For years it seemed like the WWE 2K series would always take one step forward and then two steps back. Some years it felt like nothing but steps backwards. Then WWE 2K20 happened, which was such a catastrophic failure that it set the series back to the stone age. After that debacle, 2K announced that WWE 2K21 was cancelled and the series would take an extra year off before making it's return. To the delight of wrestling game fans everywhere, WWE 2K22 was good. Really good. So good that for the first time in almost a decade I was really excited for the future of the series. Well, a year later and now WWE 2K23 is here and once again improves the series. We have taken multiple steps forward and no steps back as WWE 2K23 is another fantastic wrestling game.
In terms of gameplay, nothing major has been changed from WWE 2K22. The fast-paced fighting and combo system remain in 2K23, but there are a lot of little updates that add to the presentation and immersion. There are a lot of new selling animations, such as wrestlers lashing out in frustration after a kick out, and there is a new stamina system where wrestlers will start to slow down as the match goes on to the point where they will walk around slowly, look out of breath and punch, kick and go for grapples slower. There is also a new pinfall minigame this year where a meter will bounce back and forth and you have to press the right thumbstick up once it gets into the target area. As the match goes on, the meter will move back and forth faster and the target zone will get smaller. It works really well and I find it harder than the button mashing mini game in the last game. Should you want to use the button mashing game, it can be selected in the options menu.
Further improvements have been made to the game with the all new balancing options in the difficulty menu that let you utilize more sliders to tailor the game however you wish. These include a slider to influence how easy or hard it is to kick out of pins. Like the Fire Pro Wrestling series, AI sliders for each wrestler have been added to the game. Now you can go in and tweak each wrestler and how they behave when controlled by the CPU, such as how often they go to the top rope, go for pins, use weapons, and more. With this new AI behavior, there is another great feature in that tag teams will now work together and help each other in the Royal Rumble match. I played a women's Rumble and watched Iyo Sky and Dakota Kai work together and throw out entrants one by one for a few minutes before the ring started to fill up again.
Probably the biggest technical update to the game is that the create a wrestler system has gotten a big overhaul. For years created wrestlers would never look as good as their real-world counterparts, but this year 2K has added brand new facial scans and even skin textures, and now created wrestlers look incredible - just as good as the WWE wrestlers. No longer do CAWs look like wax statues. This is also fantastic for people like me who absolutely suck at things like crafting and reshaping faces to make all the created wrestlers look unique. Each of the new face scans and skin textures can be mixed and matches to create a number of fantastic looking wrestlers that I will be adding to my roster.
The biggest addition to this years game in terms of match types is the all new War Games match. War Games has been highly requested for years, and 2K absolutely nailed it. War Games features two rings surrounded by a giant cage. The match consists of two teams of three or four, with one person from each team starting in the ring. After regular intervals (30 seconds up to 4 minutes each), one member from each team will start alternating entering the cage. Once all members of the team have entered the ring, the match officially begins and the only way to win is by pin fall, submission, or forcing someone from the opposing team out of the cage causing a forfeit. This match is a ton of fun and I can easily see this becoming a party-type mode that groups of friends play all the time.
The best part of the match is the way they utilize the two rings. You can throw opponents from one ring to the other, you can do springboard moves from one ring to the other, and you can fight in the narrow trench area between the two rings. You can also climb to the top of the cage and do diving moves to opponents below. When you enter the cage after the timer ends, you can also press the L1 button to grab up to three weapons from under the ring and bring them into the match. This match is absolutely chaotic and perfectly captures how insane actual War Games matches can get. By the end of the match, the ring looks like a warzone with broken weapons and bodies strewn about as the winning team barely gets to their feet to celebrate. nWo vs. The Bloodline, Brawling Brutes vs. Imperium, Damage Control vs. Toxic Attraction, The New Day vs. Judgment Day, there are so many possibilities with factions brawling it out in the cage. This is one mode that I have played a ton of times and it hasn't gotten stale at all.
Showcase mode returns this year, focusing on the career of John Cena. This twist this year is that instead of playing as John Cena in every match, this time they flip the script. You play matches where John Cena lost and play as those who were able to take him down. From RVD vs. Cena at One Night Stand, his debut against Kurt Angle, to getting absolutely decimated by Brock Lesnar at Wrestle Mania and more, there is a great selection of matches here highlighting John Cena's WWE career. The problem here is that the game will transition from gameplay to actual footage of the match you are playing. While this is cool, there are sometimes long sections where you are watching the actual footage and there is no commentary at all. You have to listen to generic music playing in the background while you watch the match play out. They really should have gone all-out on the documentary style presentation for this and had running commentary from John Cena throughout the matches. It's still a fun mode and there are some surprises for those who complete the mode with bonus matches.
GM Mode returns again this year and has gotten some pretty big upgrades. Last year's mode was a good starting point but it was so limited that I played through it once and never went back to it again. This year they added a ton of new things to greatly increase the replayability of the mode. This year in addition to new brands like WCW and NXT 2.0 you get new GMs to use as well like Mick Foley, Eric Bischoff, Xavier Woods, Tyler Breeze or you can create a GM. You can also choose to play against up to four other GMs and brands. Instead of lasting an entire year like last year, this year's GM Mode plays out in seasons of 25 weeks each. There are various goals to complete throughout each season, drafts after each season, and the ability to create triple threat and fatal four way matches along with adding more match types to play and mid card titles. These updates are fantastic and there are now many ways to tweak options to keep things fresh and this year I can see myself playing through GM mode multiple times.
The highlight for me this year is 2K23's My Rise story mode. 2K22's My Rise had some good ideas, but the mode was kind of all over the place. You chose what stories you wanted to play, and while the stories were good it created a huge problem with continuity. You could win a championship in one story and now you are entering without the belt in another story. There was also no ending. Once you completed all the stories you just get a screen basically saying "congrats you finished all the stories" and your wrestler is now stuck in limbo with nothing to do. My Rise this year fixes those problems by presenting a more linear and focused story. This year you have the option of two separate stories in "The Lock" and "The Legacy". The Lock is for a male created wrestler and the Legacy is for a female created wrestler. The Lock starts off with your wrestler being a very popular indie wrestler who gets signed by WWE. In true Vince McMahon fashion you are given a new name, a new look and an absolutely ridiculous gimmick called "The Lock", complete with you making your WWE debuting by bursting out of a safe on Raw. From then on you are told to "trust the company" as they know what they are doing, they have major plans for you, they put a lot of money into you, they will make you are huge star, meanwhile the crowd isn't really digging you and you start to wonder if you made a huge mistake going to the WWE.
The Legacy is the women's My Rise story and this one has you basically skipping the line, joining WWE as a second generation superstar to fictional Hall of Fame wrestler Justine. Thanks to her connections, and basically nepotism, this one sees you getting opportunities and chances that you probably wouldn't have gotten and there are also high expectations on you being related to one of the greatest female wrestlers of all time. Despite wanting to try to do things the right way, there are a number of wrestlers in the back who aren't too pleased with you skipping the line. One of the first characters you talk to talks about how she's scratching and clawing in NXT to get to the top and you as a nepo baby just come right in, debut on the main roster and get a high profile match right out of the gate.
This is the most engaged I have been in a story mode in a WWE game in years. The writing in this mode is fantastic, and you can tell the people that wrote these stories live and breathe pro wrestling and feature a lot of inside jokes that only wrestling fans would understand like Montez Ford tweeting "God is Good", sitting in catering, or telling your character to "not sneeze in front of the boss". There are also some parts of both stories involving going on trips around the world to other wrestling companies that those who watch more than just WWE are gonna love. Both of these stories are also meta commentary on the WWE itself, with The Lock gimmick being so stupid that it's only something Vince could come up with and WWE fans have seen for decades how wrestlers from other companies are brought into WWE and are completely ruined, or how second generation superstars seem to get the most focus and most opportunities to succeed in the WWE. I actually cared about these characters and I actually ended up feeling bad about some of the choices that I made later on in the story. I cannot wait to play through them again to see all the ways the stories can go. The mode also features a number of side quests which are smaller storylines that last 2-3 matches to where you can unlock arenas and creation parts. They are all worth playing as they also earn you boosts to your stats and attribute points to upgrade your character.
By making the stories more linear they have a lot more focus as you actually see your wrestler go on a journey from the bottom to the top all while great storylines that all culminate as you would expect at Wrestle Mania. There are also branching paths in the story. At various points in both stories you will be given a major decision to make regarding what path your career is going to go down. Playing though one of the story modes and going for all the side missions and unlocks can take 15-20 hours for a single playthrough. Add in a separate male and female story and branching paths and you are looking at around 40 hours to see everything the mode has to offer.
But WWE 2K23 isn't perfect as it seems. Like every year, there are always some kind of restrictions in the game that just make no sense at all. For one, there are a lot of create a wrestler parts and arenas you can unlock in My Rise, but it seems that once again we can't play as any of the original characters like Justice, Slade, or Ava Moreno outside of this mode. The same goes with My Faction, which aside from playing 1v1 matches online is exactly the same as last years, where certain wrestlers and attires are locked behind the mode and cannot be used outside of the mode in exhibition. I really don't understand the reasoning behind this as this isn't NBA 2K. The community for wrestling and the NBA is completely different, and we don't appreciate having this stuff locked behind game modes.
While the new Create a Wrestler face scans and skin textures are amazing and we got Create an Entrance back again, Create an Arena once again pretty much goes untouched. They added a few more stage parts and some decorations, but sadly the mode pretty much remains exactly the same as it's been for the past seven years. Once again, 2K included a bunch of original arenas in the game like arenas based on the Tokyo Dome, UK underground, Mexico and more and again we cannot use these arenas as bases to create our own arenas in Create an Arena. Will how much the rest of the game and game modes got updated this year, it's sad to see Create an Arena once again go neglected. Finally, while not nearly as bad as previous years, there are still some glitches I noticed such as tag teams and factions entering together in Universe mode, the number 30 entry sometimes just not showing up in the Royal Rumble and the championship belt, or MITB briefcase warping all over the place above the ring in ladder matches. That said, thankfully I haven't encountered any game breaking bugs.
Universe Mode is another game mode that is in serious need of a major overhaul. The mode has remained pretty much exactly the same since it was introduced back in Smackdown vs. Raw 2010. There is a new update to Universe mode, however, that makes it more fun to play. That's the addition of the new system when setting up rivalries to choose how you want the storylines to play out. Before, everything was random in terms of what cutscenes you would see before or after matches. Now you have the power to pick and choose what you want each character to do whether they win or lose the match. This makes the mode a lot more engaging, because now you are basically the director getting to see how you personally want the story to play out instead of how the game decides to randomly play it out like before. This addition is great but unfortunately WWE Universe is still in serious need of some love.
The future is bright for the WWE 2K series. WWE 2K23 improves upon the foundation that was laid down with 2K22, and once again I am excited to see how it improves in the future. If WWE 2K22 was a wrestler getting a huge push, then WWE 2K23 won the Royal Rumble. If 2K keeps up the momentum, WWE 2K24 could win the WWE title in the main event of Wrestle Mania.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
I have been playing video games for as long as I can remember. My earliest gaming memories come from playing Lady Bug and Snafu on my fathers Colecovision and Intellivision respectively. It wasnt until I was 6 years old and played a Mortal Kombat 2 arcade machine in a game room at a hotel that I truly fell in love with a videogame. I have so many wonderful memories of my dad and I playing Mortal Kombat on SNES every night after dinner. Throughout my childhood NES, SNES, Gameboy and Sega Genesis were the loves of my life. Here I am 35 years old and still as much in love with videogames as I ever was.View Profile