Since Vince McMahon stepped down and HHH took over the reigns of WWE, the biggest professional wrestling company in the world has become enjoyable to watch once again by rehiring Superstars that never should have been let go, allowing in-ring action to flourish like it once did, and generally feel like it did before all the name changes, weird storylines, and baffling creative decisions that ended up making it unwatchable at times. Just like the real thing, Visual Concepts has put out the most complete WWE game we’ve seen in years, making WWE 2K23 a hit in pretty much every way.
Last year’s entry felt like somewhat of a reset, even though it contained modes players have become familiar with. The difference being its gameplay felt well-rounded and tighter than it ever did. In and out the squared circle, WWE 2K23 is a dream to play. The ebbs and flows of matches are smooth and balanced, with stamina management a constant thought in your approach to victory. Pull out the big moves too quickly and you’ll struggle down the line. Wearing down your opponent with light combos and moves will pay off in the start, then filtering in some of the heavier attacks make matches highly rewarding.
The Payback system is fantastic, allowing you to initiate quick recoveries, instant kick outs, and the ability to steal opponent’s moves, but some can only be used once, so knowing when to use them adds a risk to each match. Dodging and blocking can be vital mechanics in your arsenal, as can reversals, and despite windows for opportunity being small, the satisfaction of blocking an opponent’s signature or finisher is massive. Every single match I had was a blast. There wasn’t a single glitch, and even when you have eight Superstars in the ring at once, I always felt in control and fluid targeting made each big encounter thrilling.
One of the most successful and exciting match types in recent years is without a doubt WarGames, and WWE 2K23 let you take part in these epic battles. For those not in the know, two rings are set up next to each other, surrounded by a huge cage-like structure. Two Superstars start off, with alternating members of both teams (comprised of three or four Superstars) joining the action every five minutes. It’s often chaotic, yet Visual Concepts has made it work incredibly well. My favourite moment came when I hit Roman Reigns with the Cross Rhodes (as the American Nightmare, naturally), then climbed the structure and dived off the highest point to land a high impact move.
WWE 2K23 looks phenomenal. Some models of less popular Superstars don’t quite have the same polish as the likes of Becky Lynch, Seth Rollins, or Brock Lesnar, but generally, everyone looks amazing. The arenas and lighting is excellent, and the animations of the moves in the ring and during entrances is a spectacle to behold. Some of the mouth movements during story sections in MyRise isn’t great, but the general presentation both in and out of gameplay is fantastic. The menus are clear and concise, and the soundtrack, curated by John Cena, is amazing, especially as he picked some quality tracks by the likes of Post Malone and Idles.
Speaking of Cena, 2K Showcase is great this year. Choosing to celebrate twenty years of arguably the most iconic Superstar of all time was a great move, and with the twist of playing as some of the opponents he’s lost to in his career was a bold choice. I remember watching his debut on Smackdown and seeing how this young, generic looking guy thought he could go toe-to-toe with Kurt Angle made me role my eyes. Yet, as the match went on, you could see there was something about him. Nobody could have predicted his meteoric rise within WWE, and hearing him talk about his career in his own words brought back some fond memories.
Through each encounter, you get to relive his famous losses by playing as his opponents. By completing certain in-ring objectives unlocks Cena-specific attire, along with a whole host of arenas and other goodies. Matches are threaded together with real footage, and it often works well, even if some of the moments are a little jarring. Generally, it was a joy to see what these matches meant to him, and more importantly, the level of respect he had for his opponents is clearly at the centre of one of the best Showcase modes the series has ever had.
MyRise has become much more focused this year. Choosing two stories to take your created Superstar through offers some wonderful moments, but ‘The Lock’ path was thoroughly enjoyable. The other storyline sees you walking in the shadow of your Hall of famer Aunt, whereas this sees you debut in a huge safe on the ramp, only to interrupt Sami Zayn and win the Intercontinental Championship. Fans of WWE have seen plenty of gimmicks that haven’t paid off over the years, and the mode pokes fun at that. It’s refreshing to see the likes of Shawn Michaels go all meta in the opening hour, and throughout the story, there’re playful digs at what the company is known for.
In terms of the mode itself, you play through chapters on your quest for greatness, taking part in main missions to gain more XP and items, but there are side quests and encounters that flesh out your career as a rising star. The bulk of your decisions play out in the locker room, actin as a kind of hub. Here, you can chat with other Superstars, check your social media feed, level up your abilities, and edit your move set and appearance. Some of the dialogue doesn’t always feel natural, but more often than not I enjoyed how silly it was, and it was filled with some genuinely great moments. There’re surprising amount of loading screens in the game, with a fair few during MyRise, and they did hinder the fluidity of backstage conversations and cutscenes.
MyGM is by far my favourite mode, and it can now be enjoyed with up to three other people. There’re more GMs to choose from, and other new features like Shake Ups which offer passive buffs and bonuses at certain stages that are acquired after PPVs. Building your roster of Superstars and making fans happy became addictive. You have to manage the morale of your roster by accepting their requests, such as giving them title opportunities, allowing them to team up with other Superstars, giving them more money, and more. You’ll also have to put on better shows by listening to fan requests, meeting HHH’s demands, and matching up Superstars based on their fighting style and whether they’re a good or bad guy.
I became very protective of my roster, and even after a season, you can choose to retain certain Superstars before the next draft begins. The better you perform, the more money you get, and this allows you to put on grander shows in better arenas, sign new Superstars from current Superstars and Legends, to fictional stars looking to make a debut on your brand. The new Hall of Fame objectives give you more of a reason to perform better, and with ten objectives to fulfil, you’re never short of knowing what you should be doing in order to be the greatest around.
Other modes like Universe feel unchanged, but there’re some tweaks for those of you who want complete control to every aspect of your career, such as having a tighter hold on rivalries. The wealth of options is staggering, from how matches can play out and who you want on your roster, to changing allegiances and factions. MyRise is back and just as enjoyable, giving you plenty of options to build your deck of Superstars through various modes and more. There’s so much on offer in WWE 2K23 that you’re never short on what to do, and each mode has been carefully designed and structured to give both freedom and creative control to tune to exactly how you want to play, regardless of skill level or familiarity.
WWE 2K23 has refined the series to make it the best it has been in years, and even when (or if) AEW: Fight Forever releases, Visual Concepts will probably still have the best wrestling game on the market. There’re some issues that hold it back in places, but generally, fans of WWE are going to love everything it has an offer. With so many modes all carefully crafted, fantastic gameplay that feels better than last year, and a wealthy roster that offers fans the chance to play as their favourites, there’s little to complain about. There’s not a doubt in my mind that come December, this could be heralded as one of the greatest sports titles of the year.
Plenty of fantastic modes
MyRise is enjoyable
Load times can be frustrating
Some Superstars don't look as good as others