AEW: Fight Forever Review - Not Quite a Heavyweight
You could be forgiven if this is your first time hearing the term All Elite Wrestling (AEW). The first I ever heard of the promotion was after seeing a flurry of Twitter posts about CM Punk’s return to professional wrestling after a seven-year absence. Brought about in large part by wrestlers Matt and Nick Jackson (aka The Young Bucks) and Cody Rhodes, AEW has grown at a steady rate, putting out five hours of television a week and quality Pay-Per-View content. That growth continues with the release of AEW: Fight Forever, though it would not be true growth if there were not some growing pains that hold the game back from what it could truly be. Hampered by a limited selection of wrestlers, customisation options and a career mode that falls on the short side, it is another one of those games that could be great if given more time and development.
So let’s start with my biggest issue of the game, the roster. As it stands at launch there are forty-eight wrestlers on the roster, with a few hidden away to be unlocked by completing certain story-mode objectives. Now I get it, it takes time to develop a game. Creating the models and move-sets from scratch for characters can be time-consuming in the fast-changing world of wrestling, where the popularity of wrestlers can hit the stratosphere because of a few innocuous words, but I can’t understand how some wrestlers have been left out of the game. Some are indeed kept out to be used as DLC characters, with Keith Lee, The Bunny, the current tag champs FTR plus Danhausen and Hook, but it doesn’t explain the reasoning behind not including others. Jamie Hayter is not included, despite being with AEW since near the beginning and was until recently the champion of the Women’s division, even current Women’s champ Toni Storm is missing as well. Heck, Paul Wight, formerly known as Big Show, is a hidden wrestler while we are denied the ability to scissor in the middle of the ring with The Acclaimed.
I understand newer acquisitions like Claudio Castignoli (fka. Cesaro), Saraya (fka. Paige) and Jay White not being included, but why a team like The Acclaimed? They are a team that has been growing in popularity over the entire time of development and would have given the game more actual tag teams to use and potentially face off against in the story mode. There are so many other quality wrestlers, and even some jobbers, that could have been used in the game. It has been said that the plan is to forgo an annualised release schedule and instead support Fight Forever for a period of time. If this is the case we will hopefully be able to play as these great wrestlers but only time will tell in that regard.
Despite the issues with the roster, the question is how does it play. In that regard, you can breathe easily. Rather than aiming for a full, in-depth simulation of what it is to be a wrestler, with complex finger dexterity requirements needed to ensure you complete their moves, AEW instead makes it about fun. No one wants to spend their time studying the move list for ten minutes before playing their first match just so they know how to function, and with nearly all of your moves stemming from a punch, kick, or grapple, anyone, can jump in and start living their wrasslin fantasy as soon as they start their first game. You can bring up the moves list in the pause menu at any time if you need to check the positioning of your wrestlers for their signature and finisher moves or a quick refresh of which buttons allow you to do a springboard attack. Everything here has been designed to make it easy for people to jump in and play, even non-gamers or people who are not fans of wrestling will be able to pull off the high-flying offence of the Lucha Brothers with very little effort.
After you knuckle down the basics of how to wrestle and find yourself ready to jump into something a bit more complex than a one-on-one matchup then there are a few options to try your hand at. Tag Team, Triple Threat and Fatal 4 Way matches are all available, along with the Casino Battle Royal and the always complicated-to-win Ladder match. If you are into the more hardcore options you can play a Lights Out match, where the ring is filled with various weapons, each of them variously effective in brutalising your opponent, or, after completing the match in the Road to Elite you can also unlock the Exploding Barbed Wire Death Match for your personal fun and games.
If story content is more your thing you will want to undertake the Road to Elite, Fight Forever’s story mode. Here you can take control of one of the roster wrestlers or your own created wrestler and jump into the world of AEW. While your journey kicks off in AEW’s early beginnings, there is no actual chronological timeline and Road to Elite just comprises four different story arcs that are each resolved in a pay-per-view bout. Just how each storyline plays out depends on the results of your bouts, but regardless of how you fare, as you experience key bits of history you get to relive the real events through video vignettes. Some of them you may already know of or have seen, such as CM Punk’s return, others, like the end of the match to crown Chris Jericho the first AEW World Champion or the late great Brodie Lee winning the TNT championship with the Dark Order at its peak. It was great to be able to have a look and see those big events as they happened. With only four story arcs per playthrough, I am not sure how much mileage players will get out of it, though with the story differences I have seen there is enough for a couple of playthroughs.
This brings us to the somewhat contentious part of this review. As noted in the Review Discussion video with Ryan Betson, the character creator mode is extremely limited. As it stands right now the choices in how your character looks are as basic as public transport. What is not basic is the move set options for your created wrestler. Here, the team at Yukes have a gigantic vault of wrestling moves for you to be able to have your wrestler perform exactly how you want them to. The sheer breadth of choices here shows that the developers have not just slapped this game together. There are also other little touches that I think show the passion. For example, during the Casino Battle Royal, the music for Jungle Boy started and the animated crowd visible at the back of the ring started waving their arms just like in a live show. While this is purely my opinion, I believe that when it comes to the create-a-character situation, the WWE series, or any other annualised sports games, can continuously build off their pre-existing database, allowing them to spend much less development time on this aspect of the game. In the case of AEW: Fight Forever, the developers have had to build everything from the ground up.
In its debut game, All Elite Wrestling looks to set itself apart from the WWE 2K series, and while there are limited customisation options for those who love to dive into the create-a-wrestler mode, hopefully, we will see more content added during future updates. The gameplay is easy to get into and makes it a perfect game for playing with a group of friends. The online connectivity also means you can still find opponents if your friends don’t want to play anymore because you keep winning. I am hopeful that in the future we will see some expanded match types and create-a-wrestler options released that will continue to help the game grow.
AEW: Fight Forever was reviewed on PS5 with code kindly supplied by the publisher.