Much like any other games based on sports, the WWE has been keeping up its yearly schedule of video game releases—aside from the one year they missed in 2021—and WWE 2K23 is out now. Aside from more recent games, however, WWE games have been quite… painful to play, and even at the best of times, they were thought of as okay. Of course, the worst of the bunch has always been the subject of memes and ridicule. Since last year’s WWE 2K22, however, the WWE games haven’t had to coast by largely because it’s the only pro-wrestling game franchise available these days. Rather, WWE 2K22 sparked what could be a watershed moment in the franchise’s history: it was actually pretty fun.
With WWE 2K23, we get largely the same core gameplay that borrows heavily from the much more celebrated fast-paced gameplay of older pro-wrestling games. You get three main ways to attack: light, heavy, and grapple. Light and heavy attacks can be chained into each other, and the combo can be finished off with either a heavy attack, or a grapple. These moves can also be countered if you can guess what kind of attack your opponent’s using, leading to a reversal and an opening for your own flurry of attacks.
All of your attacks are ultimately building up three distinct gauges: your signature meter, your finisher meter, and your opponent’s positional damage indicator. You can use your signature meter for a number of different things, be it to stage a fiery comeback, get the drop on your opponent with a sneaky roll-up pin, as just a way to get up instantly if you’re tired of being knocked around too much, and, of course, for your signature move. It’s also worth noting that, while successfully landing a signature move fills up a finisher meter for you, you don’t really have to transition from a signature move to a finisher.
Currently, WWE 2K23 feels like it sits somewhere in between the arcade styled gameplay of older WWE titles, and the simulation-heavy gameplay of the WWE 2K franchise, and I honestly wish it would lean heavier to its arcade roots. Aside from the more up to date roster, WWE 2K23 still feels like an inferior game to genre classics like Virtual Pro Wrestling 2 or WWF No Mercy on the Nintendo 64. When it comes to more recent titles, however, it’s definitely a fine update to the strong gameplay foundations of last year’s entry.
"WWE 2K23 feels like it sits somewhere in between the arcade styled gameplay of older WWE titles, and the simulation-heavy gameplay of the WWE 2K franchise"
There isn’t really anything new here, and the game mostly feels like a lot of time was spent in refining these systems rather than bringing any massive overhauls. Rather, the justification for the newest entry in the yearly release, aside from the updated roster, is an improved MyRise mode, a John Cena-centric Showcase mode, new match types—including the ever-popular War Games—and most interestingly, a way for players to tweak AI settings for their created wrestlers.
While that last one might sound like a minor addition, in reality, it’s one of the most interesting things WWE 2K23 brings to the table. It can be a hilarious experience to download a super-heavyweight wrestler from the Community Creations, pick them as an opponent for a match, and see them run up to the top rope for a high risk move.
The AI tuning will likely make WWE 2K23 a somewhat popular alternative for simulation enthusiasts who currently use games like Fire Pro Wrestling World for their custom wrestling federations. Watching finely-tuned AI wrestlers duke it out in the middle of the ring can be a surprisingly entertaining way to spend time, after all.
"Watching finely-tuned AI wrestlers duke it out in the middle of the ring can be an entertaining way to spend time"
The Showcase mode this time around focuses on John Cena, albeit in an interesting way that’s quite different from what we’ve seen from the mode in its earlier iterations. Rather than taking John Cena through the key matches of his career leading to his meteoric rise, players are instead put in the shoes of wrestlers who managed to get the better of John Cena at various points in his career. Starting off with the One Night Stand 2006, players will play as Rob Van Dam through a loose recreation of the match, while John Cena hopes to retroactively try and win the match he famously lost.
There’s no solid chronology to the Showcase mode, and it has you jumping back and forth through different years, and different eras of Cena’s career. Unfortunately, the Showcase mode this year feels like a major step down from last year, where we got to play through the key moments of Rey Mysterio’s pro-wrestling career. All in all, it’s a fun way to unlock a few arenas and Create-a-Wrestler parts, but it isn’t really where you’ll wind up spending most of your time.
Aside from exhibition matches, Universe mode, and online matches, most of your time with WWE 2K23 will likely be spent with the new iteration of the MyRise career mode. Much like last year, MyRise has you create your own WWE Superstar and play through their careers. Rather than having generic storylines for both men and women like last year, WWE 2K23 instead offers two bespoke stories: The Legacy for female wrestlers, and The Lock for male wrestlers.
"WWE 2K23 offers two bespoke stories: The Legacy for women, and The Lock for men."
The Legacy puts you in the shoes of the niece of legendary (and fictional) WWE Superstar Justine, as you try and live up to the legacy left behind by your aunt’s career. The story revolves around having to live up to your family’s history with pro-wrestling, as well as your character’s own internal struggles to try and make a name for herself, rather than stay tied up with Justine’s legacy.
The Lock puts you in the shoes of the eponymous newcomer who has been saddled with a character and gimmick he doesn’t feel altogether comfortable with. The storyline in The Lock largely revolves around wrestling your way up the ranks while at the same time either siding with the management and “trusting the process”, or breaking free of the shackles of The Lock and forging a name for yourself.
While not the most thought-provoking storylines out there, The Legacy and The Lock both feature some interesting characters, as well as hilarious side quests. Both storylines, however, tend to have an almost-frustrating over-reliance on mixed tag team matches for many of their side quests, and lack any true storylines for potential tag teams. Sure, you can join and leave factions in these stories, but these factions act largely as a backdrop to what is ultimately just a singles career for your character.
"The Legacy and The Lock both feature some interesting characters, as well as hilarious side quests"
On a technical level, the MyRise mode also seems to be plagued by incessant loading screens. Sure, load times weren’t too long on the PS5 version of the game, but the sheer quantity and frequency of these screens did more to frustrate me than the game forcing me to lose a match by making my character look stupid while my opponent was able to sneak up behind me with a chair.
WWE 2K23 feels like a good step up from its predecessor. However, the game has to do quite a bit to justify its existence when WWE 2K22 still exists and is still perfectly playable. For those who may not be too interested in the updated roster, thankfully, the new MyRise offers quite a bit of gameplay in its own right. The creators among us will definitely find the AI tuning an incredible new feature which, while basic, will hopefully get better fleshed out down the line. Those who just want to have some fun pro-wrestling matches without too much of a hassle will also end up ultimately enjoying just about everything WWE 2K23 has to offer.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.
AI Tuning; New MyRise.
Constant loading screens in MyRise; Showcase mode doesn’t feel as good as last year.