The Head of the Table…
Last year’s entry into the WWE 2K franchise was the first for Visual Concepts after the somewhat acrimonious split with longtime developers Yuke’s. It showed signs of promise, with a few rough edges, but was received pretty well all round, following the disastrous WWE 2K20. Another year with their feet under the table, and it’s clear that they’ve really gotten to grips (or should that be graps?) with the game, but have they produced something worthwhile this time out?
Straight off the bat, it’s clear to see that they’re using some of the visual magic that they’ve injected into the NBA games straight into the veins of WWE 2K23. This is, hands down, the best looking wrestling game I’ve ever seen. Entrances are recreated meticulously, and look fantastic thanks to some really dynamic lighting. It mostly carries through to the in ring action as well, with impressive character models for most of the Superstars, along with an expanded moveset for this year, accurately recreating the vast majority of the roster. I can’t think of many wrestlers that are missing either, although some of those absent from the initial launch will come as DLC down the line, which could be a bit of a frustration for some.
Mechanically, there have been a few changes from last year’s game which are welcome ones. Firstly, the method of kicking out of a pin has been simplified with a simple flick up on the right stick to match an area in a sliding bar. It’s a bit more skill based than the button mashing of the past, and allows for some more dramatic matches if you get the timing right. Reversals are still unlimited, although the timing window on these has seemingly been cut right down, which makes things a little bit harder when you’re up against some tough opponents.
The headline features of this year’s entry come in the form of the John Cena showcase mode, and the addition of WarGames to the match types. I’ll start with the latter, as it’s likely the match type people will check out first. It’s a whole ton of fun, with either 3 or 4 person teams in the mix. Performance holds up even with 8 people in the ring, and it’s a ton of fun to bring in a bunch of weapons to use before you properly enter the match. Once things get going, it becomes a glorious ballet of chaos, though. I’ve played a bunch of WarGames matches, and have yet to score a pinfall, with each of them being picked up by the CPU players in the midst of the absolute bedlam that’s unfolding in front of me. As much fun as it is, it can be quite tricky to keep track of exactly what’s happening in the rings, so it might be best enjoyed with multiple players.
The second headliner is, as mentioned, the Cena showcase. In typical John Cena fashion, he chooses to focus on his opponents rather than him, and in this mode, you play through a bunch of matches in his career where he… Wait, where he lost?! Yep, you get to humble the biggest name in Sports Entertainment numerous times over. Taking control of the likes of Edge, Kurt Angle, The Undertaker, RVD and more, this amounts to probably the best and most varied showcase that they’ve ever put out. My biggest issue with previous ones was that after a few matches, I’d get bored of the same moves with different ring attires. Changing up the superstars and having a different plan of attack with each match works wonders for this mode, and it’s definitely worth checking out. It’s just a shame there’s no Money in the Bank 2011, but I think we all know why that’s not there…
MyRise was the next mode I checked out, and this has been expanded massively as well. There are two paths you can take, either The Lock, or The Legacy. The Lock sees you as a male superstar being touted as “the next big thing”, having worked your way up through the indie scene, whereas The Legacy is a female storyline, throwing you in as the niece of a former Women’s Champion. There are a ton of branching story paths here, allowing you to navigate the main story while bulking out your stats with a number of side objectives. It’s really well done for the most part, although there are some moments that had me scratching my head as to why they’d happened. Overall though, the journey to becoming the champ is really enjoyable, regardless of which option you pick. You can export your character from this mode, but it would just be nice if you could import custom characters, instead of having to create one each time. I haven’t really touched MyFaction, or the Universe mode, but they appear to be more of the same with a few tweaks this time out. MyFaction is a sort of Ultimate Team with wrestlers, and Universe mode is the longer-term pseudo-story mode which can be played indefinitely.
The final mode to cover is the returning MyGM mode. I had a ton of fun with this last year, although it had its limitations. This year’s has addressed some, but not all, of the qualms most people had. For a start, you can continue into multiple seasons of a show, which is by far and away the biggest complaint. New drafts take place at the start of each year, allowing you to keep things fresh, and you can square off against up to 3 other GMs in your quest for supremacy. Having multiple opponents keeps you on your toes, with power cards and superstar defections a constant threat, and it brings a new element of strategy into play. However, there are still no tag championships, nor can you defend a title in a multi-person match like a Triple Threat or Fatal Four Way. This feels like a bit of an oversight, but maybe it’ll be DLC or an inclusion for next year’s outing.
Of course, there are other improvements elsewhere, such as a new feature in Royal Rumble matches where members of factions won’t attack each other until late on in the match. The creation suite is still as utterly bonkers as ever before, allowing for some incredible community crafted wrestlers, titles, arenas and more. You can even upload a PNG file to show as the character in the menus this year, allowing for a bit more realism when you go to select your grappler.