Xbox One, PS4, PC, PS5, Xbox Series X
March 11, 2022
A lot has been said about the painfully undercooked release of WWE 2K20, prompting the franchise to take the biggest break in its formerly yearly release history. That game released towards the end of 2019, so to be talking about “the next wrestling game” two and a half years later with WWE 2K22 is strange to say the least. The development team at Visual Concepts clearly identified that a break was needed to fix the many issues that plagued 2K20, and in good news for wrestling marks everywhere, WWE 2K22 is an incredibly solid revamp. With meaningful changes and more game modes than you can poke a kendo stick at, WWE 2K22 is the best the franchise has been in a very long time.
Showcase of the Immortals
More than anything, the presentation across the board has been improved upon in a massive way. Character models look great, although as usual the motion capture of top-tier stars like Roman Reigns look several levels better than mid-to-lower card talent. For the women with long locks, hair still looks like awkward spaghetti bouncing off their skull, although Bianca Belair’s long braid is impressive and looks good in motion, compared to the laughably stiff version we saw in 2K20. Commentary also feels more on point than usual; Cole, Graves and Saxton reel off facts about the superstars in the ring with authenticity and enthusiasm, and it feels less cobbled together.
Beyond that, it’s the attention to detail with animations and move-sets that are captured incredibly well. The fact that every superstar genuinely feels like they are their own person with their own identity and moves that we see on TV every week makes WWE 2K22 feel legitimate at every turn; while some of the more basic moves are shared of course, there is a noticeable difference between each competitor, even some of the superstars that don’t get as much screen-time as others. As a fan, it’s exciting to play as your favourites and have their personalities reflected in the matches themselves; Seth Rollins has his trademark douchey swagger in everything he does, Ricochet darts around the ring like the flippy-machine he is, while Brock Lesnar is ever-imposing. It all just feels right.
“…the attention to detail with animations and move-sets that are captured incredibly well.”
Not to dwell on the “real world” too much, but the roster of available talent in the title is a time capsule of mid-2021, with a few cosmetic upgrades. WWE is a business, and over the last year or so, there have been many superstars released from their contracts, with plenty now finding their home in other competitor brands like AEW and Impact. There are over 30(!) superstars in WWE 2K22 who are no longer there, including Toni Storm, Keith Lee, John Morrison, Nia Jax and many more.
While some of these are relatively recent to leave the company, others like Braun Strowman (released June 2021) and Aussie legends The Iiconics, Peyton Royce and Billie Kay (released April 2021) are still present, but then somehow we don’t have Adam Cole who only left in September. Then there are others like Zelina Vega (current WWE Women’s Tag Team Champ) and other recent-but-prominently featured stars like Ridge Holland, Aliyah and Madcap Moss that are inexplicably missing, although some other MIA talent like Xia Li and Doudrop will be featured in upcoming DLC. It’s no fault of the developers that WWE is such a fickle, ever-changing business – but it’s a super weird mixed bag of current superstars, legends and ex-employees nonetheless.
“Hitting different” not just a marketing line
In terms of the in-ring action, things are simplified from previous versions, but this time it’s actually for the better. The system had been bogged down over the years with various mechanics; when a new one was added to the pile, the old ones from previous years weren’t removed. This meant that there was this Frankenstein(er)-esque gameplay that involved lots of QTE’s; from the initial grapple at the start of the match, to the awkward submission system, to the kick outs that had to be timed perfectly; grappling felt convoluted across the board, and in an effort to try and make WWE video games “as close to the real thing as possible”, it compromised on the one thing we actually watch wrestling for: Fun.
Instead, WWE 2K22 uses a combo system that will be familiar to fighting game fans. This means it’s more of an arcade-style of grappler, which could turn some longtime players off a little bit, but for newcomers it means it’s the best WWE game to pick-up-and-play in ages. It’s a combination of light attacks, heavy attacks and grabs, each assigned to a different button. If you’re on the receiving end of a combo, you can break it and reverse it by pressing the identical attack button as your opponent, which adds a layer of strategy that is simple but effective.
In fact, every move can be countered; not only is the in-ring action streamlined, but there’s less stamina bars and other messy UI elements to keep track of. Part of this is the reversals, which used to be limited in each match. Now, they’re unlimited. This does mean that two experienced players can potentially get stuck in a reversal loop, and it makes some finishers (particularly those from the top rope) feel impossible to hit without being countered, but it makes for a faster and more frantic matchup, with the back-and-forth you’d expect from a battle on RAW or Smackdown. Kicking out is now also based on stamina and button-mashing, so that matches last longer and tend to be filled with more drama. The crowd reacts really well and there is a really exciting pace that comes with a close match; some of my fights with friends left us both grinning ear-to-ear, whether we won or lost, because they feel evenly matched and enjoyable regardless of your skill level. On top of all that, there’s a tutorial at the beginning to bring you up to speed on the changes, which is incredibly helpful.
While there are improvements left right and center, it’s not a perfect revamp by any means; collision detection still isn’t quite right in terms of consistency, and figuring out which superstar you’re trying to target in multi-person matches is still hit and miss. Additionally, tag matches are a pain in the arse. The AI is such that the tag partner waiting on the apron always manage to break up a pin attempt, so you absolutely have to knock them off before trying to win. If there are multiple opponents on the apron like in a 6-person or 8-person tag match, good luck to you. I had an 8-man tag that, no joke, went for over 45 minutes. Eventually I grabbed a chair and hit the referee with it, just to get disqualified and end the bloody thing because I couldn’t be bothered any more.
A stupendous amount of modes
WWE 2K22 is certainly not lacking in variety, with many ways to rumble. The WWE 2K Showcase mode has become a staple at this point, and is always a highlight going through the journey of a specific WWE superstar, this time cover-star Rey Mysterio. Rey is a great choice considering his long and interesting career, as one of the most successful cruiserweights of all time. Each featured match has special commentary and video footage recorded of Rey for the game, as you recreate some of his most memorable matches from the last 25 years.
Cleverly, this time around the real-life match footage is blended with the gameplay version you’re recreating, as you tick off key match objectives. It feels seamless the way it’s intertwined, and I hope that all future Showcase’s are done in the same way. While some key matches are featured – Eddie Guerrero at Wrestlemania 21 and the match with Shawn Michaels on the Eddie tribute show after he passed away make total sense (and, as a longtime fan, brought a tear to my eye) – but others are missing, likely due to copyright issues and WWE not wanting certain former superstars featured. For example, the triple threat where Rey won the World Heavyweight Championship for the first time at Wrestlemania 22 isn’t there because one of his opponents in that match, Kurt Angle, is absent from the game entirely. That’s a key moment in his career and in WWE history in general that we miss out on. Instead, we get other matches like… Samoa Joe on RAW in 2019? Despite the omissions, the Showcase mode is well integrated and just the right hit of nostalgia.
“…I was whisked off into a dream sequence where I was wrestling Bret Hart, Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock, complete with 90s arenas.”
The main career mode is back in the form of MyRISE, where you take a superstar from a trainee in the Performance Center all the way to the main roster and championship glory. There’s a different storyline for the male and female superstar path, and the choices you make throughout the career will impact the kinds of matches you have, the feuds you get involved in, the brand you wind up on and more. While the created character in this mode is limited to some presets initially, it has also been streamlined so you can get right to the good stuff, with little filler.
You don’t have to walk around backstage and find people to talk to; instead, you have options of characters you can interact with standing in front of you, and you just select the one you want. Additionally, you can use social media where other superstars will start beef on Twitter, or slide into your DM’s, triggering special matches and additional character moments. I was (pleasantly) surprised when, early on in my superstars career, I was whisked off into a dream sequence where I was wrestling Bret Hart, Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock, complete with 90s arenas.
Beyond that, the kinds of storylines you’ll encounter feel fairly standard to what you’d expect from a wrestling product, without too many crazy twists and turns. Considering this is a video game, it would have been cool to see WWE 2K22 dive into the fantastical and supernatural elements of wrestling a little bit more, but instead the characters and feuds feel formulaic. Additionally, the dialogue and voice acting is cringe, and not in that “so bad it’s good” way, just the bad way. However, it’s refreshing to be able to have decent stats from the start, as opposed to building your attributes from scratch and feeling weak with limited move-sets (and gross microtransactions) like in previous editions. Quick note, it is weird that Mandy Rose is the RAW General Manager in MyRISE; I’m guessing that Sonya Deville wasn’t available to do the voice recording so they went with a plan B. It still feels weird to see the leader of Toxic Attraction and current NXT Women’s Champ making the decisions on RAW in storylines… but I digress.
It’s BOSS time!
Hugely anticipated for WWE 2K22 is the return of MyGM mode, essentially the Football Manager of WWE where you play the role of General Manager, booking matches, creating feuds, and ultimately trying to earn as many fans (and as much money) as possible. This can be done against an AI opponent or a human player, couch multiplayer style, with competing brands. It’s a real shame this mode isn’t available for online play against a friend, as that would give it a lot more legs.
This was on my favourite modes back in the day, and one that armchair-bookers like myself love as we try to create the perfect matchups, put titles on the wrestlers we think deserve a push and see how feuds can develop. It’s great to see it back, as you begin with drafting your ideal roster, then look at putting together what each show looks like, including who is fighting who, the kind of production crew you want to invest in to make a higher quality product, all the while keeping an eye on your budget and ensuring you have more fans than your opponent.
While it’s enjoyable in its simplicity, it does have some quirks that don’t feel quite right. For example, pairing two wrestlers with the same fighting style almost always results in a poor match rating, which means Roman Reigns vs. Big E, for example, wouldn’t do well (when in real life we know that would be an epic battle between two top-tier talents). It also expects that you’ll always pair faces against heels, which is usually how it works in real life too, but sometimes having two characters with the same alignment can be just as compelling. There are no tag titles or secondary titles, so week-to-week you’re only booking three matches on each show, and those matches can only be single or tag – no triple threats, battle royales, and so on. Also, the battle between brands ends at either 15, 25 or 50 weeks, so there’s no way to continue developing your brand longer term for those who are really committed.
I may be sounding a bit down on MyGM, but really it’s a solid foundation for future WWE 2K titles; the bones of what’s there is solid and at its core it is enjoyable playing the boss, but it needs a little more depth and thought to make it a compelling mode for more than just a few rounds.
Here comes the money
The brand-new mode is MyFACTION, which is part wrestling game, part collectible card game and part experience littered with microtransactions. It is worth noting that you can earn everything the old-fashioned way without spending money in this mode, and those prompts to drop cash are exclusively seen in MyFACTION and not the rest of WWE 2K22, which is a nice reprieve. It’s also only a single player experience, so there’s no competitive benefit to spending your paycheck, which is good.
“…MyFACTION did begin to trigger a certain “gotta catch ‘em all” response in my brain…”
Here, you’ll have a faction that is represented like a deck of cards, and some can be upgraded by completing match-based objectives. You can compete in 4v4 matches or compete against specific superstars to earn rewards. There are also weekly towers that you can take part in, and even a daily login bonus that is reminiscent of many mobile games. The digital cards themselves do look detailed and high-quality, and the mode itself did begin to trigger a certain “gotta catch ‘em all” response in my brain that I haven’t felt towards a card game for about twenty years, so I do see the appeal for those who want to check in regularly.
Beyond all of that, there is the Universe mode which plays like MyGM except without the management aspect. Here, it’s like playing WWE God Mode, where you have free reign to develop and change the entire roster however you want, set up matches and feuds (without worrying about fans and ratings) or even play as a current superstar of your choice, focusing entirely on their own matches and storylines without worrying about anything else. Universe mode feels like a bit of a sandbox in terms of options, and is one for dedicated fans of the product, as it’s far more open-ended.
The creation suite is as robust as ever, with over 75 body templates and over 10,000 customisable components to choose from when creating a WWE superstar, there’s just so many options it’s almost ridiculous. Not only can you make a superstar, but you can create championships, entrances, victory screens, move-sets, arenas, shows, Money in the Bank briefcases, videos and custom matches, which are all then available to be shared via community creations. So even if you’re not big on making things yourself, there are plenty of talented folk sharing their options online. It feels… as my favourite (now former) WWE star would say… Limitless.
- In-ring action has been streamlined for the better
- Impressive presentation and animations
- Large variety of game modes, including return of MyGM
- Still the most impressive creation suite out there
- Some minor gameplay niggles throughout, and annoying tag-team AI
- MyGM and MyFACTION feel like great ideas that are not fully fleshed out yet
- Voice acting and writing in the campaign is cringe (and not in the good way)
After a poor last effort, WWE 2K22 brings the long-running wrestling franchise back in a big way, proving that the extra development time is just what the doctor ordered. It successfully streamlines its in-ring action so that it’s more adaptable to players of different skill levels, removing archaic systems that previously bogged it down. Animations and presentation are top notch, and there really is a game mode for everybody, with a lot of variety. While not all the modes deserve to main event when you dissect them in detail, there’s still a very strong foundation to build from; the bottom line is that WWE 2K22 is the best wrestling game in over a decade.