WWE 2K23 Review - Confirming the Comeback
The road to redemption is often paved with all sorts of trials and tribulations that make it a tough one to follow. But redemption is exactly what WWE 2K23 is striving for. After the steady decline of the franchise in the late 2010s, culminating with the abysmal WWE 2K20, the devs took a year off a came back strong. WWE 2K22 was the first genuinely enjoyable WWE game in what seemed like an age. Now we have WWE 2K23 and while it isn’t the gigantic leap forward that the previous game was, it does solidify the WWE 2K franchise as something people should be looking forward to, not something that should be avoided.
On the surface, not much has changed from last year insofar as game modes and match types. The addition of Battlegrounds is a nice one, but hardly a game changer and really the only major addition. But dig a little deeper and there are a host of little refinements, additions and tweaks that improve on what came before it. The most notable one is this year’s Showcase mode. The mode has been a tradition in the franchise for some time now, but instead of playing as the Showcase’s focus superstar (in this case John Cena) you can play as his opposition. This ties in with the old John Cena, Never Give Up, loses makes a man persona that he has played for so long now it is impossible to separate the man from his WWE personality. It is an interesting approach that swings for the fences, but sadly it doesn’t always connect. The need to complete specific tasks in the match to stay true to history gives the impression of glorified busywork and not one of recreating historic moments, which is obviously its desire.
The career mode on the other hand is a blast. There are two full storylines to work though, one each for the women’s and men’s divisions, that take a custom-built superstar through the trials, high drama and cheesy storylines that the WWE is known and loved for. The men’s story focuses on a Superstar who made his name in Japanese pro wrestling before making his WWE debut and the women’s story focuses on a generational talent following in her Aunt’s footsteps while trying to make a name for herself. Both storylines are ones that have played out in the WWE on more than one occasion, but they work here for that exact reason, they both feel like authentic WWE storylines. The story twists and turns depending on player choices and in-ring performances so there is a lot of replayability here too, with different paths leading to different plotlines.
The GM mode this year has also had some welcome refinements, making it a much more enjoyable experience. Last year, it quite often got confusing, with an epic amount of text to wade through and understand to be successful. This year a host of UI improvements and the enjoyable addition of Xavier Woods as a guide means the mode is much more approachable and it makes it easy to see and understand ideal match types, scenarios and conditions that lead to high ratings and money-generating matches. I lost a lot of time to this mode, it is quite addictive and it is easily the best it has ever been.
The moment-to-moment gameplay is much the same as last year, sticking with the arcade approach to in-ring action. A very simple control scheme that uses face buttons for block, light and heavy attack as well as grapple, all of which can be tweaked by simply holding in a different direction. Signatures and Finishers are performed by holding RB and pressing the appropriate button and ring/object interactions are all mapped to RB and LB. It is simple to understand and easy to learn but offers enough to encourage people to make the most of the options it presents.
For all the positives, there are some things here that still feel off. The first is something of a forgivable sin, but a frustrating one nonetheless and that is multiple opponent matches. A 4 or 6 man match gets confusing and hard to manage very quickly. When you through in an abnormal win condition, like a ladder match, it becomes an exercise in frustration. Chaos, which is the very thing that makes these sorts of matches fun to watch on TV, make them a rage-inducing chore in a video game, especially when you are required to win to progress the story. With friends, this sort of thing would be a blast, but against AI, with victory the only option to keep moving forward it was immensely irritating. There simply has to be a better way to handle these matches, because they are an integral part of the WWE experience.
The second major issue I have is the graphics. I suspect it is the need to develop for last-gen systems that is holding this game back from looking better because as it is there is a lot to be desired. The characters lack a fair bit of detail, there are some janky animations and the traditional WWE wonky rope physics are here in force. Special mention also has to go to how bad the lip-syncing in the story mode is, I feel like I have seen better efforts in PS3/360 games. The sooner 2K ditches the last gen, the better this franchise will look. At least that is what I hope.
That said, these issues didn’t stop me from having a genuinely good time with WWE 2K23. The action is a blast, the drama is there in spades and most importantly it really feels like it is a part of the bombastic WWE Universe. Now that 2K has had two solid years I would really like to see them make some further innovations and improvements for 2K24 and not rest on their laurels. If they do, this could genuinely turn into a must-have sports franchise. If they don’t, well it is always a quick slide back into the sea of mediocrity that the WWE 2K games swam in for so long, and no WWE fan wants that at all.
WWE 2K23 was reviewed on the Xbox Series X with code kindly supplied by 2K Games Australia.