The WWE 2K franchise has a lot to prove this year. With the disaster of a release that was WWE 2K20, they took a year off their regular annual title and released the forgettable WWE 2K Battlegrounds instead; then, WWE 2K22 was pushed into a March release, later-than-usual from its usual October window. The marketing keeps claiming “It Hits Different”, a way of acknowledging the series past mistakes and bringing it into, hopefully, a new era in terms of quality.
We’ve spent a couple of hours playing WWE 2K22 ahead of its launch next month, and we’re cautiously optimistic… it actually does kind of hit different, after all!
In terms of replicating a WWE broadcast, WWE 2K22 does an admirable job. Entrances are solid as ever, with all the showmanship you’d expect from watching an episode of Raw or Smackdown (although they haven’t included the god-awful graphics they use on the TV show, which I’m going to take as a plus, in this case). In terms of looks, it’s the usual case where top tier superstars like Roman Reigns for example look fantastic, while other mid-carders haven’t been given the same level of love and attention. Still, they all look mostly like their real-life counterparts, aside from janky hair-physics that feels like it will never be perfect at this point.
“…a few moves of doom almost spelled my end, and my eventual comebacks with the crowd rallied behind me felt exciting.”
In the ring, things have improved significantly from how I remember them in WWE 2K20. They’ve done away with a lot of the pesky meters and QTE-style moments for pins and submissions, and the gameplay has been streamlined with light attacks, heavy attacks and grapples. There’s still the ability to carry opponents in different ways and drag them around the ring as you need, but the button prompts for this don’t feel as intrusive, and even countering moves makes a lot more sense, with forgiving timing that ensures there is a decent back-and-forth flow in a match-up. Quite quickly I was having close matches, where the tables would turn and a few moves of doom almost spelled my end, and my eventual comebacks with the crowd rallied behind me felt exciting.
While I enjoyed a few matches to get a feel for things and mostly left feeling satisfied (and didn’t encounter any bugs, which is a big step up from 2K20), I spent the bulk of my time in the much anticipated MyGM mode. Here, you’ll select a GM of your choice, choose a brand and then lead them to victory by earning money and gaining fans week-to-week. As wrestling fans, “fantasy booking” comes up often, as us armchair critics argue about who we think should be champion, who should have rivalries with who and who deserves to be pushed into legendary status; well, MyGM mode is perfect to enact those fantasy bookings in-game, and it’s a very good time.
Starting off with a budget of 2.75 million, a Draft takes place where you start filling your roster with talent (and you’ll be able to add more free agents later). Each member of the roster has Star Power (which draws crowds and viewers) and different fighting styles (like Bruiser, Specialist, Cruiser), which you’ll need to mix and match for best results. Popularity can increase by superstars taking part in matches, cutting promos and more. It’s satisfying piecing this together, seeing which matches blossom into rivalries, and checking fan reactions on social media so you can make adjustments in future weeks to keep eyes on your brand. More viewers means more money, which means more superstars, more elaborate arenas, more special match types, and ultimately will help you win against the AI brand.
It didn’t take me long at all to realise that MyGM mode is the kind of addition I could waste many many hours in; this is partly due to the fact that, as a fan, there are a whole bunch of WWE talent that are no longer with the company, but are still present in the game itself. I can’t wait to take my old favourites to the very top who I feel like should have been champions when they were on the roster, but never got the opportunity. With what seems to be a reasonable amount of depth with the mode while still keeping things simple enough to dive right in, MyGM could very well be the mode that reinvigorates the series completely.
There’s still a lot to explore in WWE 2K22 when the game releases next month; but my time between the ropes so far has given me hope that the developers at 2K have indeed learned from their past sins, and that it could be the strongest entry in years that gets WWE video games back on track. With MyGM mode giving the chance for us to fantasy book to our hearts content, we’re eager to play more.
WWE 2K22 releases on March 11 for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and PC.