Having spent 2022 getting over the dark shadow left by WWE 2K20, video game publisher 2K Games is settling into the yearly cadence for its WWE games once again.
This year’s WWE 2K23 has everything that worked for its predecessor, WWE 2K22, and sweetens the deal in some respects. Yet, there are rough edges that need to be worked out before these can truly become the perfect rendition of the billion-dollar industry that is sports entertainment.
WWE 2K23 has the usual suspects — a showcase mode, the MyRise mode, a single player mode, MyFaction and MyGM. But while last year’s games focused on ironing out all the bugs and kinks from 2K20, this year, the developers have been able to focus on refining the overall experience.
For instance, MyGM mode now offers longer playtimes, more general managers to pick, and can be played against more friends. Showcase mode — the marquee aspect of these games — now focuses on athletes like John Cena, but instead of playing as him and reliving his victories, players control his opponents and relive his great losses. That’s a neat spin on the mode, but as I said in my review of WWE 2K22 last year, this new concept of having the superstar recite his memories as if wrestling is real just doesn’t work.
I keep going back to the original showcase modes of Stone Cold Steve Austin etc, where players could simply watch flashbacks of real footage, and play key moments.
In some ways, ‘even stronger’ is the perfect tagline for this game. It is indeed stronger than WWE 2K22, but it’s not the strongest yet from the series.
For me, the highlight of this year’s game is the MyRise mode. While it still allows players to create custom superstars, it’s not split between two distinct open-ended storylines. ‘The Lock’ and ‘The Legacy’ allow the player to play through as two distinct characters — one who is a big global prospect (think someone like Shinsuke Nakamura) and one who has legacy on her side and the expectations that bring (think someone like Charlotte Flair).
The player gets to decide how these characters look, customize their move-sets, and build their entrance styles. There’s actually a huge amount of customization in entrance styles this time, where you are able to select different pyro sequences, lighting effects and more. For instance, my Legacy character enters in a tank, with WWE legend Booker T’s pyro on the backdrop, The Boogeyman and Finn Balor’s distinct smoke all around them, and ends with Diesel’s traditional sparks up in the ring. All of this against Lita’s music, while wearing a Trish Stratus-like outfit. I have played almost every WWE game to date, and haven’t seen this level of customization so far.
But MyRise’s main hook is the fact that it has a better storyline than what WWE produces even in real life nowadays. The open-ended nature means you can play it multiple times, just to see where your character ends up, and at times it does make you connect to the story in ways that WWE games haven’t done before. Most of my time on the game has been spent on this mode so far.
There’s some work to be done here too though. For instance, while you can choose your custom superstar’s name, the announcer in the ring can only announce a few presets. In this game, however, the announcer calls you by the preset you choose, the commentators call you ‘The Lock’, while the nameplates show the name you have chosen. That breaks the whole experience. I agree that it’s a minor niggle, but it’s there nevertheless.
WWE 2K23 really shows that MyRise is a mode the developers need to focus on much more. While WWE may see the money through things like MyFaction and multiplayer modes, I really think the future of these games is by making more immersive experiences like MyRise and MyGM.
Speaking of MyGM, it now follows a ‘season’ system, which runs longer, and gives the player more opportunity to figure out their management style. The system is still very niche, and needs to allow much more customization (and perhaps a storyline for single player), but it’s a good way to keep things entertaining.
There’s also a big nod to WCW (World Championship Wrestling) this time. You know, that once huge wrestling company that WWE killed and often pretends like it never existed? WWE 2K23 has War Games match type, a famous match type that originated in NWA Wrestling and WCW, and it even features in MyRise mode. Interestingly, the Elimination Chamber, which was essentially WWE’s version of War Games, doesn’t make an appearance in WWE 2K23.
Should you buy it?
Overall, if you see WWE 2K23 at a friend’s place and play a few hours of single player matches, you’ll likely not want to buy this game. In fact, this was my first impression too after the first few days with the game. But the MyRise mode really makes a case for the game, as does MyGM. You won’t lose much if you give this one a skip just yet, but after WWE 2K20’s spectacular failure, WWE 2K23 sets an exciting prospect for the future of these games.
WWE 2K23 is available on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S, Microsoft Windows