WWE 2K20 was a mess when it came out last year. It needs a refresh, and so the annual franchise that we’ve come to expect is taking a year off, hopefully to address some issues and give it the reboot it so desperately needs after all this time. But, we can’t have a year without a WWE game, so WWE 2K Battlegrounds is almost with us, taking a more arcade-like over-the-top comic book style and slapping it onto the wrestlers we know and love. With a variety of game modes, including a full story mode and detailed multiplayer, this could indeed be just what WWE needs to win over the hearts over fans who felt jibbed last year.
I got to go hands-on with a couple of game modes and a handful of WWE Superstars in WWE 2K Battlegrounds ahead of its launch later this week, and while I had a pretty fun time throughout, there are some question marks ahead of its release that leave me cautiously pondering.
Matches are fast and frantic, often only lasting a few minutes – gone is the need to worry about move variety like in WWE 2K proper. With more arcade-like sensibilities, moves are easy to pull off even for the avid button-masher. There is a punch, kick, Irish Whip and grapple button, along with special moves and power-ups on the triggers. While there will be a range of power-ups available in the full release, only three were available to me, including one that gives you flaming fists and another that regenerates health. Moves are intentionally bonkers. Most of the grapples see you flinging your opponent 20 feet in the air before slamming them down on their head, and you can actually throw your opponent into an alligators mouth for a quick chomp before they’re spat out back into the ring. In most matches, the ring itself will explode, allowing you to hit your opponent with the posts that previously held it up. It’s silly, but it works as a heightened cartoon version of what we see on TV every week.
The superstars I got to muck around with included from the mens side Andre the Giant, Daniel Bryan, Edge, Jeff Hardy, John Cena, Rey Mysterio, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Fiend Bray Wyatt, The Rock, Undertaker, Xavier Woods. From the women’s side, Asuka, Ronda Rousey, Sasha Banks and Stephanie McMahon. Each superstar enters the ring by kicking their way out of a shipping crate while their entrance music plays, before doing some quick poses. They all come out this way, which is cute the first time but ultimately kind of repetitive. I would have loved to see these larger-than-life characters portrayed with bigger differences, even if that just meant having an alternate costume for the entrance.
The superstars also look a bit funny. They’ve obviously gone for a more action-figure type of look for every wrestler, but some of the faces don’t look right, more of a vague resemblance than a proper representation. Still, that matters little when The Fiend is hitting a super Sister Abigail on his foes or Ronda Rousey is doing several flips in the air as she locks in her trademark Armbar.
“…hitting opponents with various weapons and laughing out loud when the ring exploded and an alligator chomped on Ronda Rousey’s head.”
The modes I had access to were a simple fatal-4-way and a tag team steel cage match, except the cage is of course electrified, and you have to collect money for some reason from bags that appear at the top of the cage before you are able to climb out. This gave a good indicator of what to expect, I’m curious to see how the game feels when playing a longer-form match mode like a Royal Rumble, for example, but the silly nature of the game so far is compelling enough for a quick romp or two.
Multiplayer was recommended, so I got my partner side-by-side to play WWE 2K Battlegrounds with me. For context, he’s a big WWE fan and we watch it together every week (ie; every couple of days), but he is absolutely not a gamer by any means. He fumbled around with the controls a little at the start – It would have been nice to see a tutorial or training area aside from a bunch of static visuals explaining what each button does, but it’s mostly simple enough to grasp, even for a non-gamer. Even so, within a few minutes he was pulling off crazy moves, hitting his opponents with various weapons and laughing out loud when the ring exploded and an alligator chomped on Ronda Rousey’s head.
This showed me, a hard-ass critic, that WWE 2K Battlegrounds is clearly designed with the casual in mind, and also likely for families with kids to sit on the couch and beat each other up in-game with super special effects with their favourite wrestlers. Some of the pageantry I expect to see from anything related to WWE is definitely not present, but this has a slightly lower asking price, and there probably hasn’t been a super-long development cycle for this one, so the re-using of animations and attempt to get this out the door with as much variety as possible has probably prevented the developers from adding the finer details.
As it stands, WWE 2K Battlegrounds is only a few days away, and with only a taste of what’s available so far, this wrestling fan is cautiously optimistic. I love the over-the-top style, and the casual nature of the game is absolutely a benefit when it comes to bringing in new players, but the lack of overall polish and cookie-cutter presentation of each superstar is a little bit disappointing. As a fan, we watch several hours (yes literally) of wrestling every week because we love the superstars larger-than-life personalities, their quirks, their unique move-sets and their specific characteristics. In order to be as accessible as possible, a lot of this has seemingly been stripped away. It’s still a fun time, but this isn’t the WWE game you’re used to, not by a long shot – for better and worse. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with the full release.
WWE 2K Battlegrounds launches on September 18 for Xbox One, PS4, PC and Switch.