The WWE 2K series and Cody Rhodes had a lot in common last year; both made a memorable comeback, plotting a path for something greater in the future.
That’s right, WWE 2K22 hit harder and better after its hiatus, laying the foundations to allow the most recent offering, WWE 2K23, to potentially be even stronger. With returning game modes, a rejuvenated roster, a focus on John Cena, and a chance to improve on its shortcomings, has WWE 2K23 managed to become a showstopper? Or has the recent success seen developers Visual Concepts rest on their laurels this time around instead?
The truth is, WWE 2K23 isn’t perfect. Fortunately though, it’s got all the strengths of WWE 2K22, and then some.
By now, it’s clear that the most crucial aspect in regards to WWE 2K23’s chances of drawing in an audience, is the gameplay. Back when it sucked, circa 2019, nobody cared what the game modes were as it was full of botches and glitches. WWE 2K22 rectified this with a great hybrid system that leans more towards an arcade-y style. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it seems to be the mantra Visual Concepts had in mind for WWE 2K23’s gameplay and I’m fully on-board with that.
Whatever you need to know about battling in the squared circle, Xavier Woods has you covered via a tutorial that leaves barely any stone unturned. Every WWE Superstar has an arsenal of moves suited to their wrestling persona and it provides tons of variety for each match-up.
There are standard attacks, multiple ways to grapple, combos and more for you to open up a can of whoopass on the opponent. I feel the combos are excellent once again at adding depth to the mastery of each wrestler. Signature manoeuvres and finishers are the real damage dealers, which really look impactful to perform. The AI appears smarter, even on the easiest difficulty, accentuating the need to practice timing for reversals and dodging. Breaking up combos or grapple attacks is a bit too much guesswork-related for my liking, but everything combined leads to the back and forth matches – creating plenty of excitement.
Where can you embrace this exhilarating action though? In a handful of meaty modes that will be familiar to returning players of course, including Showcase, MyRISE, MyFACTION, MyGM, and Universe.
It’s best to begin with Showcase, which features cover star John Cena in a retrospective offering titled ‘You Can’t Beat Me’. Rather ironically though, that’s exactly what you will be doing as every historical match-up included is one of his greatest defeats. While the order is erratic, it goes from the infamous ruthless aggression encounter involving Kurt Angle to the SummerSlam 2021 match against Roman Reigns, with a trip to Suplex City in-between. Aside from the obvious omission – you know, CM Punk at Money in the Bank – this Showcase is probably the best representation of Cena’s Never Give Up attitude.
It mixes studio recorded narration and classic footage pre-match, getting you hyped up for the fight. Once the bell rings, you’ll be playing as the opposition as displayed objectives must be completed. Every so often the game seamlessly transitions into a cutscene, allowing you to witness some of the best moments. Being able to take control of different Superstars keeps it fresh and it’s full of nostalgia. My only gripe, just like with WWE 2K22, is that the referee’s faces are blurred out, as well as most announcers, and it isn’t a good look.
Moving on to MyRISE, and it’s split into two story-driven careers to choose from: The Lock (Male) and The Legacy (Female). There’s an overarching narrative running through them with decisions to make at certain junctures to veer towards different pathways. The Lock is about a hugely popular independent star struggling to adapt to a completely new gimmick, while the Legacy focuses on a second generation talent who feels the pressure of her legendary aunt’s former glory. No spoilers, just praise here for interesting tales borne out of situations that arise regularly in the business.
Following the main story alone, while fairly gripping, isn’t recommended as it will make for a short-ish experience and so the optional side missions popping up are vital in increasing longevity. These tend to be quite creative and occasionally silly, seeing multiple Superstars involved such as The Miz, Cora Jade, Liv Morgan, and many more. The interactions are fully voiced, which is cool, although some of the animation is questionable. Furthermore, both careers allow the use of a created Superstar, meaning you could import Batman from the fantastic community creations section, if you wish.
As for the collectible card antics of MyFACTION, and well, much of it is very similar to last year. You open packs of cards, ranging in rarity, before using the wrestlers found in them to fight and earn currency or rewards. Collecting all your favourites is the dream here and there’s a lot of joy in opening packets, unless you end up pulling a bronze Commander Ateez!
The returning Weekly Towers, Proving Grounds and Faction Wars provide a raft of opportunities to grasp. A decent amount of challenges are available to work on as something to do for the long haul as well. Faction Wars are crazy though in that each battle is 4vs4, which is both a good and bad. On one hand, there’s a lot going on and you can unleash four of your best fighters at once, but on the other hand, pin attempts are constantly broken up and it seems to last forever. It’s actually a bugbear of mine, because all of the multi-person tag matches throughout WWE 2K23 are mentally draining.
Nevertheless, MyFACTION is addictive and the new ways to play are welcome additions too. There’s the introduction of quickplay, where you take on a real opponent online in a set match type. Touch wood, the servers appear stable and the matches I’ve had didn’t suffer any technical issues – I just suffered heavy defeats. And then there are the Live Events, delivering great rewards for participation in limited-time events with certain requirements to meet.
Three main modes down and it’s rather impressive from 2K23. For the rest of the modes it’s like following a five-star classic between Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker. There’s a lot to live up to, and while they won’t be quite as good as the aforementioned modes, signs of improvement are clear to see.
MyGM puts you in the hot seat to book weekly WWE programming in a bid to achieve high ratings and outdo the other General Managers. With a budget in mind, a roster must be filled via a draft, before putting together matches the audience wants to see. It encourages you to have a diverse roster of wrestlers featuring different styles, so Giants can be pitted against Cruiserweights and heels against faces, for better ratings.
What’s new? Well, there are more slots to book matches now, as well as a raft of match type options including triple threats and fatal four-ways. Visual Concepts have also made it extra competitive by enabling four humans the ability to take part in the ratings war for multiple seasons. The real GMs available to control have received an overhaul too, seeing Xavier Woods, Tyler Breeze, Eric Bischoff, Mick Foley, and Kurt Angle enter the fray to bolster the selection.
Granted, half of MyGM’s previous drawbacks have been addressed and that’s brilliant, but there’s still work to do. The logic behind booking wrestlers with obvious compatibility is consistently exposed and my ego is seriously dented each time I construct a great show, only for fans to crap on it. Now I know how Tony Khan feels. I also don’t understand why you cannot pick the winners, because kayfabe is dead and everyone realises wrestling is predetermined. It messes up plans when your NXT Champion loses the title prematurely.
And lastly, Universe mode, which is essentially a randomly generated sandbox offering where you can play matches, determine winners and live out your wildest fantasies. Alternatively, it’s possible to simply follow a sole Superstar through a typical WWE calendar of weekly TV and Premium Live Events. The amount of editable aspects is impressive and being able to set the chances of match types appearing is a nice touch.
Could it deliver hours of fun? Sure, some folks will enjoy it, but due to the vast nature of Universe, the narratives lack substance and, in my experience, things tend to go awry whenever editing occurs. Interfere in proceedings by manufacturing a rivalry and you’re going to get repeats of the same match-up every week, hogging the main event spotlight while the Champions and their challengers work the undercard. Leaving the algorithm alone reaps the most varied results and causes less issues.
Outside of the main modes, there are the one-off match possibilities locally with friends and AI opponents. Whether you want tables, ladders, or chairs, almost every mainstream match type is present. The big addition this year though is WarGames – two rings, double the amount of steel, and two teams of three or four. It’s everything you could ask for in regards to delivering a brutal stage to go to war on, including the chance to bring weapons in to cause further pain.
Once more, the online portion of WWE 2K23 is lacklustre, with lobbies barely populated and the featured match not attracting much attention – I’m yet to find an opponent through matchmaking for that. Don’t worry about it too much though, just focus on everything else WWE 2K23 has for you.
The roster deserves a mention before the final thoughts because it’s much more up-to-date and not filled with talent no longer employed by WWE. There’s a decent mix of Raw, Smackdown, NXT 2.0, and Legends, catering for old school fans and casuals alike. Visually, the character models are a bit hit and miss; generally the popular wrestlers are spot on, while the lesser valued folk haven’t had anywhere near the same amount of attention to their design. Fear not, for the Community Creations always saves the day and I would suggest checking out the uploads. From improved versions of current stars, to those signed to rival companies and comic book heroes, it’s amazing what you can find.
It’s clear that WWE 2K23 is faster, stronger, and goes harder than it has before, rounding off a great comeback story. The Showcase twist will see you forget John Cena’s five moves of doom, thus making sure there are five quality modes here to consume. The roster is packed with stars past and present, and the list of match types is stacked. Fortunately, it’s not held back by the paltry online offering or the few issues remaining in MyGM and Universe.
With the upcoming WrestleMania 39 embracing Hollywood, it’s only fitting that WWE 2K23 is a blockbuster title.
Step into the ring with WWE 2K23 out now on the Xbox Store