Three short years ago, it was hard to believe wrestling games would return to prominence. WWE 2K20 was a blemish on the face of wrestling. After the redemption arc that was WWE 2K22, the World Wrestling Entertainment universe gave fans ANOTHER solid wrestling title with WWE 2K23, which embraced the recovery nature of its predecessor, and improved on it in almost every feasible way.
It’s a New Day, Yes, It Is
Visual Concepts took what worked from WWE 2K22 and proceeded to improve everything to create WWE 2K23. Last year’s tutorial featured the technical wrestling prowess of Drew Gulak. Still, this year, the company decided to go the more entertaining route and utilize the tag team superstar Xavier Woods, part of The New Day and a well-known video game enthusiast.
This is a far better decision, not to poke holes through Drew Gulak as he did his job admirably — and he’s even the ‘final boss’ at the end of the tutorial this time around —but Xavier Woods OOZES charisma, and is far more familiar in the gaming space as the commissioner of the Up Up Down Down YouTube gaming channel. As a matter of fact, everything in WWE 2K23 is introduced by Xavier Woods, and somehow his sly smirk in giving small explanations never feels old or gets tiring.
A Musical Time Capsule
I didn’t think it was possible to top the soundtrack of the previous game, but WWE 2K23 did exactly that. Gone is Machine Gun Kelly, and in is Metallica’s Sad But True blaring through the speakers on the title screen. The music is further compounded by The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bullet For My Valentine, and Post Malone, adding the prestige of a sold-out rock concert to wading through menus.
“Visual Concepts took what worked from WWE 2K22 and proceeded to improve everything…”
WWE 2K23 dragged me back to the early to mid-2000s when FM Radio’s 92.3 K-Rock dominated the airwaves and smashed your eardrums with the steel chair of an excellent mix of heavy rock music. It’s worth mentioning cover athlete John Cena apparently hand-picked the music this time around, and it shows. Of course, under the options menu is a jukebox feature — returning from WWE 2K22, thankfully — so you can do mock entrances of your favourite stars at home in your living room, or you can be NOT like me and jam out your choice.
Wrestling… Wrestling Never Changes
WWE 2K23 smartly built upon the existing engine the previous title delivered. X = light attack again, B = grapple, etc. This time around, reversals performed with the Y button at the right time are all over the place. Sometimes it will appear right before an attack or grapple lands, and other times it will appear whenever it pleases.
This is an improvement, in my opinion, considering performers must always remain vigilant, and so does the player. Meter-monitoring continues to be a full-time job once again, adding that signature arcade feeling that returns from WWE 2K22, with the player having to juggle exactly when to perform finishers and signature attacks to the best effect.
One thing the title could have done without is the constant reliance on reversals to move a match forward. Many times, against the CPU, I found my played character lying there after being on the receiving end of a vicious grapple, and they really STAY down for a long time. After slamming all the buttons for a few seconds, the character does nothing, which absolutely CRUSHES the momentum of matches.
Of course, there are underlying mechanics like a blue circle stamina bar that oddly reminded me of Breath of the Wild’s green circle. Still, even without exhausting that and having half-character health in the green, my character would rather take a nap and wait to reverse a move than even attempt to stand. Maybe this is a small nitpick, but I disliked this in WWE 2K22, and I disliked it even more in WWE 2K23.
Health bar dynamics make a noted return as well, the body damage metre is there to remind you that your character’s head can become a liability if you take too much of a beating, as well as a well-placed Ronda Rousey armbar can turn the character’s arms into a deep shade of red.
The technical prowess of real wrestling is on full display here, wearing an opponent’s body parts down will have differing effects: legs in red health will produce a character limp, arms in red health will sag and seem heavy like the episode of Sponge Bob where he has inflatable/deflate able JACKED arms, and so on. Each match in WWE 2K23 is based on strategic timing and accuracy, so it’s safe to say this game requires intense focus if you want to come out on top.
Improving Gameplay Modes
My least favourite mode in WWE 2K22 was the myRISE mode, and this year thankfully, the developers at Visual Concepts fixed a myriad of issues. The mode starts off with your created character as an already established global superstar referred to as “The Lock” — a term used for a top wrestling prospect — and they get slotted into the mix of things seamlessly. Loading screens remain the myRISE main adversary, as one pops up every time you attempt to fire up a ‘quest.’
Quest completion can alter the branching narrative of the story, adding replay value, and can earn your superstar much-needed EXP to improve stat ratings. The animations have been improved significantly, and interactions feel more organic. Cutscenes are still impossible to skip and force the player to watch them, so while there are improvements, some issues have returned.
Showcase mode returns this year, and it is AWESOME. John Cena narrates some of the most iconic matches of his career, and they’re all matches he LOST. While he paints an excellent picture of how the match turned out, you control his adversary and attempt to best John Cena while making the match flow the way it did in real life. The match shifts from real-life happenings to the gameplay while a story is being told. This makes the player truly feel a part of the match.
My favourite was the inclusion of ECW’s One Night Stand 2006, where Rob Van Dam pins Cena after interference from fan-favourite Edge. Pro wrestling was different back then, and crowds would be truly nasty to the unfavoured star in the ring, so hearing the generic heavy metal music drown out the sound of the crowd chanting a VERY obscene taunt at Cena, one that fans of pro wrestling will DEFINITELY remember (it rhymes with ‘hyena follows’) was pretty surreal. WWE 2K23 not only does a good job of drowning out the chanting but stuffs the player with nostalgia for that moment when it happened live—a real accomplishment.
“WWE 2K23 shines brightest when playing with friends…”
myGM has come back… to WWE 2K23, And it feels exactly the same. You can face other brands in a race to the finish by being the top dog, which is a really fun idea. Recruit your favourite superstars, set up potential dream matches, and do the job every wrestling fan KNOWS they can do better by being creative.
But, there is still no online mode to GM against friends, which makes this still feel like a mode with many shortcomings. The busy work, such as fund management to limit the player on how well their night performs, still feels at times like watching paint dry. This has now become my least favourite mode to visit.
Sharing is Caring
WWE 2K23 adds a ‘Community Creation’ spot to its many menus. While perusing other players’ creations, I was able to find a YouTube Championship Belt created known YouTube Content Creator Ludwig, which is a cool concept if you’re a mega fan of YouTube.
You can also download THOUSANDS of created content from truly talented people all over the globe, from matches and title belts to excellently done created superstars. I found a replica Sting superstar to download, and not only was it a carbon copy of The Crow-based legend, but the photo the creator used was the one used by Sting himself when he wrestled back in the 2000s. Shout out to AttitudeCreationz for such a complete representation of the icon.
WWE 2K23 shines brightest when playing with friends, just like watching a real episode of Monday Night Raw. I had the chance to have three buddies over to play on one screen this time around, and it was possibly the best wrestling game experience I’ve had in years.
The constant strain of the Fatal Four Way match translates extremely well from the actual WWE to game, with four human players attempting to come out on top. The carnage was superb, and all the jank of the previous WWE 2K22 feels erased. There are, of course, some hiccups here and there, like a camera getting locked behind the titantron making it impossible to see for moments, but it is far from game-breaking.
The overall gameplay has been tightened in every way and considerably. Chairs, tables, and YES, ladders have had their mechanics drastically improved. My controlled superstar set up a ladder with efficiency to try and snag a dangling championship belt, and more animations has been added to these busier modes. The frame rate practically never suffered any dips during labour-intensive matches, and the title performed superbly under each match type.
Each WWE 2K23 match operates akin to a chess final. The player has to mix up their strategy to outmaneuver their opponent. Otherwise, the more predictable player can get shredded by reversals. Somehow, this system is fair and works well when even playing an online match. Most importantly, the gameplay is a fun experience, and despite the constant napping and waiting for your chance to reverse a move, matches are fun and fluid to engage in.
WWE 2K23 improves on the previous iteration in almost every way. Matches perform better, the gameplay is more polished, and somehow the sound quality and music choice have been turned up to level 11. While a few shortcomings, such as the copy-and-paste job of myFACTION — the WWE 2K23 version of wrestling ‘Ultimate Team’ — and myGM hold the title down, the notable improvements to almost every aspect of gameplay and fantastic storytelling in the Showcase mode allow the title to ascend a little further than the previous entry. I can SMELLLLLLL what Visual Concepts is cooking.