*Glass smashes*… For an extra £3.99
I loved WWE All-Stars. There. I said it. I honestly think it’s one of, if not the, best wrestling games from the PS3/360 era. An over-the-top, cartoonish feel, combined with some absolutely bonkers flying movesets, it undoubtedly ranked as one of the more memorable, although not quite accurate, representation of action within the squared circle that there has been in recent memory. Given the somewhat well-publicised disaster that was WWE2K20 (somewhat ironic given the year that followed), the folks at 2K decided to give its “sim” franchise a year off to recover, and instead went with WWE 2K Battlegrounds. Something of a spiritual successor to All-Stars, with a similarly over the top look and feel, but with some pretty major differences. Is it worth your time? Well… Yes and no.
Let’s start with the obvious bugbear that I’ve seen from people over the past week or so. Yes, the roster is quite limited to start off with. This is expandable to include superstars who have been included in the game’s marketing, such as AJ Styles, The Rock, Becky Lynch and Stone Cold Steve Austin, but these come at a cost. And, given that this is the year 2020, that cost can be paid off with in game currency that you can either grind for, or pay actual cash for. Each additional character will set you back anything between 6000 or 12000 “battle bucks”, which can be earned by playing through the game, but can also be purchased outright for a few quid. Somewhat frustratingly, the battle bucks system is also used to unlock everything else in the game as well, including cosmetic items for created grapplers, additional costumes for the unlockable superstars, and a whole lot more. After a couple of hours playing, I had enough to unlock a couple of the “legendary” characters (The Rock and Triple H), so it’s definitely feasible to at least unlock the major characters that people may want, but if you want absolutely everything from within the game, prepare to get on the grind or crack open your wallet once more. Personally, I don’t mind having unlockable characters in this way, as it does have throwbacks to games of yore, when additional fighters were locked off behind gameplay quests and objectives. However, there are an awful lot of items, and it’s been calculated that getting everything could be asking somewhere of up to 100 hours’ worth of gameplay to achieve this.
The problem with asking for 100 hours for things with WWE 2K Battlegrounds is, quite simply, that there’s not really enough in the game to warrant that kind of a time investment. Gameplay wise, it’s quite simple. There are 5 character classes, which will assign a particular moveset to a wrestler, and these are blanket-applied to anyone with those classes. The only differences in, say, Becky Lynch and Stone Cold Steve Austin are the unique signature moves and finishers. It’s definitely a little jarring, particularly when the other WWE 2K franchise is usually quite dedicated at having an accurate list of moves for each individual on the roster. However, WWE 2K Battlegrounds is definitely a lot more fun than the mainstream games have been for a long while. This is evidenced from moment you boot up the game and are greeted by the cutesy, super-deformed versions of The Undertaker, Bray Wyatt et al. Each person has an instantly recognisable likeness, with my only real gripe coming from some of the women’s division looking a bit too deformed, something that I picked up on the initial trailer and hasn’t really changed since. On the whole though, it looks like a cartoon and plays with the same sort of madness that you’d expect. This is complimented by the power-up system, which allows you to gain temporary boosts in the middle of matches, adding to the chaos in mostly positive ways.
In terms of modes, there are a few to pick from with Battlegrounds, some of which are much more enjoyable than others. The first one is the career mode, which sees you take on the mantle of a number of new kids on the block, attempting to form a new division in the company, headed up by Paul Heyman and Stone Cold Steve Austin. Each match and area is punctuated by a comic strip, which, as a fan of certain eras of the WWE, I found to be pretty enjoyable and very tongue in cheek, it’s definitely not taking itself too seriously at all! It’s also pretty lengthy as well, seeing you travel through multiple locations and facing an increasing contingent of the WWE roster throughout. As you progress, you’ll unlock characters outright, as well as gaining the “battle bucks” required for the other stuff mentioned above. Alongside the career, there’s also a host of exhibition options, create a superstar and create a battleground modes. And, of course, if you want to jump in with a friend, there are some online modes. Unfortunately, just like most other games, the online modes are a bit of a disaster if you want to just have an enjoyable experience due to people who just want to hammer time into whatever game they’re playing at the time. The “King of the Battleground” mode very quickly deteriorates into a reversal-fest, and you constantly find multiple people ganging up on one or two users until they’re booted out of the ring. It’s a shame, because it’s got potential, but it just feels a bit too impenetrable for people who want to play casually.
Technically, Battlegrounds is a mixed bag. There is a hard 4-person limit on competitors in the ring, and at times it can start to chug a little bit when things get extremely busy. I did encounter a couple of extremely severe frame drops in places as well. Things dipped to simply unacceptable levels on at least three or four occasions, and interrupting the match. However, these were exceptionally rare and I’ve not had any after restarting a couple of times, so I’m willing to chalk those up as hitches.