Wrestling fans the world over blew a collective sigh of relief last year when WWE 2K22 dropped and it was actually pretty good. We’d been in the doldrums for so long that the forced hiatus after WWE 2K20 did the series a world of good. However, like earning championships versus defending them, maintaining that positive reception is just as hard, if not harder. Thankfully, WWE 2K23 succeeds on that front too.
For the most part, WWE 2K23 is an iterative installment rather than an innovative one, which is fine for now considering last year’s grand overhaul still had some room for improvement. Much of that improvement this year has gone into the modes rather than the gameplay, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been improvements in that regard either. Despite that though, one or two elements have significantly diminished since last year too.
Veterans from WWE 2K22 will be able to enjoy the same gameplay as last year, which offers a heavy striking and combo focus reminiscent of the old Def Jam games, which is a huge step up from the lumbering simulation feel of previous WWE 2K games. There have been some slight changes and improvements to the finisher and momentum gauge though, which actually improve the pacing of the gameplay and allow you to have more options during a match.
While players could always store up to three finishers, last year’s entry allowed for up to three signatures too. This time around, players can only have one signature ready to go, and their momentum meter is used for a lot more, like possum pins, escapes and Paybacks. That sounds like a downgrade, but in return, the rate of momentum you earn when you attack, you’re being attacked or when you escape from a pin or submission seems to have improved.
Also new to this year’s version is the WarGames match, the acclaimed two-ringed cage match that’s played host to various match of the year candidates over the past few years. Functionally, it’s not that much different from a Hell In The Cell or Cage match, only there’s a second ring for people to fight in, meaning there’s a lot of bedlam that can happen during a match.
A slightly altered momentum system and a new match type might not be enough changes for someone looking to justify purchasing the next installment of an annual release, but it’s still a huge leap above the previous WWE 2K titles as the gameplay promotes being active at all points during the match, instead of running out of reversals and watching your opponent have their way with you. In essence, WWE 2K23 tries to ensure you have more tools available to you at all times to keep you involved in the match, which is always more interesting.
Like last year though, the one sticking point for people will be Breakers, the defensive tool designed to stop players from comboing you. By matching your button press to your opponent’s attack, theoretically you can counter your opponent and gain the upper hand. You can only perform this move once per combo or set of attacks though, and if you’re on the floor mashing buttons to try and stand up quicker, you’re either going to accidentally trigger a Breaker or get stomped for a while. Either way, pulling one off still feels like a fluke, and 2K might be better off just streamlining your defensive options to just dodging and reversals in next year’s entry.
As for the modes, they’ve also seen a lot of improvements this year, and while not every mode is going to be appealing to every player, there’s so many of them that you could easily find enough value throughout the whole game. On the negative side, MyFaction mode is still the same, microtransaction heavy Ultimate Team clone it was last year, with online multiplayer now thrown in for good measure. If that’s your bag, more power to you, but in my opinion, it’s easily the worst mode of the lot.
While the Showcase Mode was fantastic last year, this year’s mode just doesn’t stack up in comparison, with the main problem being that it’s focused on John Cena. Nothing against the man himself, but you can tell WWE 2K’s devs didn’t have long with the man who can’t be seen, as all the live action sections were seemingly shot in one day. Moreover, there’s no mid-match commentary from Big John like there was last year from Rey Mysterio, meaning you’re often sat there looking at cutscenes or real life match footage with no voiceover and generic music, making the whole mode feel flat. The last couple of matches do add some personality to the affair, but not enough to fully rescue the whole mode.
Meanwhile, the MyRise mode has seen a massive improvement from last year. Instead of just creating a male or female Superstar and advancing through random, disjointed stories across the Performance Center, NXT, SmackDown and RAW, you now pick from one of two scenarios: The Legacy and The Lock. The Legacy, the women’s scenario, sees you playing as a family member of a popular women’s wrestler, and sees you making choices about how much you want to lean on your own legacy, while The Lock is about your character being touted as The Next Big Thing in WWE (he’s a Lock, get it?). However, will that pressure cause you to crumble?
The core progression is much the same, as players are still sent to a hub after every match, talking to wrestlers backstage or on social media to take part in story missions, but all the side stories still feed into the larger story arc. There’s much more consistency across both of the modes, with twists, turns, and choices to be made in the overarching plot to keep you invested. It’s amazing what a little direction can do to make a mode feel more worthwhile, and not just a random collection of matches and stories.
The MyGm and Universe modes have also seen a range of upgrades, with MyGM now allowing for a wider range of rivalries, matches and potential cards. Considering how restrictive the original version of MyGM mode was in WWE 2K22, this new version feels like a massive overhaul, which should be good news for anyone who fancies themselves better at running WWE shows than Adam Pearce. As for the Universe mode, rivalries have been expanded this year, and there’s a new momentum system designed to give players control over how interactions and rivalries go, which makes the already exhaustive sandbox mode even more compelling.
There’s still a few issues under the surface of WWE 2K23, like how character models and objects are liable to start no clipping around the arena for no reason at times, but on the whole, WWE 2K23 is a decent stride of improvement compared to last year’s massive leap. Hopefully, next year the devs can introduce something new to keep this formula fresh, because so far, we love the smell of what they’ve been cooking.
A digital code for WWE 2K23 was provided by PR for the purposes of this review.
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Not exactly a huge advancement on last year, but WWE 2K23 didn’t need to be, instead offering smart improvements on an already great formula.
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