Last year’s WWE 2K22, acting as a soft reboot of sorts for WWE and 2K Games’ annual wrestling franchise was well received by fans – to the point of saving the franchise from going to another developer. It wasn’t a perfect game, but 2K22 managed to succeed where other past entries might’ve failed.
Building upon what made 2K22 a success, 2K and developer Visual Concepts have worked to make WWE 2K23 “even stronger” (as the game’s slogan suggests) for this year. And I’m happy to report, they’ve largely succeeded in that regard.
Fun and WarGames
A veritable roster of 170+ wrestlers make up WWE 2K23’s base roster. These include the recently-returned Cody Rhodes, Sami Zayn, Seth Rollins, Becky Lynch, Bianca Belair, to name a few. Unlockable legends also help deliver variety in giving fans a choice in which of their favorite wrestlers they want to grapple as. In addition, post-launch DLC will add to the already enormous roster, from rising stars like Tony D’Angelo and Nathan Frazer to veterans such as Bray Wyatt and Wade Barrett.
On the visual side of things, WWE 2K23 looks gorgeous and is the best the series has been visually. Individual wrestlers have never looked better than they do in this game. Graphical enhancements across the board help make things feel even more closer to the larger-than-life presentation of real-world WWE than ever before. The entrance for Roman Reigns and The Bloodline, in particular, is a highlight just for how visually stunning it looks.
The actual in-ring action continues the revamped engine that WWE 2K22 introduced last year, refining it to a point where the action feels as smooth as ever.
Grapple moves and chaining together combos still feel satisfying and easy to pick up on. A new kickout mechanic for pins, where players flick up on the right stick in time with a meter that shrinks with additional damage, adds drama to matches. The controls feel responsive and there aren’t any major issues when playing in these contests.
If it all still feels new to you, the game opens up for the first time with a easy to follow tutorial hosted by Austin Creed (aka Xavier Woods). This tutorial is quite entertaining, if only for Creed’s banter as he’s helping you through the basics of WWE 2K23, and the payoff for completion is quite worth it.
The standard rotation of matches makes their return in WWE 2K23, and a robust match editor prior to starting up the match helps give players even more of a choice in how they want these battles to unfold. Additional options such as sliders to determine the strength of moves or how an AI-controlled wrestler will compete further create added flexibility in simulating matches that are true to the real thing.
WarGames, the popular two-ring, two-cage match type, makes its video game debut in WWE 2K23. In this match, two teams of four (or three) wrestlers step inside the eponymous structure, with two opponents starting off and members of each team entering at timed intervals. Once both teams have entered in full, the match can be finished by pinfall, submission or forced escape.
The WWE 2K23 version of WarGames is as every bit chaotic as its real-life counterpart. The action rarely slows down and the ability to bring in weapons like tables or chairs to dish out the pain just makes things more violent. It makes for an enjoyable experience, especially with friends to play with.
The action rarely slows down (in WarGames) and the ability to bring in weapons like tables or chairs to dish out the pain just makes things more violent.
Speaking of playing with friends, MyGM makes its return with additional improvements, including being able to compete with three others in a game of seeing who can book a superior show. Despite that, MyGM remains an offline experiences, so those hoping to act out a battle of the brands online are out of luck this year.
The ability to play out multiple seasons in a battle of bragging rights in MyGM adds to the replay value, as does new challenges to see who’s tops.
Universe Mode returns once more, again offering a choice between controlling a single wrestler or curating an entire roster of wrestler to your heart’s content.
New this year is an update to the mode’s Rivalry system, which allows players to choose how a feud might play out. If you want to, say, have a feud with Roman Reigns vs. Sami Zayn have a segment where the latter fends off a post-match beat down, it’s quite possible.
This level of control does add a new dimension to how you’ll play your Universe Mode, but limiting it to only one-on-one and tag team feuds does bring things down a bit. Not being able to use certain arenas for your custom shows in Universe is also a downer.
Lastly, MyFaction is back for another go-around. This mode has you collecting cards of wrestlers to create your own super stable and taking them through various challenges both offline and online to receive rewards. It is what it is, but locking special variations of wrestlers, such as this amazing action figure-styled John Cena behind MyFaction will probably be a sore spot for many.
A Cenation Celebration
WWE 2K23’s Showcase mode naturally centers on cover star John Cena, but with a unique twist. While past Showcases have you playing through its focus wrestlers’ greatest hits, 2K23 opts to have players control Cena’s opponents in matches that the 15-time world champion has lost. Throughout Showcase, you’ll get to play as notable Cena foes such as Rob Van Dam, Edge, Brock Lesnar, Undertaker, Kurt Angle, Roman Reigns, among others.
Archival footage from each match is sprinkled in during the action, but the mode still feels like busywork, as you’re tasked with completing specific objectives in the match. These objectives do grant you rewards like different Cena variations, retro wrestlers, and historical arenas, but the mode can be tedious at times due to having to complete individual tasks just to earn the aforementioned rewards.
In between matches, Cena himself offers up his thoughts of the matches that you’re about to play up. These bits from Cena are great and I wish he’d actually provide a sort of running commentary during the actual matches. As-is, the matches in Showcase are simply backed by generic background music, so having Cena comment on his own matches would’ve been perfect.
Locking In Your Legacy
WWE 2K22 introduced MyRise, a revamped version of the series’ MyCareer mode, which changed things up from the usual linear storyline of these past iterations. MyRise returns this year by combining the flexibility of last year’s mode and adding in a clear storyline for would-be WWE wrestlers.
The Lock is the men’s MyRise path for this year, centered on an indie standout given a bizarre WWE gimmick. He’s given a choice to embrace the repackaging or forge his own path as a WWE wrestler.
Women’s wrestlers will go through The Legacy, putting their created wrestler in the boots of a second-generation superstar looking to step out of the shadows of their famous aunt.
Unlike last year’s MyRise, there’s a set ending for both paths, while also giving you sets of optional matches that reward you with bonus attribute points to spend on your created wrestler or unlockables like arenas, creation parts, or even locked wrestlers.
Both stories offer up their own unique perspectives, and it’s hard not to like the very tongue-in-cheek premise that The Lock brings to the table. Your character being saddled with an unfitting gimmick almost seems like a nod to many instances of other independent wrestlers being given strange new gimmicks upon arriving in WWE.
About the only downside to MyRise are the instances where the game forces you into a situation where your wrestler has to win the match or other times where a scripted cutscene shows them losing. I get that it’s to keep the story moving, but it does limit the freedom players might want out of MyRise.
Other than that, MyRise is worth playing through for the multiple story branches, unlockables, and the fun in seeing your created wrestler be part of two interesting storylines.
Creating Your Universe
The Creation Suite, a popular destination for gamers who want to create all manners of characters, arenas, and championship belts, has received a significant boost for WWE 2K23.
Create-a-Superstar, in particular, has benefitted the most from this upgrade. Faster load times compared to last year’s game help expedite the process in creating your own wrestler. Not only that, the biggest upgrade comes from how created wrestlers look in WWE 2K23.
No longer do created wrestlers look out of place when compared to real wrestlers. The graphical enhancements that make WWE 2K23 look visually amazing aren’t just limited to real wrestlers. Even created wrestlers benefit from these enhancements.
As I’m wont to do, I created Bluebird, a superhero character I’ve been making in these games since WWE 2K16. As the image above shows, the contrast in quality is quite stark. The added fidelity to created wrestlers in WWE 2K23 really helps make Bluebird look like she fits with the rest of the in-game roster.
If your creation chops aren’t up to par, the Community Creations hub offers cross-platform downloads for wrestlers, belts, and arenas for you to grab to your heart’s desire. So, if you wanted to download a version of AEW’s Kenny Omega, like this one from creator Defract, you most certainly can.
Fully customizable entrances make their return to the WWE 2K franchise after a one-year hiatus. It’s quite fun to give certain wrestlers a mish-mash of entrance motions and more pyro than humanly possible.
Create-an-Arena, however, feels quite limited in comparison. The addition of new stage props are fine, but it feels untouched and probably something that can be improved upon for the inevitable WWE 2K24.
While there’s still work that needs to be done in some categories – Create-an-Arena still feels sparse and Universe Mode could use more attention – it’s quite clear that WWE 2K23 is a definite step up in quality for the franchise. WarGames is an amazing addition and creating wrestlers has never been more fun. WWE 2K23 more than lives up to its motto of “Even Stronger” by providing an entertaining wrestling experience that proves to be the best yet in the WWE 2K franchise. (9/10)
Marc Quill is the editor of RingCrashers, GateCrashers’ home for all your All Elite Wrestling and indie wrestling needs. He’s also the web novelist behind Skye Emery: Bluebird, which you can read here. You can chat with him about wrestling, comics, and stuff in general on @MarcQuill on Twitter.