WWE 2K19 is not without its issues, but it’s still the series’ strongest entry in years.
The WWE 2K franchise has been languishing in mediocrity for several years running. At its best, it’s been a decent game that is hampered by serious issues, while at its worst, it’s been downright unplayable. It’s been a rocky road for the series up until this point, but this year, it feels like developers Yuke’s have made the most noticeable improvement since their first effort back in 2013, with key improvements to areas that have been in desperate need of them, and the addition of several things that add plenty of value to the entire package.
The biggest addition in WWE 2K19 has to be the Showcase Mode, a mode dedicated entirely to the dramatic and fascinating wrestling career of Daniel Bryan. With as many ups and downs and dramatic twists and turns as Bryan’s career has had, it lends itself perfectly not only to the WWE format itself, but also to the concept of being retold as a story, which is exactly what Showcase does this year. It tells its story documentary style videos narrated by Bryan himself, which are interspersed with key matches in his career that you play out yourself in an objectives-based manner.
These matches are recreated with painstaking detail, recreating some of the biggest moments in Bryan’s career with great authenticity. Showcase Mode achieves a solid balance of informative and engaging documentary-style storytelling and typically fun wrestling matches, and easily has to be the highlight in this year’s game.
"It’s been a rocky road for the series up until this point, but this year, it feels like developers Yuke’s have made the most noticeable improvement since their first effort back in 2013, with key improvements to areas that have been in desperate need of them, and the addition of several things that add plenty of value to the entire package."
WWE 2K19 also has one of the most robust and versatile creation suites the series has ever had. You can create your own arenas and, of course, your own players, and the tools at your disposal to do so are seriously impressive. And once you’ve done that, you take your player to the career mode, which is another area in WWE 2K19 that is notably improved over its predecessor. The career mode boasts of actual production values here. The career mode tells a story that isn’t groundbreaking by any means, but is surprisingly well written and well acted (for the most part, anyway). Characters feel like actual characters, and your player’s journey of starting out as an indie wrestler and gradually rising through the ranks feels genuinely interesting. It also helps that it keeps moving along at a quick pace, and doesn’t ever really rely on repetition in objectives too much, so there’s always a reason to want to keep playing.
Characters are also voiced now, which definitely helps its case as well. The action is broken up a bit too often by loading screens, which are far more regular than they should be, but thankfully, loading times themselves aren’t too long, so while this is a bit of an annoyance, it’s not a major one.
Career mode, however, is let down by the game’s unfriendly loot packs. The progression of your player goes at a snail’s pace in WWE 2K19, and things such as cosmetic options, movesets, finishers, and more are locked behind loot boxes. These are purchased using the in-game virtual currency, but the prices for individual things or for entire loot packs turn out to be unreasonably high. The game does provide several avenues for gaining this virtual currency, even outside of the career mode, but it still turns out to be unbalanced, and your player’s progression, as a result, is seriously hamstrung, which often has a negative impact on enjoyment during several matches in career mode as well.
Outside of career mode and Showcase, WWE 2K19 still has a great deal of content, the most noteworthy of which is MyTowers mode. Towers are a series of gauntlet matches, with each Tower centring around specific themes and providing themed challenges for players to tackle. They encourage the kind of bombastic, arcade-y entertainment that most WWE fans crave in their games, and the fact that these are updated daily and weekly means that for all practical purposes, they provide endless content. The hamstrung growth of your own player does mean that you might be better served tackling Towers with other wrestlers in WWE 2K19’s typically massive roster.
"The career mode tells a story that isn’t groundbreaking by any means, but is surprisingly well written and well acted (for the most part, anyway). Characters feel like actual characters, and your player’s journey of starting out as an indie wrestler and gradually rising through the ranks feels genuinely interesting."
The core fighting mechanics in WWE 2K19 still work as well as they have for the last few years now. Building upon a solid (if somewhat ageing) foundation, WWE 2K19 adds mechanics such as Paybacks to add extra layers to the process, and it’s better for it. Presentation also seems to be improved this year, and it fully embraces the over-the-top and dazzling nature of the actual WWE (barring the commentary, which has seen essentially no improvements at all).
The visuals are a significant improvement over 2K19’s predecessors as well, with realistic character and facial models and great looking arenas. WWE 2K games have suffered from some pretty bad visuals in the past, often looking like they belong on previous generation consoles, and though WWE 2K19 is by no means a visual beast, it’s still a marked improvement, and at least doesn’t look completely out of place on current gen systems anymore. There are, however, still some technical issues, like terrible lip syncing (especially during cutscenes in the career mode), and some wonky animations.
WWE 2K19, then, is perhaps the most impressive game in the series since it was acquired by 2K. It significantly improves upon some of the areas in the series that were in most desperate need of improvement, while it’s also got a lot of meaningful and enjoyable content to keep you busy for as long as you want. Showcase Mode is a great addition, while the career mode is a radical upgrade over past iterations as well.
There are still issues that need sorting out, especially on the technical side, while the core fighting mechanics could do with a bit of freshness in coming years, not to mention the fact that the loot packs model also hurts the game in areas where it simply doesn’t belong. With all of that in mind, after years of stumbling around, 2K Sports at least have a very solid base to work with now, and for the first time in many years, I’m optimistic about future WWE 2K iterations.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox One.
Career mode is significantly improved; Showcase Mode is a great addition; MyTowers provides endless enjoyable content; Robust creation tools; Improved visuals.
Progression is hamstrung by loot packs; Some weird animations and lip syncing issues.
Thanks to key improvements and additions, WWE 2K19 is perhaps the most impressive game in the series in years. There are still issues that need sorting out, mostly on the technical side, while somewhat ageing mechanics and the loot box model also need to be given a bit more thought, but after years of stumbling around, 2K Sports at least have a very solid base to work with now.