Image: Overkill Software (Payday 2)

Payday 2 came out in 2013, but players are only just now uncovering what appears to be its secret ending after weeks of piecing together esoteric clues in the culmination of a challenge that began even before the game was officially released and was finally able to be completed thanks to a new update to the game.

To solve things, players wove together fake CNN reports and made-up ancient history. The journey to unlock the game’s secret ending shows Payday 2 was about a lot more than just robbing banks, and though it was only made possible after the game’s latest update, solving the puzzles involved required players crowdsourcing their collective knowledge of the game’s ever evolving lore.

From here on out, it’s impossible to talk about the discovery without going into spoilers, so consider yourself warned.

As first reported by Rock, Paper, Shotgun, the entire thing has been an extremely complicated affair. Community member GeneralMcBadass uploaded the game’s secret ending over the weekend, followed by an explainer video yesterday that detailed how players can activate it. While the video’s only roughly 14 minutes long, it’s packed full of enough tiny details and moving parts to make even the most diehard gaming secret hunter’s head spin.

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In short, there’s a wall in the new White House heist mission that players can blow up if certain conditions are met. Doing so leads to an underground passage where they are attacked by waves of demons while trying to open a vault door. From there they gain access to a large underground cavern with a giant mysterious artifact at the center that can only be activated by placing gold bars on the floor in specific locations, at which point the screen goes white and a live-action ending takes place.

It would require a master’s degree in Payday 2-ology to adequately explain the import of everything that’s in the ending and written epilogue. To summarize though, protagonists Dallas, Wolf, Chains, and Houston manage to pull off the most amazing heist in human history. They don’t simply steal Presidential pardons, as per the game’s latest new mission, but the country itself, metaphorically speaking, by means of the magic artifact that is hidden, National Treasure-style, under the White House. That object allows a sick and dying Bain, the crew’s mission handler, to swap bodies with the President (who in the live-action ending is played by John de Lancie, best known as Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation).

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More wild than that though is what players had to go through to get that “true” ending and how long they’ve been working towards it. Everything technically started with the Guide of Bain, a PDF file that released with the Career Criminal edition of the game. That file introduced prospective players to the game’s characters and gameplay basics. At the same time, it doubled as a fictional work pulling people into a deeper narrative web being woven by the game’s creators, making reference to a special artifact and clues about its location as it changed hands throughout history. It played out as an alternate reality game, or ARG.

In recent weeks, this ARG went into overdrive as the studio behind Payday 2, Overkill Software, began releasing mysterious YouTube videos and new story content, including last week’s update that added the White House heist. Combing through all of the game’s released heists, comics, fake FBI websites, the community was able to piece together what was needed to access the artifact.

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This included key to deciphering runes on a device assembled out of random collectibles scattered across various missions. The resulting messages were unique to each player and listed out which 20 of the game’s 50 Steam Achievements they needed to have completed in order to blow up the secret wall in the White House where the secret ending is hidden. If all four players in the heist crew don’t have their required Steam Achievements completed, nothing would happen. You can try to wrap your head around it by reading the Payday 2’s wikipage dedicated to the ARG.