It’s no secret that 2K’s yearly WWE release has become a huge mess. WWE 2K20 was riddled with bugs, messy gameplay, and other familiar issues that has plagued the series for years. In a bold move, 2K decided to take a year out to focus on sorting out those problems, and in return offer something a little more arcadey. WWE 2K Battlegrounds is by no means perfect, but it quite enjoyable, acting as a palette cleanser whilst Visual Concepts and 2K reinvigorate their broken franchise.
I can see a lot of people struggling to look past the paywall when it comes to new Superstars. You aren’t given the complete roster from the off; instead, only a handful of them are available. Personally, I have no problem with working to unlock my favourite beefcakes because I’m always too overwhelmed when choosing who I’m going to wrestle with. Plus, it gives me a sense of accomplishment when I’ve worked hard to unlock guys like AJ Styles and Andre the Giant.
Saying that, a lot of the WWE Universe’s younger audience are likely to spend time playing this, and they might be put off by having to grind to get their favourites. If you aren’t familiar with Saber Interactive’s NBA 2K Playgrounds, this concept of playing to unlock will be alien, and with it not being 100% clear that not everyone will be available to play as from launch, many people might feel cheated.
Gameplay takes elements of the WWE 2K series and streamlines it, giving players a simple approach to wrestling. Each wrestler is categorised into five styles: High-Flyer, Powerhouse, Technician, All-Rounder, and Brawler. With each style, the basic moves remain the same regardless of who you choose. For example, despite Aleister Black and AJ Styles having very different move sets in real life, their moves are exactly the same. The only move that differs is their signature and finisher. This is the same across every class, so to the astute WWE fans that want individuality across the roster, you aren’t going to get it.
The focus is on fast and furious fighting, and at the end of the day, it is an arcade fighter. The fun is in playing against others and hitting buttons to get the upper hand. You can press Square and Triangle for punch and kick combos, and using the right stick will make you do a few actual moves. You can hold in the left trigger with a punch or kick to do a powerful strike, and then once you’ve built up your special gauge, pressing the two trigger buttons together will allow you to do your finisher. This gauge fills up relatively fast, but if you don’t want to wait, you can press a directional button on the D-pad to use specific power-ups in the interim.
The more you play, the more of these power-ups you unlock. Regaining health, the ability to take more damage, and landing more powerful strikes are just a small selection of these. Every class has benefits, but regardless of who you choose, it won’t take long to learn the ropes and use them all to your advantage. There are weapons and environmental dangers to use to your advantage. Alligators are at ringside, and you can throw your opponent into their jaws. There’s lava, explosive barrels, and bagpipes that will also be available to use to your advantage. Different weapons like steel chairs and rubber hammers can be used as well. These arenas, or battlegrounds, will be unlocked as you play through the campaign, and can then be used in exhibition fights.
The majority of the modes in WWE 2K Battlegrounds are pretty good. King of the Battleground is the stand out mode for me. You take part in a Royal Rumble-type match online where you join at ringside, and once a Superstar is eliminated in the ring, it’s your time to shine. You are rewarded for how long you stay in the match and how many eliminations you get. The load times are small, and even while you are waiting to join, you can beat the holy hell out of other real players at ringside to kill time before your number is called. There’re also online Tournaments you can join, again you are rewarded for getting further.
Battleground Challenge lets you take your created Superstar through a series of matches to earn in-game currency. These range from 1v1 matches to Steel Cage matches, and the more you play, the better the rewards. When it comes to creating your Superstar, there aren’t tons of options in the beginning, but you can unlock more throughout the game. Although there aren’t a lot of outfits to choose from, you can edit your face in a multitude of ways, giving you plenty of control in how you look.
The Campaign mode is one of my favourite aspects of WWE 2K Battlegrounds. When I knew I wouldn’t be able to play as my created Superstar, I was a little put off. Instead, you play as one of the fictional characters dreamed up by Saber Interactive. This actually works really well, as each match is set up with a comic book strip involving tons of real WWE Superstars. Legendary WWE manager and creative mastermind Paul Heyman pitches an idea to Vince McMahon, and from there you visit different locations around the world. It’s an entertaining story with some great comic book art.
Although you aren’t playing as yourself, encounters with the likes of Jake “The Snake” Roberts act as a nice surprise. Throughout every mode, your overall level grows, and each time you level up, you get more spending money to unlock whatever you wish. To get every Superstar, you’re likely to spend a lot of time playing through the modes, but it acts as a nice incentive to do so. I had a lot of fun playing, whether I was myself, one of the characters in Campaign mode, or a WWE Superstar.
WWE 2K Battlegrounds isn’t supposed to be taken seriously. The controls are basic, but I couldn’t help but enjoy the simplicity of it. Matches don’t last long, but when you are playing online or against a friend, it can be a blast. Some of the moves resulted in glitches where I was power slamming thin air, but after playing WWE 2K20, it was something I could happily see past. Commentary is repetitive, and on occasion the reversal mechanic didn’t always show the button prompts I needed to press.
The in-game currency is going to bother a lot of people, but WWE 2K Battlegrounds is a decent arcade fighter. The King of the Battleground is fantastic, and the Campaign is enjoyable thanks to the comic book cutscenes that never take themselves too seriously. The gameplay is easy to get to grips with, meaning anyone can pick up and play, and match types like the Steel Cage offer a fresh take on a familiar match type. It may not be perfect, but there is plenty of fun to be had.
Campaign is fun
Gameplay is easy to get to grips with
King of the Battleground is a fantastic mode
Not everyone is available from the beginning
Some glitches when wrestling
Reversals don't always work
Commentary is repetitive