Shaun Munro reviews WWE 2K23…
Following the abject disaster that was WWE 2K19, last year’s 2K22 marked a serious step back in the right direction, and while the new 2K23 is very far from perfect, it too takes another incremental inch forward. The gameplay could still use some work and there are myriad design “quirks” which need ironing out, but on the balance of averages this year’s installment should satisfy most wrestling fans.
What’s most apparent after playing even just a match or two of WWE 2K23 is that it’s potently addressed surely the series’ two longest-standing issues; outdated visuals and bugs. From the moment you start playing this new entry, the robust visuals gloriously announce themselves; there’s a photorealistic sheen to both the animations and moment-to-moment gameplay that’s a major breath of fresh air.
Sure, not every wrestler has been replicated with equal care – there are still some very dodgy faces and the crowds don’t look great – but given that the WWE 2K series spent so long feeling an entire gaming generation out of visual date, it’s refreshing to play a game that truly looks current.
The series’ historic issue with bugs – a love-hate aspect for many fans, given how hilarious they tend to be – isn’t entirely resolved, but after around a dozen hours with the game, I’ve encountered nothing even close to game-breaking or detrimental to the overall experience. A few wonky physics moments aside, it’s been shockingly plain sailing – a serious coup for a franchise that’s reliably gone viral for its maddeningly glitchy gameplay.
It’s worth mentioning that other, less-debilitating issues still remain; for one, collision detection during gameplay continues to be frustratingly iffy, whereby a hit will only connect with an opponent when they’ve risen to a certain point. Elsewhere if you had issues with the reversal system in 2K22, don’t expect that to change here; you’re still at the mercy of ludicrously small timing windows to launch a comeback, ensuring you can easily spend up to 30 seconds being pounded on the mat with little recourse. It feels like reversal prompts should appear at the apex of a move, but instead they flash up semi-randomly at the start. The combo system, defined by light, heavy, and grab attacks, is also fairly finicky, and you may find the game’s interpretation of your inputs a little less than reliable.
This year’s edition mercifully gives players the option to tweak individual wrestler AI, and it’s just as well, because out-of-the-box it’s a mixed bag; during WarGames matches I sometimes had a teammate abandon me to a ring full of opponents for no discernible reason. And though tag team matches are generally still a frustrating exercise in attempting to score a pin without the opponent’s partners interfering, Visual Concepts deserves credit for giving ladder-type matches a breezy fix; the segment count for the briefcase mini-game has been reduced from eight parts to five, ensuring Money in the Bank matches are no longer excruciating, hour-long excursions.
Away from the delineated game modes, 2K23′s most hyped feature is indeed the inclusion of WarGames, and despite the potential for 4v4 caged mayhem in two rings to become a chaotic, buggy mess, it’s a surprisingly robust experience that quite brilliantly replicates the classic match type, while smartly whittling the entrance intervals down to around 90 seconds. Given the success with which it’s been implemented here, expect it to become a mainstay offering from this point forward – and if not, it absolutely should be.
Onto the modes, then. The centerpiece this year is Showcase – a 20-year retrospective of John Cena’s career, rather charmingly presented by the man himself through a series of introductory video clips. The big rub to this year’s Showcase, though, is that all of the selected matches are ones where Cena lost, and better yet, you’re playing as his opponents, including Kurt Angle, The Undertaker, AJ Styles, and Brock Lesnar.
It’s a neat idea albeit one whose execution is wildly uneven; for some reason the matches are played in a basically random order, and as impressive as the transitions between gameplay and footage of the actual matches are, the constant blurring of referees’ faces and total removal of commentary – presumably for royalties-related reasons – will prompt many to skip these videos.
Though you’re free to beat Cena however you like, you’re encouraged to complete optional objectives to unlock skins and arenas, but considering this will have you continually returning to the pause menu to figure out how to pull off a given combo, it does stifle the fun somewhat. The mode takes around three hours to beat, and while hardly the most inspired iteration of Showcase we’ve seen to date, does offer a fun closing surprise for those who stick with it.
MyRise – effectively the game’s career mode – offers up two bespoke, cinematic paths this year: The Legacy and The Lock. The Legacy places players in the shoes of a female superstar whose aunt is a WWE Hall of Famer, forcing her to navigate the realities of being a “nepo baby” in the modern wrestling world.
The Lock, meanwhile, is a new male superstar who wants to make his mark on the industry while grappling with creative’s less-than-stellar plans for him. The writing across these modes is wildly hit-and-miss, but at least has an amusing streak of self-awareness, as though the writers themselves acutely appreciate how talented wrestlers can get chewed up by WWE’s conveyor-belt sausage factory of talent branding.
All in all MyRise is fun to dip into periodically but not necessarily a mode you’ll want to plow hours into at a time, due to the oft-excruciating voice acting, cringe-worthy focus on social media, and outrageous loading times. If there was a little more personality to the dialogue and the backstage area was more of an open-world hub, this could’ve been a lot more fun, but it’s not bad by any means.
Universe mode is also back, of course – the sandbox-like suite where players can fine-tune every aspect of the company and basically “play God.” Beyond the classic Universe mode, however, Visual Concepts have also included a Superstar-centric variant this year, ensuring those overwhelmed by the sheer abundance of options in Classic can have something a little more focused.
Elsewhere there’s MyGM mode, hilariously presented by Xavier Woods and Tyler Breeze, where players can choose from one of eight GMs to take over a brand – each GM and each brand getting certain distinct buffs. After last year’s iteration was criticised by many for feeling content-lacking and being limited to just a single season, 2K23′s serves up more options and, best of all, can run for numerous seasons. MyGM hasn’t ever been of particular appeal to me personally, but if you’re into micro-managing the minutiae of a WWE brand, there’s plenty here to noodle about with, and you can even compete against another player for brand supremacy.
The final major mode is MyFaction, the contentious online team-building card game introduced in last year’s edition which is heavily centered around microtransactions. Again, not a mode that remotely appeals to this reviewer, and my hour-or-so spent toying with it was largely defined by players disconnecting in the middle of matches and exhaustedly trying to make sense of the three different types of currency used in the mode.
Outside of these major modes the expected creation suite is back with the ability to create wrestlers, arenas, entrances, move sets, titles, and even entrance videos. Even if you’re not much for creating yourself, the suite is worth it solely for the community-submitted creations, which is already packed to the gills with staggeringly photoreal renditions of former WWE employees and members of the AEW roster.
Online multiplayer has typically been one of the franchise’s most crushing disappointments, what with the sheer amount of lag often rendering it near-unplayable, but WWE 2K23 thankfully offers up a considerably slicker and more intuitive online experience. Yes, it’s still frustrating when an opponent rage-quits, and it often takes a little too long to get a big multi-man match going, but once you’re in, it’s relatively smooth. There is one notable let-down, though; online Royal Rumbles are limited to just eight players with no CPU participants, meaning they’re not really Royal Rumbles at all.
All in all, WWE 2K23 benefits from firm gameplay fundamentals even if there’s a lot that still needs work. The huge roster, glossy visuals, and enjoyable gameplay make this an easy sell to the die-hard and casual fan alike, even if it feels like the series remains far from achieving its full potential. Another solid step in the right direction for the beleaguered WWE 2K franchise, this latest addition doesn’t remedy all the nagging problems, but nevertheless offers up a slick, content-rich package that should please most.
+ Terrific graphics.
+ Generally robust gameplay.
+ Amusingly self-aware MyRise modes.
+ WarGames is awesome.
+ Smoother online experience.
+ Tons of modes to keep fans occupied.
– Collision detection is still mediocre.
– Online “Royal Rumbles” are a huge letdown.
– Showcase mode is a mixed bag.
– Only a marginal improvement over WWE 2K22.
Reviewed on PS5 (also available for PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC).
A review code was provided for review.
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more video game rambling, or e-mail me here.