Xbox One, PS4, PC, PS5, Xbox Series X
March 17, 2023
LEMME TALK TO YA. We’ve already discussed a lot about the monumental stuff-up of WWE 2K20, and how it led to a revamped and much improved WWE 2K22 that proved to be an incredibly solid effort from Visual Concepts, having taken the reigns fully from the previous developer in charge. After such a large step, the squared circle once again features in the now back-to-annual franchise, this time in WWE 2K23, with a bunch of enhanced features. While it’s a modest improvement on what we saw last year, the little details make it stand out as an incredibly strong entry into the series, and one that any wrestling fan should cheer for. YEAH!
Still hitting different
There’s only so much you can improve upon when the in-ring action was already feeling so slick, but WWE 2K23 has made minor tweaks to its moment-to-moment wrestling that bring it about as close to the real-life presentation of WWE TV that we’ve seen to date. Presentation is top notch, with wrestlers all looking the part; in fact, this year it seems like even the mid to lower card roster has been given a glow-up, with most of the likeness proving to be spot on and superstars instantly recognisable.
But as always, it’s in the little details that make wrestling as special and exciting as it is, and WWE 2K23’s biggest achievement is in nailing those intricacies. Wrestlers move-sets and just general animations of walking around the ring, their fighting stances, their taunts… they really have done an excellent job of making them feel like real, breathing people swaggering down the ramp and hitting their finishers.
“I even found myself waiting for a 2 count so that I could kick-out last second. I live for the drama.”
Beyond that, they get tired and worn our after long matches, showing fatigue. Even when a referee is knocked down, they stumble and crawl towards a lower count, making for a dramatic finishes. There’s new moves and move types, like Cody Rhodes’ Cody Cutter off the middle rope and Grayson Waller’s Rolling Thunder Stunner that has him running from the outside of the ring, diving through the ropes. There’s an authenticity to everybody, even the newer additions to the roster from NXT, that makes the game feel like the best it’s ever felt across the board.
A new pin mechanic has also been implemented, which has a moving bar and a flick of the stick at the right time can make for an exciting kick-out. I prefer it to the traditional button-mashing; it works well and I even found myself waiting for a 2 count so that I could kick-out last second. I live for the drama.
The big addition to WWE 2K23 on a fundamental level is Wargames as a new match type. This classic match that has been recently brought back into the spotlight through NXT and now Survivor Series last year, it’s easily the boldest and most complicated match type they’ve added. With two rings, surrounded by one big cage, and up to eight wrestlers in the mix at once (entering at different times, bringing weapons in at each interval), it’s chaotic to say the least.
It translates really well into the game, with lots of action taking place across both rings, with pin and submission attempts being tactical and challenging to pull off without being interrupted. The middle space between both rings (dubbed “The Trench“) also makes for some new moves that are unique to the match entirely, which is exciting. That said, when the camera pans back to show both rings (necessary when they’re both full), it can be a little difficult to see what is happening, which could be an issue for those playing on smaller screens.
To be the man…
The Showcase mode in 2K23 focuses on John Cena, one of the biggest wrestling stars in WWE history, focusing many matches that stood out during his career. Much like previous years, it’s brilliant as a fan of the product and of the man himself to get his personal recorded insights into what made those matches special, with additional context. My partner in particular, a newer wrestling fan, enjoyed learning about what made his career special as I played through the iconic matches.
In a bit of a twist compared to previous years, this time you’re not playing as John Cena in each match, but rather playing against him. He was always known for being difficult to beat, and that did mean that those wrestlers who managed to topple him were involved in some particularly cool moments. It also adds variety, as you’ll be playing as a different superstar for each match, as opposed to just being stuck with the same one over and over.
Where Showcase continues to falter though is in its execution of the matches themselves; you have to complete super-specific challenges to progress the “story” of the match; some start easy like hitting a combo or being in a certain position, but others require specific actions that are easily counterable, or require such specific movements that they’re difficult to trigger. You can’t just “finish the match”, you have to achieve all the goals, which can make them go for upwards of 20 minutes each. Additionally, they splice in real-match footage with the gameplay at regular intervals. It’s cool to see it transition, but sometimes it takes control out of your hands for too long; playing a wrestling game, it sort of sucks to not wrestle for long stretches of time while watching video clips (that have commentary removed and repetitive generic rock music playing over them instead).
She doesn’t even go here!
MyRise returns as the games story mode, but it’s taken a slightly different route this time around. Instead of the standard “start from the bottom and work your way up” storyline, there is a male and female superstar storyline to choose from; The Lock and The Legacy. The Lock has you entering the company as the top draft, with high expectations and other superstars already on the roster a bit miffed that you’ve come in to be an instant star (Logan Paul, anyone?). The Legacy has you entering as a next-generation superstar, your Aunt a former WWE Women’s Champion, with high expectations on your shoulders.
It’s a nifty take on the story mode and creates instant character and stakes were it was hard to build on previously. The actual format of the way the mode works is similar to last year; checking social media messages, interacting with superstars backstage and having conversations, and of course the in-ring payoff (with some challenges sprinkled in), but this time there are choices that you’ll make at key moments which will impact the direction of the story. It still feels like a kind of low-budget affair at times when it comes to the writing quality, but it’s fun to have recorded lines of dialogue from a large range of actual talent from the roster, which fans will surely appreciate.
The popular addition from last year returns in MyGM, where you can try your hand at booking a wrestling show and seeing how fans react, along with creating feuds and competing with rival GM’s. It’s largely similar to what was on offer in WWE 2K22, but some improvements are in the mix. For example, you can now have different match types like triple threats or fatal four-ways, and secondary titles are able to be put on the line as well. You can also continue to develop your brand well beyond the previous short timeframe, which means you can keep growing and earning more rewards the longer you play. These were strange omissions last year, so it’s nice to see them in this version.
The other issues with MyGM mode still persist a little bit though, in the sense that you are still expected to pair wrestlers of different “styles” against one another, and are penalised for not doing so. Also some of the extra goals from Triple H don’t make sense; he’ll randomly want you to do a Hell in a Cell match on an episode of Smackdown like it’s no big deal, regardless of whether a feud actually calls for it. Still, my gripes aside, the mode is introduced and championed by wrestlers/gamers extraordinaire, Xavier Woods and Tyler Breeze, so it’s still a fun and engaging time, despite no online competitive mode.
“…the endorphin rush of opening a booster pack like it’s Pokémon cards in 1996…”
MyFaction continues to be a puzzling addition in WWE 2K23, with mobile game style tendencies like playing a match every day for bonus rewards or unlocking booster packs with cards with in-game or (ugh) real-world currency. There’s a lot in this mode that is appealing to people who get the endorphin rush of opening a booster pack like it’s Pokémon cards in 1996, but the addition of online play against other humans and the fact that getting better cards with real-world money is possible makes the whole thing a little icky (not that it’s compulsory, mind you), enjoyable as the core concept may be.
On top of ALL OF THAT (it really is a laundry list of game modes), there is the MyUniverse mode where it’s open slather to go as in-depth as you could possibly imagine. It’s for serious fans who want to be in full control of every aspect of their experience, including character alignments, feuds, match types and everything else, where a lot of time could be lost creating your dream company. The Creation Suite, again, is overflowing with options, from characters, to arenas, belts, and even a more granular approach to create your own entrance. I’ve already seen some epic recreations of missing superstars online, which is saying something considering the gigantic roster is fairly up-to-date apart from a couple of old (November) gimmicks, with more DLC to come.
- Subtle but effective gameplay and animation tweaks
- Wargames is an exciting new match type
- Each mode has received some love and upgrades
- MyRise is a decent story mode that is fun to play
- Showcase mode could use a rethink in execution
- MyGM tweaks are good, but could still be better
- Collecting cards with real-world money is still a little icky
- Not a massive step up from WWE 2K22, all things considered
At the end of the day, WWE 2K23 makes a modest effort to improve on its predecessor, and the results are pretty bloody good. Some of the modes have received some genuine love and attention, while others could use a bit of a revisit in future versions. Regardless, what these modes and updates are building on now is an incredibly solid foundation that continues to impress, and once the bell rings, the quality of gameplay and the feeling of taking part in a bona fide WWE match looks like it’s ripped right from a TV broadcast, and as a wrestling fan, that’s still what counts the most.