Wrestling games have had an interesting run in the past few years. The WWE games in particular have run into a period of blandness and stagnation, resulting in the WWE series missing a year. Last year’s 2k22 entry was, for the most part, well received, and showed that paring things back and focusing on what’s important is a good way to get a franchise back on track. This year, though, the foundation has been laid, and now we get to see what the team at Visual Concepts can do with that foundation.
Everything from last year has been expanded on and refined, while still retaining the core gameplay system that was praised for being both simple to get into and deep enough to be played at a higher level. There are very few groundbreaking features in this version, but the ones that are here stand out because of it.
You Can’t See Me!
WWE 2K23 has a number of different modes on offer. Last year’s 2k Showcase returns, except for this year it features John Cena taking you through key matches of his career. It also changes things up by having you play as Cena’s opponents in order to complete the match objective. In other words, there is an entire mode dedicated to beating up John Cena. To a subset of the fanbase, this will be cathartic. To everyone else, it’s a good challenge, because Cena is not an easy opponent. It’s a fun mode to go through, especially hearing the anecdotes that Cena provides before the match. Modes like this, giving context to the matches we’ve watched in the past and spotlighting a great career, are most definitely welcome. There are many, many opportunities to do this with other Superstars, too.
Rise Up The Card
MyRISE is the main story mode of the game. There are two different storylines to pick from at the start. The Lock has you taking on the role of “the next big thing” and trying to deal with the expectations that being put into the role of the future of the company put upon you. The Legacy has you starting out as the relative of a WWE Hall of Famer. You can try to forge your own path, or leverage your family ties to get ahead. Both of these stories have branching paths that change key events. The game gives you 10 save slots so you can try playing through and making different choices. I’m being deliberately vague on the story details, though, because if you’re a fan of the backstage drama, you’ll want to just experience all of this for yourself. It’s sufficient to say that these modes are fairly meaty, and involve both in-ring and backstage interactions. This year, you can play MyRISE with a created character, which is a much-requested feature.
I Respect You, Booker Man!
MyGM is easily the mode I’ve spent the most time in. The managerial side has always been fascinating to me, and while last year’s edition reportedly was a good first start, this year has been expanded on in substantial ways. You can choose to play as a selection of WWE stars, or you can create a custom GM to play as. Your goal is to make money, get ratings, and earn fans. Book shows, sign free agents and Legends, choose your venues and logistic budget, and try to put on the best shows you can, and then see how you did afterward. You’ll even get a shockingly accurate representation of Wrestling Twitter, although this simulated social network doesn’t use profanity or hateful slurs, which makes it a little less realistic.
The biggest issue with last year’s version of MyGM was it only ran one season. That’s been addressed this year, and you can continue past the end of the first season. The biggest issue I have with MyGM is the fact that good matches are heavily weighted to a specific set of class pairings. Making matches that stray from these pre-set pairings will result in bad matches. This is unfortunate and I really hope that for next year, more factors are taken into consideration on whether a match ends up being good. The other huge issue I have is that there is no control over the match outcome or storylines. There is a Power Card that allows you to Fix a match outcome, but this shouldn’t be a powerup, it should be part of the booking itself. The mode feels like it leans a bit too heavily into Kayfabe, and the people that really want to play this sort of mode know exactly what’s going on. MyGM should lean into that. This is only the second appearance of the mode, so there is room to improve and expand.
Run The Ropes
Playing matches in WWE 2K23 is, in short, a lot of fun. The control scheme is easy enough to get to grips with, and the game provides a nice tutorial to help get you up and running quickly. Once you do, matches feel great.
There is a distinct feeling of impact to moves, and the way the game treats wrestlers of different weights is a nice touch. For instance, a smaller wrestler like Johnny Gargano is going to have a hard time getting a giant like Omos over with a suplex. By the same token, a bigger wrestler is going to be able to throw smaller opponents around more easily. This was somewhat problematic last year, but this year seems to work much better.
One of the most fun additions to WWE 2K23 is the WarGames match. This spectacle, encompassing two wings and a massive cage, is far more fun to play than I was expecting. Multi-person matches have typically been a bit of a mess in past wrestling games, but here, with the game’s auto-targeting that actually works, and the ability to easily switch targets on the fly, it makes things much more enjoyable. It’s possible to do some pretty crazy cage spots, and if you have some friends with you on the couch, it’ll make for some good times.
One. Two. Three!
To say that I was impressed with WWE 2K23 would be a bit of an understatement. As someone coming back to the genre from a long absence, I am genuinely thrilled at what I’ve played. The presentation, including wrestler entrances, is impressive. The game has a number of modes, some of which could be their own game. But, most importantly, when you get down to it, WWE 2K23 is just brilliant fun to play. I’ve been away from wrestling games for years, and if you’re in that same boat, this year is a great time to get back in.