Skills are a means of unlocking new equipment, abilities, or basic statistic improvements in PAYDAY 2. They are divided among five skill trees: Mastermind, Enforcer, Technician, Ghost, and Fugitive; often described as classes. Players are free to distribute skill points however they choose across the five skill trees.
The Skills system was overhauled in Update #100, with the five skill trees possessing three "subtrees" each, each with a different role. The content under the section "Pre-Update #100" contains information on the old skills system and is kept for reference.
One skill point is awarded each time the player gains a Reputation level, plus an additional 2 points at every level divisible by 10 (meaning that instead of just 1 skill point, 3 skill points will be granted at levels 10, 20, 30, 40 etc). Thus, once the player reaches the maximum Reputation level of 100, the player will have a total of 120 skill points.
Because the total skill points needed to unlock Basic and Ace for every skill in a single tree totals 132 points (145 on the consoles), it is impossible to Ace every skill in even a single tree (and furthermore, there are five separate trees in total). Because of this, it is advisable to only spend points on specific skills you truly need and want, and to spread skill points over multiple trees if necessary. Planning your build can be done with this skills, perks, and weapon calculator.
Each skill tree has three subtrees, named after their intended role (for example, the Fugitive's Brawler subtree enhances melee combat capability). For each subtree, there are four tiers, the top three unlocked by spending a minimum total number of points in that subtree:
tier 2 is unlocked by spending 1 skill point,
tier 3 by spending 3 skill points,
tier 4 by spending 18.
Tier 4's point requirement can be reduced to 16 by investing an Infamy point in the appropriate tree.
All subtrees have one skill in tiers 1 and 4, and two skills in tiers 2 and 3. Tier 1 skills cost 1 skill point to unlock Basic and three skill points to Ace, tier 2 skills cost two skill points for Basic and four for Ace, tier 3 skills cost 3 for Basic and 6 for Ace, and tier 4 skills 4 for Basic and 6 for Ace.
Skills can be withdrawn and skill points returned simply by right-clicking on the skill. Aced skills are withdrawn separately from Basic skills; to fully remove a skill that has been Aced, one will have to right-click on the skill twice. Skills cannot be withdrawn if the skill points invested in them allow skills unlocked above them to be used. The higher-tier skills will have to be removed before the lower-tier skill can.
For each class, there are six tiers, unlocked by spending a minimum total number of points in that skill tree:
tier 1 is unlocked by spending 1 skill point,
tier 2 is unlocked by spending 5,
tier 3 by spending 10,
tier 4 by spending 20,
tier 5 by spending 30,
tier 6 by spending 40.
These numbers can be reduced to 1, 5, 9, 18, 27, and 36 points respectively by investing an Infamy point in the appropriate tree.
For each tier, there are three skills. Each skill, after the Basic is obtained, can be Aced for further benefit. Skills in tiers 1 to 3 cost one skill point to unlock Basic and three skill points to Ace, whereas skills in tiers 4 to 6 cost four skill points to unlock Basic and eight skill points to Ace.
Party bonuses do not stack with the identical bonus coming from other players in the party that have the identical skill (thus it is somewhat sub-optimal for multiple players to get the same party-benefit skills, if you always play with the same team of players). All other bonuses stack, unless stated otherwise, including bonuses from Basic and Aced versions of the skill.
You can remove and add skillpoints free of charge by using the left mouse button (for adding) or right mouse button (for removing). As long as a deletion isn't prohibited (points are required to unlock higher leveled skill, tier 1 base) you can remove skills at your leisure to change your tree(s).
You can drop all skills from a skill tree by choosing the "respec this skill tree" option from the bottom of the screen while that skill tree is selected. This will return all of the skill points to you as skill points that can be spent again anywhere, as well as returning half the cash you paid to unlock those skills. Clicking on the option will bring up a dialog box telling you how much money you'll get back and giving you the option to drop the skills or not; this can be used to see how much money you would get back without actually dropping the skill points.
Skill trees in which you don't have a lot invested (i.e., you've unlocked only a few lower-level skills) are relatively cheap to rebuild. This can be used in two ways:
At low levels you can take advantage of some skills that are useful early on but that you don't need later.
For example, cash is usually relatively scarce below level 60. If you're not planning on investing heavily in the Ghost tree, picking up Dead Presidents can quickly pay off both the skill purchase itself and the cost of a respec of the Ghost tree. If you have only taken Sprinter from the Ghost tree, you only need to collect $288k in instant cash to pay off a respec - this is only marginally more than one ATM on Overkill difficulty, which can be easily and quickly looted on Four Stores.
At higher levels, re-specifying can let you make temporary use of skill points that would otherwise be unused while you're saving skill points for a large unlock in another tree. Allocate these points to low-level skills in your least developed skill tree(s), and when you've leveled up enough you can cheaply re-specify these less-developed trees to free up the additional skill points you need for your large unlock.
Players can unlock additional skill sets to use, allowing them to switch between multiple builds without having to re-spec skill points. This allows, for example, one to switch from a stealth build to a combat build in an instant. Skill sets can be selected and unlocked by pressing the S key.
Skill sets also have a perk deck selection associated, hence switching skill set will switch perk deck as well, although perk deck progress is universal across skill sets.
The skill set used is selected from the skill screen, meaning that it can be selected from the main menu or while in the lobby screen of a Crime.Net server. As using Crime.Net Offline bypasses the lobby screen, players cannot switch sets in light of the heists which appear. Similarly, it is not possible to change skill set between days of a multi-day heist.
The skill sets are unlocked as follows:
The starting skill set, available from the outset.
Available for unlock once you reach level 50.
Available for purchase once you reach level 75, costs $1M of offshore money.
Available for purchase once you reach level 100, costs $10M of offshore money.
Available for purchase once you reach level 100, requires the Tabula Rasa achievement, and costs $20M of offshore money.
When resetting your level by going infamous, the skill sets unlocked remain unlocked and therefore can be used immediately afterwards.
Special enemies marked by you take 15% additional damage. Range can be increased with Dominator Aced.
Ace (3 pt):
Unlocks the Spotter asset in the Job Overview menu. During stealth, the Spotter will highlight guards for you and your crew. If stealth is not an option, the Spotter will highlight special enemies for you and your crew.
You can convert a non-special enemy to fight on your side. This cannot be done during stealth and the enemy must have surrendered in order for you to convert it. You can only convert one non-special enemy at a time.
Ace (8 pt):
The converted enemy gains 55% more health and deals 45% more damage. The time to convert an enemy is reduced by 65%.
Upgrades your trip mines with a sensor mode, highlighting enemies that walk past. During stealth, the trip mines will highlight guards and special enemies for you and your crew. If stealth is not an option, the trip mines will highlight special enemies for you and your crew.
The Ghost is a stealth artist, capable of grand theft without force or violence.
Spending the first point in the Ghost skill tree unlocks the ability to use the electronic countermeasure equipment, also known as the ECM jammer. When used, the ECM jammer can open ATM machines and temporarily cancel out electronic devices such as cell phones and cameras.
1 ECM jammer is added to your inventory. An ECM jammer lasts 20 seconds.
You can now interact with ECM jammers to cause a feedback loop. When interacted, the ECM jammer has a 50%-100% chance to incapacitate enemies within a 25 meters radius every 1.5 seconds. ECM feedback lasts 15-20 seconds.
Ace (8 pt):
You will now instantly interact with a ECM jammer and the ECM feedback duration is increased by 25%. Your ECM jammer has a 100% chance every 4 minutes to recharge itself.
www.pd2skills.com offers a skill calculator that is useful for planning out skill progression, and was endorsed by Overkill. It also offers a beta version for planning skills with infamy levels. There is a version of it for the Android.
The full changes of the skills and introduction of perks in Update 39 can be read here.
Each skill tree is represented by one of the original heisters and the now-separate Houston; with Dallas as the Mastermind, Chains as the Enforcer, Wolf as the Technician, Houston as the Ghost, and Hoxton as the Fugitive.
As of the Crimefest Update 39, the skill tier bonuses have been removed from the game, being replaced by the Perk Decks system which works in a similar way, but opens up the player's access to beneficial bonuses as to encourage calculated character building, rather than spending points in trees just for the tier upgrade, such as the old Tier 3 Technician headshot, which is a perk in all perk trees. Most of the tier bonuses have been revised into Perks, but some are removed entirely.
With Update #100, money is no longer needed to "purchase" a skill perk and it was refunded to those who had invested in the older skill trees.