After the viral travesty that was WWE 2K20, 2K has taken a bit of a break on their marquee WWE series. While the next release is being figured out, we’ve been treated to the far more outlandish and arcade-like WWE 2K Battlegrounds, but does it do enough to fill the wrestling void?
What Is It?
Developed by Saber Interactive, WWE 2K Battlegrounds is a far cry from the hardcore experience players became accustomed to with WWE 2K. Instead, Battlegrounds is a budget title meant to be an experience just about any gamer can pick up and play regardless of their knowledge of wrestling or wrestling games.
Don’t expect the high production or spectacle that’s become commonplace in WWE events, though. Battlegrounds is more grassroots, featuring a lot of in-your-face, cartoony action, so while most of the WWE roster is here with their catchy theme music and hard-hitting finishers, it’s a party brawler first and foremost. You won’t see spectacular entrances, unless you find wrestlers kicking their way out of a crate spectacular. You can, however, feed WWE Superstars at swamp alligators.
Speaking of grassroots and cartoony action, the game does try to make sense of things through its Campaign mode which is told through a virtual comic strip like you see above. The story starts over dinner when Paul Heyman pitches an idea to Vince McMahon about a new brand, or more specifically, a new era with Battlegrounds. After somehow obtaining his approval, Heyman then meets up with Stone Cold Steve Austin to help him recruit new superstars from around the world to be a part of this new era, and that’s where we meet Bolo Reynolds, a solid all-around wrestler from New York. After conveniently winning matches against the likes of actual WWE Superstars like Baron Corbin (before he became King Corbin), Apollo Crews, Kevin Owens, and Samoa Joe to name a few, Bolo eventually fights his way to the WWE Performance Center and the Battlegrounds Era really begins. Heyman and Austin eventually go to other places like Florida, Mexico, and even a military bootcamp to find more outstanding men and women defending their home turf, pinning all sorts of WWE talent along the way to become WWE Superstars on their own. That’s pretty much the core loop–go to various locales around the world and recruit characters while they get interrupted by actual WWE talent. It’s about as straightforward as it is insane.
Why Should I Care?
The best part about Battlegrounds is that it’s nothing like WWE 2K. As long as you understand professional wrestling (beat the hell out of your opponent until you can pin him or her for the count of the three), you could easily understand how to play Battlegrounds, and that’s due to its simple control scheme. You have a punch button and you have a kick button–both of which can be strung together for various combos, and you also have buttons to perform a grapple move like a suplex, as well as an Irish whip button to throw opponents to the ropes. The front right shoulder button blocks, while the back right shoulder button makes the Superstar you’re controlling run. Build your Heat Meter and you’ll eventually be able to use your Signature and Finishing moves on your way to a 1-2-3, and that’s all there is to it.
The action is comically visceral, and the special moves are particularly hard-hitting because you’ll see wrestlers throw each other 20 feet in the air before dropping them to their doom. Think WWE All-Stars on the Wii and mobile’s WWE Immortals, and you pretty much have the happy-go-lucky WWE 2K Battlegrounds‘ look and feel. Each regional Battleground also has their own insane gimmicks that’ll make Seth Rollins taking out Rey Mysterio’s eye seem like child’s play after you see the crazy stunts that are performed here.
The Campaign Mode does a fantastic job guiding you through the beginning so you can get the hang of everything while unlocking power-ups to use in matches as well more WWE Superstars to add to your small roster. There are over 70 WWE Superstars, past and present, in the game and unfortunately you only have access to a handful of them. This was particularly disappointing because a handful of my favorite Superstars weren’t available to use in Exhibition Mode from the get-go and it turned me off when I saw that they all could be unlocked by spending in-game currency.
Luckily, as stated, a lot of them can be obtained through the Campaign and to make things easier. Virtually every match you play in every mode can net you some currency. There’s a catch though–you have to be online. If you’re not online or aren’t connected to the Battlegrounds servers, you don’t get any rewards or experience to level up, and that’s rough, so that’s something people should be aware of, especially since WWE is aimed at kids these days. Of course, if you want the entire roster without “wasting time,” you can buy Golden Bucks using actual money.
As much as I’d rather stray from the microtransaction talk, there’s more. As far as single player modes go, there’s the Battleground Challenge, which requires you to create your own Superstar and customize him or her with the various options the game gives you, and a lot of them have to be bought with in-game currency and yes, the customizations you have to buy are the best and most creative ones. To make matters worse, this mode is laid out the exact same way as the Campaign is. You follow a path and compete in various matches against WWE Superstars, except it’s worse because there’s no story at all.
The bulk of the enjoyment you’ll have in Battlegrounds is with its multiplayer modes both on and offline. Exhibition has a slew of match types including Tag Team, Tornado Tag Team, Gauntlet, Triple Threat, Fatal Four Way, the staple Royal Rumble, and Steel Cage matches with an electrified cage.
In addition to Exhibition Mode and its many match types, there’s also King of the Battleground, an online last man standing gauntlet match where up to four players compete in a free-for-all where the object of the game is to stay in the arena and throw everybody out, as other online players are matchmade and thrown into the match.
While the variety is good, it’s tough to really envision enjoying the game for hours on end because while the gameplay is easy to pick up, it eventually becomes too simplistic to make it fun against other people. Since the primary moves in the game include punching, kicking, grabbing, and blocking — players that know what they’re doing will immediately just try to counter everything you do, and there’s no fun in that. This is the kind of game that encourages button mashing, but if you can block and counter every strike, why would you do that? The power-ups you have equipped don’t make much of a difference either. In fact, it’s easy to forget you even have them.
On top of that, since the controls are so simplistic, each Superstar almost plays the same. Every Superstar in the game encompasses a different class style, whether it’s Technician, High-Flyer, Powerhouse, Brawler, or All-Rounder, but once you get a feel for them, they just don’t feel different, and it dulls an otherwise enjoyable experience.
You can liven things up by creating your own arenas in the Battleground Creator, which is pretty nifty. But again, a lot of the best customizations you can make use of are locked behind a paywall. Grinding to get every Superstar in the game can be motivating, but having to burn bucks on character and ringside customizations is just hard to not criticize.
Speaking of things not hard to criticize, pairing up Mauro Ranallo and Jerry “The King” Lawler for recorded commentary was a bad idea. They don’t vibe at all, and it honestly wouldn’t surprise me if they just recorded their lines separately. Ranallo and Lawler are two of the greatest play-by-play and analysts in sports entertainment history, but the lines they had here as well as the slow delivery were just plain bad. It really should’ve just been Ranallo by himself or nobody at all.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
Despite obvious issues with microtransactions with what’s supposed to be a budget game that starts at $39 for the Standard Edition, WWE 2K Battlegrounds is pretty fun if you can stand plowing your way through the Campaign Mode for a few hours to unlock all the power-ups and a nice chunk of the roster. After that, you have an enjoyable arcade wrestling game that can be enjoyed with friends… at least until they get good, and that’s where the game’s problems really come in.
Much like professional wrestling on TV, if you take it too seriously, you’ll end up disappointed.