Title: WWE 2K23
Developer: Visual Concepts
Release Date: March 14, 2023
Available on: PlayStation 4 and 5, PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and S
Reviewed on: PlayStation 5
Professional wrestling video games have a storied history and while WWE 2K23 may not rise to the levels of past titles, it’s still a fantastic entry.
It’s by no means perfect, but the foundation is strong and the game can appeal to all gamers. Wrestling fans, in particular, are in for a treat thanks to the extensive gameplay that allows you to step into the shoes of both World Wrestling Entertainment superstars and executives.
This is heartening to see because the series needed to tap out after the negative feedback WWE 2K20 received. The series took a year off and returned with WWE 2K22, garnering a much better response. WWE 2K23 appears to continue that trend with a host of fun activities and gameplay modes.
I should note that I did not play last year’s game so I can’t speak to the similarities and growth between the two. I will be reviewing this game as a newcomer to the series having not played any past WWE 2K title.
All that said, let’s ring the bell and dive into this game.
- Final Score
WWE 2K23 is a traditional fighting game within the professional wrestling world. Gameplay centers on weakening your opponent so you can pin them for a three-count.
While this is the essence of gameplay, there are a variety of gimmick matches throughout such as a Last Man Standing match; a Hell in a Cell match; a tables match; and many others.
A War Games match is a new addition to this year’s game. This match features two teams of five wrestlers with two starting in a cage with two rings. Alternating members of each team join from a different cage every few minutes until all 10 competitors are in the rings. Then, the match officially begins and the first one to pin an opposing wrestler wins the match for their team.
While the wrestling matches are central to the gameplay, there are also many modes featured:
- Showcase Mode: Players follow the cover star for the game John Cena. Players control opponents from Cena’s biggest losses over his career. Players can focus on beating Cena or completing a series of objectives prior to winning for extra unlockables.
- MyRise Mode: This is ta story mode where players can follow either The Legacy or The Lock storylines. The Legacy storyline follows a female wrestler who is the niece of a legend as she tries to make a name for herself. The Lock storyline follows a male wrestler who falls from grace at WWE and works his way through the independent circuit to return to the promotion.
- Universe Mode: This mode is the open sandbox area where players can craft their own storylines, brands, wrestling cards, and so much more. Within Universe Mode are two separate styles. Superstar Mode allows players to control a WWE Superstar and determine future rivalries, tag teams, and the overall trajectory of their career. Classic Mode allows players free reign of WWE, allowing them to manage shows, champions, and every other aspect of the brand.
- MyGM Mode: Similar to Universe Mode, players can choose a general manager and lead one brand while managing the different aspects such as match cards, champions, and other aspects of the show. Players start by drafting their roster and then compete against the computer for ratings supremacy.
- MyFaction Mode: This mode allows you to build your own faction of wrestlers and managers by collecting cards. Expanding your collection allows players to customize their faction members or change them out for others. Players can complete daily challenges to earn points that they can use for additional collectables. While card collecting is central to this mode, there are opportunities to wrestle.
- Play Mode: This mode allows players to select wrestlers and a type of match for an exhibition bout. Each match allows you to earn stars up to five to determine how the crowd responded to your match. This rating system appeared in Universe Mode as well.
Along with the various modes, players have a chance to create their own wrestlers. There are a host of customizations available to help you make the perfect wrestler that you can use in various modes.
The roster included is also deep from the get-go with plenty of past stars and alternate versions of wrestlers to unlock throughout the game.
There are so many ways to breakdown this game thanks to the wide array of modes. Each one offers a unique experience with something here for all players of various skill levels.
It’s important to note that while I finished MyRise and Showcase modes completely, there is still plenty to do. Many of the other modes are constantly ongoing so it’s easy to sink hundreds of hours into this game. I’ve logged 50+ hours since its release in mid-March.
Gameplay and Controls
Combat centers on a basic format and expands out to include various combos. The standard attacks are easiest because they require three buttons for offense and one for defense.
From there, players can mix these buttons to deal out combo attacks. These can be hard to remember and I found myself referencing the pause screen repeatedly to remember all combos. That said, I quickly picked them up the longer I played.
Timing also plays a big role, especially on defense. Players can hit the defense button to counter attacks, but this only works when the prompt flashes on the screen and you hit it at the right time.
This was the hardest skill for me because timing doesn’t play as big of a factor in my regular gaming habits. Similarly, I did start to get better as time wore on. There is a dodge mechanic that doesn’t rely on a prompt but does still require timing.
One last basic control worth noting is breaking up a pin attempt. If your opponent is pinning you, you have two options for breaking it up.
The first is a timing mechanic where a cursor runs along a bar and you have to click it while it’s in a green section. The speed of the cursor and the size of the green section depend on how much damage you take.
The second requires players to hit a button rapidly in order to break a pin. I did not use this method in my gameplay, but, from what I understand, it’s an older mechanic from previous games.
Overall, gameplay ran nice. I played on my PlayStation 5 and combat looked smooth as was the action. I never noticed any lag, but there were times when on-screen action lagged behind input.
Matches utilized an elevated front view that ensure I could see the ring at all times. Camera angles were actually perfect and I never had issues following the action.
The only time this became an issue was if you had a lot of people in a match like a battle royale or a War Games match. I often lost my character as I didn’t feel like the indicator was obvious enough to help me keep track.
Overall, gameplay was a lot of fun and the controls flowed nicely. I struggled to pick them up at first, but the more I played, I learned quickly. Part of this is I am new to PlayStation consoles and would forget where buttons were sometimes.
The presentation of this game is ok. It’s not bad, but there’s some areas with noticeable downgrades.
The biggest issue I came across was the mouths not matching the voice acting. Sure, this game isn’t focused on that but it’s shortcomings are noticeable.
Players will likely come across this in MyRise mode. Whenever a player interacts with others or it shows their own character, the mouth movement are jarring, sometimes with the mouth stopping as dialogue continues.
I would also notice stutters during a match that where never awful, but did creep in from time to time.
The other area where presentation took a bit of a hit was voice acting itself.
Many of the real-life wrestlers provided the voice for their video game counterparts. Performances ranged quite a bit with lackluster outings from Shawn Michaels and Molly Holly to surprisingly decent attempts from Randy Orton and Becky Lynch.
As for the original characters in MyRise mode, the male performance didn’t seem to fit the story too well while the female performance was well done but a bit over the top at times.
As for the matches, the entrances are fantastic. The developers nailed everything about them. There were many nice touches that coincide well with the wrestlers’ actual entrance. It’s also nice to have all of the entrance songs as well.
Another point worth noting is how big they made the arenas feel. There are numerous scans of the audience prior to each match that helps you feel how big the stage really is for each contest.
From a performance perspective, there was nothing to write home about despite its shortcomings. That said, the effort is better put into the entrances and the wrestlers themselves.
I’d rather have a good presentation with entrance and match aesthetics rather than perfection in the voice acting.
Showcase Mode provides players a glimpse of John Cena’s real-life career. I’m a big wrestling fan and I found it a fascinating history lesson through the eyes of Cena himself.
Cena’s gimmick has always been about “hustle, loyalty, respect” as he portrays himself as one who overcomes all to achieve a goal. This mantra is on full display during this mode as he talks about how he overcame those odds.
Cena narrates the various matches from a recording studio. I loved the way he talks about his opponents and found it fascinating to hear what he had to say about them.
This mode features a lot of actual footage from Cena’s matches as he talks about them in the before each one begins. Once it’s time to play, it switches to the video game graphics.
What makes this more unique is as you achieve objectives throughout, there are moments that the match switches to a live-action cutscene with actual footage from the match.
This helps add to the overall experience but it felt discounted. Many of the faces were blurred out, including obvious people like long-time commentator Jim Ross, who now works for rival All Elite Wrestling.
Another weird juxtaposition includes the music choice. The cutscenes play with generic stock music playing underneath. This feels weird as a wrestling fan because you expect to hear the iconic commentaries from these bouts.
Warts aside, I did really like exploring Cena’s career and learning so much about his many rivals. Controlling them was a great choice because it forced me to try different wrestlers.
I came away really enjoying AJ Styles, a wrestler I’m not sure I wouldn’t tried otherwise despite my fandom of him.
My main complaint from this mode are the objectives.
They are not that hard, but if you can’t complete one and Cena pins you, the game forces you to start at the beginning of the match. Of course, you could just beat Cena and move on, but getting all the objectives is a great way to add more wrestlers and arenas to your arsenal.
I have a hard time replaying and, as a newcomer, repeating felt brutal. Cena ranks as one of the best in the game so when he got on a roll, it was hard to catch up.
Still, this was an enjoyable mode and one I plan to return to as I chase all unlockables.
When it comes to professional wrestling, storytelling is often the key to the entire performance. MyRise allows players to partake in one of two stories: The Lock and The Legacy.
Both stories are a lot of fun in their own respects but do suffer from pacing issues. I should also state that while we all know the true scripted nature of professional wrestling, MyRise leans into the suspension of disbelief rather than addressing the scripted nature.
In The Lock storyline, players get to control a male wrestler debuting with a gimmick called The Lock. This is absolutely a ripoff of The Rock and the game acknowledges this at one point.
This is your standard redemption arc that allows you to explore the world inside and outside of WWE. I found this story dull as times at the personality of The Lock was unlikable. The game never tells you to be a face (good guy) or heel (bad guy), but this story seems to lean into the heel side.
The Legacy was much more interesting to me. It touched on various issues women wrestlers face today and in the past including the debate about the Divas division and the place WWE legends like Trish Stratus and Lita play in the development of the division.
While these were some fascinating elements to discuss, this storyline had a lot of pacing issues. You could progress to a certain point in the story only to have the game send you on various missions that did not relate to the story.
The protagonist was great especially toward the end of the story. Despite the random slowdowns in pacing, I was invested in this story at the end.
Both stories provide choices, but few are consequential. Even the ones that do make a difference often are just repackages of the opposite choice that lead to the same outcome.
Players can do a host of side quests that can yield some unlockables. As you progress through the story, you will earn experience points that allow you to boost attributes. You can gain more through doing side quests and max out each category.
Overall, both stories are a lot of fun because they allow you to wrestle a variety of opponents. I had a lot of fun with each and plan to return to both to try all of the side quests.
Admittedly, I did not spend a ton of time in this mode but boy, is there a ton to do.
Essentially, they give you the keys to the kingdom. Whatever your imagination can think of, you can do it here. I spent more time in superstar mode where I controlled the career of AJ Styles.
I love how much freedom was here as I could choose his tag partners, enemies, allies, and rivalries. I ran a feud with Cody Rhodes and it just upped the ante on each match, especially as they fell to premium live events.
Classic mode has a lot going on and it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. It allows you to run simultaneously, numerous weekly shows along with several championships for each. The game defaults to current champions at the time of release.
That said, this is an open sandbox and you can control every aspect. If this is a new spot for you, I recommend starting with the fewer shows with fewer championships until you get comfortable.
Like I said, there’s so much to do here and I plan to live out my days in this mode. I do wish there was an easier way to draft superstars to each show, but there’s plenty online that can help you draft.
One last note, the two modes do connect with one another. You can take your wrestler in superstar mode and have their storyline be part of your larger universe in classic mode.
This was a nice touch and allows you to control both the larger picture and smaller details.
I saw MyGM Mode as a way to introduce players to Universe Mode. It allows players to control their own show and compete for ratings.
I did love that this mode had a draft. I started too big as I pitted myself against three other shows. I think this was too much so I likely will only compete against one other show as I continue to learn more.
This mode allows you to select a general manger and the options are good, but I wish there were more. Still, there are enough tools here that you can have some fun scenarios.
What I didn’t like was it felt too watered down. There were only two championships for each show: the men’s and women’s titles. While I don’t expect all titles like Universe Mode, I would’ve at least liked to see tag team titles.
This mode is similar to Universe Mode, but it really lets you dive into the details on running a brand including which arena and other aspects. I did have a lot of fun here and do plan to further my time within this mode.
It also has you managing the morale of each member of your roster and forces you to be strategic with each superstar. One week, you’re women’s champion may be full stamina but if you put her in a brutal match, then the next week, she can’t put on a good match.
This is a lot of fun to decide and provide a bit of depth to all that goes into booking decision on WWE programming.
Card collecting might not be for everyone, including myself, but this mode did have a lot of perks. I enjoyed the various missions it sent me on as I continued to build my factions and find new cards to collect.
There are incentives to return each day as you can collect more points that allow you to purchase new cards. I didn’t really enjoy the point amd card collecting, but the matches were the most fun.
I didn’t complete each task within a match for points, but rather because I just enjoyed gameplay. The points were just a nice bonus.
This mode is also great because it allows you to try other wrestlers. My male intial faction included Drew McIntyre, Jimmy and Jey Uso, and Ricochet. I’m not sure I’d play with any of these wrestlers prior to this mode so I’m happy I did because I found I loved controlling the high-flying Ricochet.
This mode is sure to satisfy the card-collector in you or help you expand your wrestler arsenal.
Final Score: 4 out of 5 Stars
At the end of the day, WWE 2K23 is a blast. Sure, it has some shortcoming and weird graphical limitations, but all that matters is how you enjoy the game.
This game is clearly geared toward wrestling fans, but I think there’s enough here that may intrigue fans of the fighting genre. There’s so much to do that it will likely keep you busy for hours.
As an introduction to wrestling games, I had so much fun. I love that despite playing over 50 hours in a month and a half, I don’t feel like I’ve scratched the surface of all this game has to offer.
From what I understand, this game improved on WWE 2K22 in many small ways and continues to send the franchise in the right direction.
And that’s the bottom line because I said so.
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