WWE 2K23 is an interesting entry in the popular wrestling game franchise from the Take-Two Interactive subsidiary 2K. When the series took a one-year gap after the not-so-well-received WWE 2K20, it seemed like we might have seen the end of this once-popular gaming franchise. However, 2K made a thumping comeback with last year’s WWE 2K22, which was one of the best wrestling games ever made. It seemed as if the entire team went back to the drawing board to figure out the fundamentals of what made this wrestling game franchise so popular around the world and removed the unnecessary complications that made it hard to play for someone who picked up the game for the first time around. While WWE 2K22 revived this gaming series, the burden on the shoulders of WWE 2K23 was even greater, to make sure the series doesn’t go off the rails again and to build upon its successful predecessor. You would be relieved to know that WWE 2K23 successfully carries the torch forward from WWE 2K22 and while it doesn’t bring along revolutionary changes to the table, it definitely helps wrestling fans live their dream in the best possible way by bringing along some quality-of-life tweaks.
Game Modes – Necessary and welcome refinements!
At this point in the series, the game has so much to offer that if you are playing a title from this series for the first time, you can easily get overwhelmed. On the other hand, if you are in love with the wrestling universe, you can spend hours on hours each week playing this game. Let’s start with Showcase, the mode that focuses on the journey of a single WWE superstar and lets you relive the most crucial points in his career. While last year’s iteration had Rey Mysterio in the spotlight, this year, the game has gone for an even more popular figure in the WWE universe – John Cena. As most of us have grown up seeing John Cena performing the Five Knuffle Shuffle and Attitude Adjustment, the relatability factor with the Superstar ensures a fun ride throughout. However, unlike the last iteration where we got to step into Rey Mysterio’s shoes, this time around we get to play John Cena’s opponents in the crucial matches of his career where he ended up losing the match. This change of perspective is interesting as you get to play with different wrestlers in each match instead of sticking to just one central character. In each match, if you successfully replicate the moves performed by John Cena’s opponents in the actual match through the objectives section, you will be granted rewards in the form of arenas, superstars, and more. As John Cena constantly repeats his signature ‘Never Give Up’ mantra, the art of dealing with losses instead of talking about wins gives this game mode a fresh and deep look altogether.
John Cena provides his commentary on these matches and his opponents, along with archive footage of these matches, to take you back in time and relive these moments. It is clear that 2K has successfully cracked the formula of reliving legacy matches. First with NBA 2K series, and now with WWE 2K, the game publisher flexes its muscles in this category, paying homage to some of the best wrestlers in an interesting way each time around.
Let’s move on to the ‘My Rise’ mode, which is the equivalent of the career mode in this series. While last year’s version of this mode seemed like it was an unfinished product, this year, it seems like it has got its full due. Broadly, there are two storylines that you can pursue in this single-player mode. In ‘The Legacy’ storyline, you have to start your career with many expectations as your aunt Justine is a Hall of Fame wrestler who has won the WWE Women’s Championship. Building your own identity out of your aunt’s shadow and creating your own legacy (after losing in your first match at Survivor Series) is the main theme of this storyline. On the other hand, ‘The Lock’ storyline puts you in the shoes of an established WWE wrestler who is about to make his RAW debut and becomes an Intercontinental Champion right after your first victory. Right from the beginning, when you are shown the argument regarding your name in the WWE Universe with the GM Shawn Michaels, it is abundantly clear that the story gives you an option of either becoming a rebel by holding on to your identity or becoming part of the WWE machine that churns out successful wrestlers year after year. With dialogue options, you are given the opportunity to pave the way for your wrestler and create the path you think would be more interesting.
MyFaction is the card collecting mode in this game, similar to Ultimate Team in the FIFA series and MyTeam in NBA 2K, as 2K seems to be trying to replicate the success it has had with MyTeam in its WWE 2K series as well. The objective in this mode is to create your own Faction with male and female wrestlers to participate in daily and weekly challenges to earn rewards. While last year there was no online mode in MyFaction, this year 2K has added an all-new online head-to-head Quick Play game mode to allow users to compete against other players. 2K has also added scheduled Live Events to MyFaction which is a single-player experience meant to offer users a curated list of matchups in order to earn rewards. It would be certainly interesting to see how next year’s iteration of the WWE 2K series would further develop this game mode. However, one aspect of MyFaction that drags it down is its focus on microtransactions. You need to purchase VC (virtual currency) with real-world money to open packs from stores. As the NBA series from 2K has faced this issue for years, let’s just hope the publisher doesn’t move its entire focus in this direction.
WWE Universe is a game mode that allows you to have complete control over the roster and you get two options here, either you can go for the ‘Classic Mode’ with the traditional sandbox experience and take complete control over the WWE Universe, where you can essentially customise the shows as you please with matchups you like and the titles that can be won. The other option is to go for the Superstar mode, which lets you control a Superstar and match him up to your preferred opponents for shots at different titles. Each of these modes has its merits but it comes down to your personal choice eventually.
In the MyGM mode, which could easily be a game by itself, you now get to play as many seasons of the mode as you wish, something that was missing from the compact experience on offer last year. After a season is finished, there is a redraft, your budget is reset, and you have to pick your roster all over again. However, you can save up to six superstars for the next season, depending on your rank in the current season. Notably, the addition of Hall of Fame trophies gives players another good reason to play this game mode. One area where this game mode is still lacking is match types. Whether it is the popular War Games or Royal Rumble, these match types being absent from such a crucial game mode is not only surprising but disappointing.
There is also the option to play online games in which you can join lobbies and choose your match type and jump straight in. In terms of online gameplay experience, I didn’t face any major issues in terms of matchmaking and servers, however, doing reversals can be challenging at times due to slow response times on occasions.
Combat gameplay – Don’t fix if it ain’t broken
As WWE 2K22 combat gameplay was universally received with open arms, thanks to simplification to a large extent, 2K has been smart enough to retain similar mechanics but also added some new aspects to ensure that the game still holds up skill advantage but doesn’t feel severely lopsided for the more experienced players. Let’s start with the basics. Superstar HUD is the gameplay HUD at the bottom of the screen that shows information about a Superstar’s Vitality, Special Meter, Paybacks, Finishers, and Limb Damage. An important aspect of this HUD is Vitality. Attack damage lowers vitality, low Core Vitality means a Superstar is more like to be successfully pinned or submitted. To recover Vitality, you need to avoid getting hit. When a Superstar’s green Vitality Shield breaks, its red Core Vitality is vulnerable. Further damage decreases the maximum amount Vitality can recover. If you have played WWE 2K22, this will all feel familiar to you.
You still have the combo system from last year where you have to chain together a combination of moves while ensuring your opponent doesn’t perform a successful reversal. Notably, only the first attack can be reversed using the ‘Triangle’ button and from there onwards, you will have to guess the exact button that your opponent is pressing to perform a reversal. This can be extremely hard if your opponent has played the game before and knows how to use variations but a much better system than some previous entries in the series where the reversals are easy to perform, and the game gets boring fast.
The special inclusion this year is two payback moves, which allow players the chance to turn the tide in their favour at any given moment. Another interesting and crucial aspect of the core combat gameplay is the use of the special bar. As the special bar meter fills up as you deal damage, you have two choices to make. Either you can use this bar to make an instant comeback (imagine the classic Undertaker rise-up) or wait for it to fill up fully to make a signature move, which eventually allows you to perform a Finisher and win the match in most cases. This subtle art of making the right decision at the right time provides the WWE 2K23 matches with an extremely entertaining undertone. While the instant comebacks could often feel comical, as the wrestler rises up instantly after being at the receiving end of a major blow, the arcade(y) nature of this game is what makes it pure fun in the first place.
Graphics – Best to date
WWE 2K23, without a doubt, has the best graphics you would see in a wrestling game to date. The enhanced lighting turns the game into a visual spectacle, and you can rest assured that your favourite superstars look better than they ever have. Whether it is the present roster or the classic one, you are treated to excellent player models. Everything from the stage and crowd to the title belts looks like a visual treat. However, I must point out that the difference between the popular WWE Superstars and some of the less popular models is striking as well. But this is not a new issue as this has been the case in other games such as FIFA, NBA, and so many others.
While there are some visual glitches that you can occasionally witness, the game is far more consistent in performance than WWE 2K22, which was already a great improvement from WWE 2K20. Overall, the WWE 2K22 has far more hits than misses when it comes to graphics.
It is safe to say that the WWE series from 2K is moving in the right direction and with WWE 2K23, it does so through fine refinements. While WWE 2K22 was a huge sigh of relief, this year’s game proves that the series is now in safe hands and wrestling fans, who once feared that they might have seen the end of the road for this series, can now rest easy and look forward to what this series could have on offer next year.
Rating: 3.5 / 5
- Impressive combat experience
- MyRise storylines are engaging
- MyGM mode is better than ever
- Improved visual fidelity
- Microtransactions in MyFaction
- Lack of match types in MyGM
- Occasional movement glitches