Death Sentence. That, and it still feels like Death Sentence was an afterthought when the game came out. Some maps feel like they weren’t meant for Death Sentence, and Overkill isn’t going to balance it anytime soon.

It will take some time to get used to the play style shift coming from the lower difficulties, but give it a while and you’ll eventually start to see why lots of players dedicate a ton of hours on this game on Death Sentence with One Down enabled.

Getting my first DSOD achievement. The Diamond Loud because I suck at stealth.

If you’re up for the challenge, Payday 2’s Death Sentence difficulty pulls no punches, and you will take those punches straight to the jaw until you learn to take cover.

As Bain would say: “Give them Hell.”