After last year’s rough release of WWE 2K20 and the struggles the franchise has had over a decade, 2K have decided to take a break from their long-running WWE Games franchise to focus on something different. WWE 2K Battlegrounds is meant to be a pleasant placeholder while the brand works to refine itself. Coming in with a more arcade-styled gameplay and a new, cartoony look, Battlegrounds attempts to bring a breath of fresh air to players. Does it pull it off, or are we left gasping in the results? Let’s find out.
I don’t know if I would call the main campaign mode within WWE 2K Battlegrounds a true “Story” mode, but for those wanting any narrative, this is certainly where you would go. Players start out taking the role of a random nobody who basically works with Stone Cold to get a footing in the business. With some quirky Stone Cold hijinks in tow, the player then goes on a course to achieve specific goals in one set area. Once that area is complete, the player takes the role of a new random talent, where the pattern repeats with a new story. All of these stories go into one big path, and on paper, this format works.
The major issue I have with this is the execution. The story is told in a comic where you can view everything frame by frame. There is no voice acting, no sound effects or other fare, just the standard menu music which honestly hinders reading the comics overall. When you eventually see the rest of the game, like the Superstars in toy boxes in the DLC channel, you begin to see what a missed opportunity this whole mode is. Imagine if we were all playing with figures, and had one non-wrestling figure who wanted to be part of the action, and capitalizing on that dream was the focus of a narrative? Instead everything is kind of pushed together and not really very entertaining overall. Sure, the comics are drawn nicely, but without much personality this mode is basically just over 100 matches for the purpose of progress.
As far as gameplay goes, well, it’s complicated. The first big positive is that Battlegrounds is playable and is usually fluid and fast when it comes to input reaction. This is a button masher, which means all Superstars share usage of most punches, kicks, and whatnot in REPLACEMENT of their normal move sets aside from special maneuvers. Moves are separated by classes such as high flyers, brawlers, and so on, which kind of offer a bit of a change of pace between talents on the roster. The issue with this is that these are wrestlers, and their identity’s are their moves, so while having a unique special is nice, seeing someone like Mandy pull of the same moves as a heavyweight male may rub hardcore fans the wrong way (keep in mind, there are still no male vs female options).
Because of the similar move sets and structure of season, this means that matches can tend to feel the same. Sure, there are match types that change up the pace such as an odd variation of a cage match and other favorites, but kicking and punching seems to be where the combat draws its strengths as there are only a few other grapples assigned to a Superstar. In a sport where we want to be a Superstar, those limitations seem to be Battlegrounds’ biggest detractor.
Another issue that seems to pop up often is the game’s stuttering and bugs. I had many instances where people would disappear during in animation or where one move would bring the entire game to a stuttering crawl, which can be very frustrating. Mind you, these mainly happened on the map with the crocodiles, but there were definitely moments that hindered progression that required a restart. In a lot of ways, the mechanics are built like a mobile game. If you want to unlock a Superstar, and their alternate attires, be prepared to spend over 10k of the virtual currency found within. To unlock everything, it would easily take 250k of this same currency, which would be at least 5 full sessions of the campaign, which is over 120 matches in each one. You can do that, or pay real money for quick unlocks, and that is the mobile greed that basically rears its head way too often.
Creating wrestlers, unlocking talent, everything is behind a pay wall and sure, you could get them for free, but Battlegrounds wants you to pay for convenience, and reminds you of what you can’t do far too often. It’s a shame as I really think this title could shine brightly if it was given the chance to do so.
Visuals & Audio
The visuals and quirky graphics are fine. I mean, some Superstars do not look like themselves but for what it is, I generally think Battlegrounds looks as it should. The audience however kind of come off like a group of Xbox avatars, which kind of throws everything off just a tad. The environments within also look decent, with fully animated and interactive crowds, adding a bit more reason to leave the ring. I personally do like some of the over-the-top animations within the game, and despite so many wrestlers having a jumping RKO as a normal move, I truly think a lot of people will get a chuckle from the absurdity. Seeing small talent burst out of crates is fun, and seeing larger talent get their own crates like Taker’s coffin and Reign’s tube gives incentive to try everyone.
The audio in the game is also fine. While the commentary leaves a lot to be desired with Mauro and King, the bells and whistles are here and add a tad bit of personality to the talent themselves. Entrances have been shaved down and do not feature correct length or animation, so good luck to those wanting a full Fiend entrance, but mostly what is here does its job well enough considering this is just meant to be a fun little spin-off, and not a major release.
WWE Battlegrounds is not a bad game at its core. The combat is over-the-top, campy, and fun, and it achieves its ability to be satisfying by at least capturing the feel for the roster within overall. The greatest issue here is that the entire product is built like a mobile game, where gates are over every single feature and unlock, and to be honest, the game as a whole is simply not strong enough to warrant this type of structure. When fans say they are wanting an arcade styled combat sim like the old days, they mean being able to still feel like their favorite Superstar while doing the things a human body could not endure (see Here Comes the Pain). Battlegrounds misses that mark as it takes out too much of where it matters to deliver that experience, in lieu on an odd monetization layout and a good amount of missed opportunities that feel thrown together, rather than fully fleshed out. Sure, there are fans who will have fun here, but don’t go in expecting for a full product without seeing a few hands out, waiting for coins at the start.