After the shambles that is WWE 2K20, I think we can all agree that the series needed a break to recover from the backlash. The publishing giants 2K obviously felt so too and drafted in Saber Interactive to develop an altogether different wrestling game for WWE fans. Alas, WWE 2K Battlegrounds is the resulting product, which completely avoids going down a realistic route and instead appears to be a zany, over-the-top representation of wrestling. Is WWE 2K Battlegrounds on Xbox One the refreshingly fun experience we’ve all been waiting for?
Well, to put it in wrestling terms, WWE 2K Battlegrounds is a mid-carder – at best – with a host of things holding it back and it possessing little to suggest it’ll ever become a main event Superstar. Sure, it looks fun, but looks can be deceiving.
WWE 2K Battlegrounds is best described as a silly, accentuated, arcade style take on the in-ring action that WWE produces week-in, week-out. Think back to WWE All Stars, which had characters that had their unique looks dialed-up to 11, featured hard-hitting maneuvers, and leaned more towards simple, but fast gameplay. While the gameplay in this is darn pacey and the moves do pack a punch, it’s not nearly as enjoyable to play. That’s down to a few factors; the first of which are the controls.
The lack of a proper tutorial hinders a player’s introduction first and foremost, with a vast selection of screens to read through if you want to learn the ins and outs. It’s like a flashy Powerpoint presentation, which isn’t all that easy to digest. A couple of instructions pop up once you actually start fighting, but strangely it took a few matches before showing the art of a punch combo. I’d lost matches through a lack of knowing what to do due to how infrequent these ‘tips’ are displayed.
On top of that, assigning moves to the analog stick and then incorporating a modifying button is a little counter-intuitive. Countering moves is also a pain in the backside as they’re not set to a specific button, so essentially it’s a rapid race to press whichever one flashes up – not useful when you’re bashing the recovery button beforehand as it often carries over and leads to an incorrect input. Actually, it’s worth noting that many elements of the game feature button bashing mini-games in order to succeed.
Putting that aside for the moment though, the roster needs some attention. Long-time fans of the WWE will love the fact that a decent mixture of legends have been included alongside the current crop of talent. You can play out dream matches like Andre the Giant versus Braun Strowman, see Asuka take on Beth Phoenix, or even pit Randy Orton against Jake “The Snake” Roberts. Well, you could do it if a large proportion of them weren’t locked away.
In the beginning, the selection of available wrestlers on the men’s and women’s roster is slim pickings. To unlock some of them, it’s a case of working through the main story mode, while others need to be purchased via in-game currency. It all seems a bit of a grind and anyone wanting to use their favourite wrestlers from the off will most likely have to wait. Alternatively, the presence of microtransactions means another currency can be bought to speed up the entire process, which many people won’t be overly comfortable with.
As for the fighting itself, there’s no doubt the exaggerated suplexes, hurricanranas and slams are exciting to perform. Building up the ‘heat’ bar to trigger special signature attacks and finishers – which are unique to each Superstar and are very cool visually – is relatively swift and that ensures matches don’t drag on. The rest of the move arsenal is determined by character classes, with Powerhouses, Brawlers, Technicians, High Flyers and All-Rounders possessing different movesets. Given there are only a few grapple options per class, the variety is lacking and it’ll soon feel monotonous. WWE 2K Battlegrounds is definitely best in short spells, no matter the game mode.
But before moving on to the modes, a note about the commentary team in place to call the action: Jerry “The King” Lawler and Mauro Ranallo. On paper, these seem an ideal pairing because of how dramatic and energetic they are during matches in the real world. Here though, the soundbites often miss the mark by having little relevance to the happenings and what is being said gets repetitive swiftly, which is really quite annoying. It’s not a massive problem, but doesn’t help with the already limited amount of fun you can garner from the game.
Nevertheless there are a fair few game modes on offer and thankfully they cater just as well for those who prefer going solo as much as the multiplayer fanatics. The Campaign is an interesting option because it features a story that ties together a ton of matches, with rewards like new characters to obtain. Unfortunately, the tale of Paul Heyman and Steve Austin travelling the world to seek out fighters doesn’t come across well in comic book panel form. The writing is bland, the artwork isn’t that exciting and then you’re forced to use made-up characters for a sequence of matches. You’ll grow tiresome due to the overuse of each character as that highlights the repetitive gameplay.
Battleground Challenge follows a similar format in terms of featuring a string of match-ups with rewards attached. There’s no narrative, but you can at least use your own created character and grow them into a highly rated Superstar. It’ll be a lengthy process though as there are a ton of matches to tackle. Again, the option is there to enhance them using real money if that’s your preference, or you could work your way through the matches and do it through the standard painstakingly long-winded method.
Sometimes folks just fancy a one-off battle, which is where the exhibition style modes step into the spotlight. From one-one and tag matches, to steel cages and Royal Rumbles, the choices are good. Most of them can be played online with friends too, which elevates the entertainment somewhat. The only minor drawback is a lack of matchmaking for these, hence you’re out of luck if you don’t know anyone with the game.
There is cross-play matchmaking in the King of the Battleground and Tournament modes however. The King of the Battleground is a really clever concept where players join from all over the globe and participate in an on-going rumble. It’s different and seemingly never ends, so it’s a case of lasting as long as possible to earn better rewards. The Tournament changes periodically and the idea is to win successive matches, which is a little less exciting. Especially when the wait times for finding an opponent can be rather long, which suggests the online population is dwindling already – it’s also noticeable in King of the Battleground to be fair.
And that’s a shame, mainly due to WWE 2K Battlegrounds providing more pleasure when humans are involved instead of the erratic AI. During bouts against the computer, there are two ways the encounter will unfold. The first is that the AI barely mounts any offence, gets a beating and seems disinterested whenever you’re lying on the mat. The second sees the computer controlled character open up a can of whoop-ass on you, countering moves everytime like they’re channelling Mr Miyagi and making you suffer a quick loss. The baffling part is that it doesn’t matter whether you’re against the low-rated Apollo Crews or the beast-like Braun Strowman.
The glitches do become more frequent online though, with characters disappearing for a split-second mid-move, animations going a little awry, and pin counts forgetting to display the all important number three. Occasionally the game will get stuck on the victory screen as well, leading to a full reload.
WWE 2K Battlegrounds on Xbox One brings a fast-paced arcade wrestling game to the market, which features a greatly diverse roster, a decent variety of modes and moves that pack a punch. Sadly, the bulk of the gameplay takes a while to get to grips with and even then, it becomes monotonous after a short length of time. The limited access to the roster doesn’t help in that sense, nor does the utterly bland narrative. There is fun to be had in the online realm – if only to avoid the bizarre AI – but that causes a selection of other issues.
Overall, there’s a quick fix of enjoyment here at most in what is a decidedly average wrestling game. And that unfortunately means that it’s back to the drawing board for 2K as WWE 2K Battlegrounds hasn’t filled the void of the main series.