Developer: Visual Concepts
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 (Reviewed), Microsoft Windows, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
Release Date: March 14, 2023 – Available Now
Price: $69.99 USD – Available Here – $119.95 AUD – Available Here
It’s been over a year since Visual Concepts got the WWE titles back on track with WWE 2K22. While not perfect, the entry was a turning point, delivering something fans could enjoy after a long period of dark times for a franchise that had certainly had its better days in the past. WWE 2K23 is “Even Stronger” this time around, with promises to deliver even more refinement. Can John Cena and a fresh roster bring out the best in this installment? Let’s find out.
The Story found in WWE 2K23 is about what you would expect, and mainly found within the two main modes, Showcase and MyRise. Showcase mode this year highlights the career of John Cena. This time however, players get the change things up a bit as it is focused on the WWE Legend’s losses over his career, where you will get to play as some of his famous opponents and defeat Cena, recreating standout moments that lead to his own defeat in these said matches. I love that we finally get to see a pivot in this mode to change it up and while I am still not a huge fan of the pre-choreopgraphed mannerisms, it was a refreshing change that did keep things more interesting this year.
MyRise also has some improvements, with the narrative being the most noticeable. Players take control of their own “up and comer” labeled “The Lock” – where they will rise up the ranks while trying to avoid their contract from changing who they are as a WWE Superstar. Basically, WWE has your career set out how they see fit this time around, and your choices to go against that will effect your road to be a top WWE Superstar. Its a better plot with more focus on the story this time, as minor details such as backstage segments and interaction all do a better job at keeping you on track with the plot without straying into “filler” territory like past entries.
The gameplay at first glance remains unchanged outside of a few nuances during matches. For those who enjoyed playiing last year’s competent release, this will be a breath of fresh air as there are less glitches and frustration to be found, as refining the old seems to be the mindset visual concepts went in with for WWE 2K23. Change is mostly found with the newly improved stamina system. Much like older entries, this mechanic puts more emphasis on stamina, where over-exertion can lead to slowdown as a character becomes winded and slow. Players must now try to balance their attacks and combos wisely, bringing some fresh strategy to the already solid performance the game brings with it.
The Payback system also got a slight change as well, allowing players to sacrifice their built “Special” meter in order to gain more opportunity to utilize match-defining abilities. Sure, it isn’t a huge change, but one that adds to re-balancing this product in the right direction. There are other changes such as match types with 8-man tags now online and the heavily anticipated “War Games” match that can be quite chaotic, but mostly, this is last year’s product packaged in a new skin. I think Visual Concepts seemed super focused on keeping things consistent and “safe” this year, and for the most part that works. This is still a far better game than the heavily criticized 2K20 and a jump above WWE 2K22 due to the balancing fixes. That said, there still are issues that are not quite addressed.
The Creation Suite is bigger and better than ever before, but minor issues such as parts not displaying correctly on saved characters and creation still feeling too heavy for the game to handle is still a problem that needs to be addressed. This mode is one of the most advanced creation suites in the entire games industry and I get there are a lot of moving parts, but fixes need to be implemented instead of having older problems carry over from game to game. The simulation vs arcade battle this franchise has always had is still present as well, as things as simple as pinning still have issues, even with applied changes this year. It isn’t the mini-games as much as it is the pacing of the mini-games during online interaction that shows the flaws of these mechanics. Players who have slower connections roam online, and the lag and input latency cause a lot of frustration to those who simply are trying to recreate their favorite moments of the squared circle.
Gripes aside, the game feels more polished, clean, and even more fluid if you will. The roster updates are well thought out and the flow of matches are closer to anything we have gotten in years to resemble the actual product. Almost every major issue from last year as been cleaned up such as MyGM mode being more advanced and enjoyable, to advanced created entrances finally coming back. That said, this is still a WWE Game and longtime fans are sure to find the bumps in the road to be annoying, even if there is still a lot to respect with the direction Visual Concepts are going.
In some ways, the graphics have never looked better for a wrestling game than what they do in WWE 2K23. Part of this is due to a better adaptation into the current generation, but a lot is due to refinement of older animations and arenas that make that product feel alive and real. Superstar entrances look fantastic and for the first time, created wrestlers appear to be on par with the default roster within the game, which is a major improvement. As addressed, there are some visual bugs and animation glitches, but most are more minor and take little away from the gameplay, with a lot less crashing and loading times occurring during sequences that utilize wrestlers and arenas from the creation suite.
I still am not a fan of the default soundtrack, but hey – that is just preference and I am sure there is an audience who will eat these licensed tracks up. The music for entrances is fantastic, and commentary is also decent enough this year to make these moments feel more impactful and genuine. The voice acting for MyRise is a bit of a mixed bag, but still on a better track as the talent seems to be much more involved with their parts, making the narrative feel more important overall.
WWE 2K23 isn’t a huge change from the last installment in most ways. What it does do right is improve just enough without taking major steps back. Sure, I miss this franchise taking risks and trying new things, but for the sake of getting yearly releases – what we have here is good enough for any fan to go into and have a good time with a lot less focus on navigating bugs and issues than ever before. That alone makes 2K23 one of the best installments in years, and one title that will hopefully continue to evolve as Visual Concepts moves forward. “Even Stronger” is a great tagline for a title that hits most the right notes without polarizing its own audience, and safe or not – is doing a great job at keeping this franchise on track back to greatness.
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