Luke spends his time playing video games, binge-watching TV and hanging out with his German Shepherd, Ziggy and Bernese Mountain Dog Pandora.
Xbox One, PS4, PC,
September 18, 2020
WWE 2K Battlegrounds steps into the ring with an over-the-top action figure style of arcade wrestling mash-up, targeting a more casual gamer and attempting to right some of the wrongs caused by last years glitch-filled WWE 2K20. While WWE games normally have a more simulation style, with complex gameplay, motion-captured superstars, gigantic lists of move-sets and create-your-own features as far as the eye can see, although they have dabbled in a more arcade style in the past with WWE All Stars back in 2011.
This would seem like an exciting prospect, being able to use superhero-esque moves and special effects in fights that look pulled out of Street Fighter and Dragon Ball Z. While the concept is fun for a while and definitely enjoyable as a multiplayer slam-fest with friends, the single player components fall a little short of being memorable and the crazy elements wear thin, definitely far less crazy the tenth, twentieth and hundredth time you do them. While this is an enjoyable diversion, it’s just not deep enough to satiate the obsessed wrestling fan in me for another whole year.
The in-ring action is absolutely a cool art style and visually striking. Wrestlers are action figure versions of themselves, with enlarged limbs and colourful style that heightens their real-life look. While their costumes are on point and most of the roster look recognizable, there are definitely some wrestlers where little effort has been made, to the point where different ring attire would make them impossible to pick from a line-up. While The Fiend mask is pretty much perfect, Baron Corbin just looks like a generic face from the create mode has been slapped on. Women get the short end of the straw here mostly, like poor Mandy Rose who looks like an inflated Barbie doll and Nikki Cross who looks devoid of personality, despite her unhinged real life character. Considering how far we’ve come with women’s wrestling over the years and the huge focus on women in WWE 2K20, it’s disappointing.
The moves are crazy fun though, and it’s always satisfying throwing up your opponent 20 feet in the air before slamming them down on the mat. Every slam is overly stylised and it’s neat, combined with the hazards outside the ring that make it easy to have a car fall on someone’s face or have them temporarily snapped up by a giant alligator watching from the sidelines. They’ve absolutely captured the arcade style that makes WWE 2K Battlegrounds feel easy, breezy and very accessible; as I stated in my preview, my partner – a non-gamer – had a lot of fun grappling in the ring with me and the AI, cackling maniacally during those first few matches. Sadly, the good times only last so long.
“Is it fun seeing Sasha Banks do a Chun-Li style kick to someone’s face? Sure, but I also want to see her signature Meteora or corner double knee drop.”
In making WWE 2K Battlegrounds accessibly simple for the masses, they’ve stripped away the challenge and depth that makes the yearly 2K series enjoyable for long-time wrestling fans. There are five styles of superstar here; Powerhouse, Technician, High-Flyer, Brawler and All-Rounder, with each class having its own combat moves, strengths and weaknesses. This sort of “Rock Paper Scissors” approach is fine in theory, but in reality it means that the large roster of over 70 superstars is relegated to one of five move-sets. Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman? The same moves. Is it fun seeing Sasha Banks do a Chun-Li style kick to someone’s face? Sure, but I also want to see her signature Meteora or corner double knee drop.
Each wrestler does have their own unique finishers which is something, but those of us who watch hours of this stuff per week associate entire move-sets and fighting styles with every person on the roster. To see that here in such a vanilla, watered-down way makes the superstar you choose feel insignificant, when it should be exciting. There are abilities you can use mid-match and doing certain things “satisfies the crowd” but this isn’t enough to make individual moments feel super compelling. The only thing that sets everyone apart is their finisher, their entrance music (which is criminally cut super short) and their vague likeness. They even all break out of the same repetitive “drop-pod” crates, with the same kick every time and generic taunts. Where is the majesty?
More egregious is the way you unlock superstars to hit the squared circle with. There’s a handful unlocked at the start, but you have to unlock the rest as you go using two forms of currency, one of which you earn throughout play and one that you can spend actual money on. It’s a very 2K model with their sports games, and I will say that this particular unlock method doesn’t feel as egregious as usual, in the sense that the free currency that you earn from fighting accrues relatively quickly.
But, even though it’s quick, there are SO MANY superstars locked away that need purchasing, desperate to break out of their action-figure containers (which, admittedly is a nice touch). My girl Becky Lynch and arguably the biggest draw in women’s wrestling history is 12,000 credits, which is a solid couple of hours of play. There are challenges to expedite this process but putting some of the biggest names on the roster in as locked content feels gross when previous WWE 2K games have had a roster of 100+ superstars available from the very beginning. And where the hell are the NXT superstars?
There are a variety of match types in WWE 2K Battlegrounds, and things move quickly in the ring so matches often only take a few minutes before you’re trying something new, but the two core game modes fall a little flat for me. There’s a campaign, presented as a mission map with matches to choose, split up by comic-book style panels that explain a silly WWE story, featuring wrestlers trying to “make it” in WWE, coached by Stone Cold Steve Austin and Paul Heyman. The comics have a goofy charm to them and the writing is serviceable, but beyond that it feels a little basic. No voice acting from the stars is present in the game at all beyond commentary with the always annoying Jerry Lawler and the amazing (but recently left the company) Mauro Ronallo, but even just having Austin narrate this tale would have added a lot to it. At the end of the day, it’s a comic with matches in-between. There’s lots of them, so that’s good, but they all feel samey.
There’s also a Battleground Challenge, where you create a superstar and take them through a similar grid of matches, but without the story, and the focus being on rewards and making your wrestler stronger. It’s fine, but just feels like a lack of effort has been made. Aside from these cookie cutter modes there are problems with the performance of the game as well. Sometimes frame-rate drops to such a low point that it’s unacceptably chugging, and there are moments where it happens that there isn’t even that much happening on-screen. Then, in group matches like Triple Threat, the AI doesn’t even attempt to break up pin attempts half the time, just standing their stunned. I had the same stunned look on my face the first time I lost a match because one AI pinned me while the other watched on, in a trance, as if Roman Reigns had just entered the Royal Rumble at #30 back in 2017.
When it’s all said and done, I can’t shake the feeling that WWE 2K Battlegrounds is a quick pivot after last years disastrous WWE 2K20, a way to simply distract wrestling fans with a new shiny object while they work on what will hopefully be a stronger WWE 2K22. So much of this wrestling experience is copy and paste, from the animations, to the move-sets, to the painfully slow method of unlocking the roster and even the lack of polish that sometimes brings frame-rates down to a grinding halt. There’s a fun arcade fighting experience to be had, especially when it comes to local multiplayer where the shallow nature of the gameplay is less obvious. But while this may be accessible and “fun for the whole family”, it’s ultimately about as successful as a Sasha Banks title reign. Satisfying at first, but inevitably short and disappointing. We deserve better.