It hits different – that’s how 2K Sports advertised their return with WWE 2K22 after an extended hiatus since the highly criticised WWE 2K20 release. Realistically though, it not only has to hit different, but also be an actual hit to entice back the mass exodus of fans who have given up on the franchise in recent years. Have 2K Sports and Visual Concepts pulled off an almighty comeback, or does WWE 2K22 suggest it’s time to hang up the boots and pass the torch over to a new team?
Well, they’ve certainly stepped up their game with WWE 2K22 and appear to have masterfully ironed out a lot of the previous issues. There are a selection of new problems that could be a sticking point for some gamers however; it all depends on what you’re after as to whether WWE 2K22 is a great prospect, or a missed opportunity.
Let’s not mess about, WWE 2K22’s gameplay is the most important aspect if it’s going to entice players in and keep them hooked. Shifting to an arcade and simulation hybrid style, with slightly more emphasis on the former, contributes to its success in this department. Grapples, light attacks and heavy attacks are designated to three separate buttons, with moveset depth provided through the next inputs and the position of wrestlers. This enables the simple system to possess ten different grapples for the front-facing stance alone. And then on top of that, every Superstar has combos to learn, which adds a complexity for anyone wanting to master their arsenal.
All of that, plus the ability to reverse, block and dodge manoeuvres, is explained brilliantly by a tutorial package from the presentation expert Drew Gulak. Sure, the timings and such take getting used to afterwards, but it’s an ideal foundation to start at. The pure fluidity as you perform move after move and counter incoming attacks means the pace of matches stays high. There’s no hanging around for stamina to build; you just do your thing and enjoy the heck out of it.
The vast move arsenal staves off boredom, with variety bringing freshness to each match and difficulty options giving you a competent AI opposition to retain interest levels. So far, I’ve found great joy from beating people up until their health is empty and their limbs are damaged beyond repair, while using the same characters multiple times. Finishing moves and signature attacks are easy to instigate and come off really well too. Having such excitement in every encounter and watching as the moves that should hit hard, do hit hard, is something I didn’t anticipate after previous hands-on with the series.
Most of the ridiculous glitches are gone too, with a few weird moments involving erratic rope physics and the odd flailing limb being the last remnants. It’s as close to perfect in that sense.
It’s all fine and dandy possessing seriously improved, exhilarating gameplay, but you need solid game modes to complement it. Truth be told, this is where WWE 2K22 is a bit of a mix bag. Focusing on the Showcase first, which celebrates the career of cover star and lucha libre legend, Rey Mysterio. The concept consists of eleven matches (plus a bonus match upon completion) spanning Rey’s tenure from the WCW days to the recent second stint as a WWE Superstar. Each match has various objectives to perform, which can initiate transitions into real cutscenes for that particular match as well as sequences recreated using the in-game models.
For nostalgia’s sake it’s a really cool offering and the length feels about right at a couple of hours with the video packages thrown in too. The bad news is that there are glaring omissions to the curated match-ups. While you could argue the case for a fair few of his defining moments, it’s a real kick in the teeth to not feature the outstanding Royal Rumble 2006 win or subsequent World Heavyweight Championship victory at WrestleMania 22. Don’t worry though, you’ve got a complete throwaway in Rey Mysterio vs Gran Metalik to get stuck into. I am pleased that the phenomenal Hair vs Mask match at Halloween Havoc 97 made the cut at least.
Whether 2K Games had trouble securing rights to certain wrestlers or not, you shouldn’t just ‘make do’ when the aim is to honour someone of Rey Mysterio’s ilk – which is how it feels. And speaking of making do, the new MyGM mode absolutely reeks of just that. Here, you’ll have the power to book your own weekly shows from a drafted pool of stars and put on the entertainment the fans are desperate for. Depending upon which General Manager and WWE brand, certain perks are available as you go head-to-head in the ratings war with an AI (or second local player) controlled GM.
Despite being able to pick my favourite combination in the form of William Regal and the NXT brand, as well as drafting huge names like Becky Lynch, Kevin Owens, and Big E, the whole thing is lacklustre. The limit of three matches per regular show doesn’t help, but the big killers are the match options curtailed at single or tag team affairs and the bizarre match ratings. Even when popular performers are well suited in terms of being a babyface (good) and heel (bad), with compatible styles, they often get outperformed by two nobodies on the rival brands. I cannot believe you aren’t able to pre-determine who’s going to win either.
With minimal storytelling, repetition of encounters and other disappointing factors rolled together, there’s not enough depth in MyGM to garner much joy and it needs a fair bit of additional attention to be moulded into a worthwhile mode. The bones of it are in place, so flesh it out and maybe spend less effort on another game mode, like Universe.
Why pick on Universe you wonder? Well, it’s messy if truth be told. Not only do issues arise involving crashing and freezing up, but within the first five minutes the in-game generator for scheduling matches had created an infinite loop of main events featuring Jey Uso versus… Jey Uso.
The idea is to play through a WWE calendar of events using either a single Superstar or by overseeing the entire Universe, jumping in to any of the matches as you see fit. Problems aside though, I still don’t understand the draw of such a mode when it’s essentially a series of battles with simplistic narrative at best – there’s very little to get invested in. You might as well delve into the exhibition match types if you want to experiment with different Superstars.
Fortunately, business picks up for the MyFACTION and MyRISE modes. Starting with MyFACTION, this is 2K’s version of EA’s incredibly popular Ultimate Team formula – sadly, that means optional microtransactions too. Collecting cards featuring your favourite characters to use in matches, in order to earn MF points and tokens to open up more packs of cards, is the goal here. The inclusion of Legends ensures a decent selection, and number, of cards are available to obtain, however for longevity sake it requires more introduced periodically. Anyone who enjoys trading cards, stickers and the like, will get a thrill from the pack opening for sure.
As for what kind of fights you can have, you can partake in weekly towers, a proving grounds area with higher difficulty levels, and faction wars. The faction wars are chaotic 4vs4 tag team affairs, with rewards earned for each and every win. While it’s one of the best modes and a welcome addition, the servers have been a real pain in the backside from early access onwards and you have to be connected for MyFACTION to work. Hopefully the servers won’t go down as often in the future, but at the moment it’s temperamental.
The real star of proceedings though is the revamped career mode, titled MyRISE. It caters for those wishing to use a male or female created Superstar, providing numerous main narratives relating to the background of the character. What’s great are the extra little ways your story can branch out through decisions you make and in relation to any alliances/rivalries you engage in.
You’ll work up from the WWE Performance Center, vying for titles and hoping to cement your spot on Raw or SmackDown, with some interesting global excursions also possible. Completing tasks and storylines will garner attribute points and boosts to increase your stats, providing the best chance of being able to throw-down against anyone in your path. Stories don’t feel like a drag either due to the variety and the implementation of fairly good voice acting, which adds authenticity for the well-known faces.
Unlike the fantastic Creation options outside of MyRISE, the reins are a tad tighter as to the alterations that can be made when constructing your own character, but that’s a very small downside. While on the subject of creating characters, attires and the like, the community creations are an integral part because they enable us fans to conjure up whatever Visual Concepts weren’t able to – for whatever reason.
As is often the case for the rosters of the yearly entries, the development process leads to them being out of date at release to some degree. The developers have been damn unlucky this time around though, with the pandemic, a lengthy delay, and brutal budget cuts by the WWE to their real-world roster all contributing to an overwhelming sentiment that playing WWE 2K22 is like living in the past. Without reeling off a long list of names, I’d estimate almost a quarter of the Superstars included in the game are no longer relevant or with the company. The fact that currently active wrestlers – who have been around for a year or more – haven’t made the cut and they’re going to put a handful of them in as paid DLC is dastardly.
There’s good news though, in the form of most character models looking very impressive compared to previous iterations. It’s not just their appearance, but also how they move and make their entrances to the ring especially. Spectacular presentation is definitely one of WWE 2K22’s strong points, so even if someone like Karrion Kross shouldn’t be in the game since he got released, at least his entrance is freaking great.
Before wrapping up, it’s worth mentioning the usual match types such as Tables, Ladders, Steel Cage, Royal Rumble and more are available via the quick local play mode. Obviously it’s fine to indulge in a quick fix of action, but it’s not a major draw. And neither is the online portion of WWE 2K22, consisting of lobbies, a featured daily match with specific settings and nothing else of real substance. The online matches are hellish anyway, with cunning gamers already exploiting irreversible moves and spamming them to death.
Nevertheless, you can avoid that because WWE 2K22 is blessed by an abundance of modes, in tandem with excellently fluid gameplay to boot. This also allows for mistakes to be made and yet still achieve recognition as a pretty good wrestling game overall. Sure, MyGM, Universe, and Showcase require attention and improvements, but MyRISE can carry you through for hours and hours alongside MyFACTION. Whether the out-of-date roster is a concern depends on your personal preference, however the plus side is the roster is darn big as a result and they’re visually impressive characters on the whole.
WWE 2K22 hits different. It hits way better than the last outing and only the game modes really hold it back from being considered a main event masterpiece. If you love wrestling, you should contemplate stepping into the squared circle with WWE 2K22.
Become a WWE Superstar with WWE 2K22 now available via the Xbox Store