Originally published at: Review | WWE 2K23 - XboxEra
Professional wrestling is one of the more varied genres in all of video games. There have been dozens if not hundreds of different types of wrestling games. The WWE 2K series trends more Sim than Arcande and after some extremely bumpy spots, Visual Concepts righted the ship with last year’s version. WWE 2K23 is bigger, prettier, and potentially better than ever. How does this mix of arcade and sim action hold up in the ring, and is this game just for the fans or for those like me who have not kept up with sports entertainment lately. It’s time to oil ourselves up, enter the ring, and uh… Well, write a video game review.
I grew up in a house that loved professional wrestling. It was the most incredibly athletic, ridiculous, and cool scripted sporting event ever. People joke about “how can people believe it’s real!” but that ignores the incredible athleticism on display from these athletes. Not only are they going all out physically to try and entertain but they have to do their best acting while being exhausted and often in serious pain. There are issues with the management and ownership side of the WWE, but the enormous roster of incredible talent available in this game are the stars that deserve the praise. I haven’t kept up in recent years, so this review will focus more on 2K23 as a video game. Thankfully, it’s a solid one in every way so far.
I was provided with the Icon Edition of the game on Steam. Xbox Series code was available, but not active until the game launched. Since that was well after embargo and our site is reliant on being first or not bothering at all, I spent 16 hours over two days playing every mode I could access on PC. The Icon Edition is $120 US, $50 more than the base price on Xbox Series consoles, so my experience is going to be different than most. It means the season pass, tons of various game mode packs, and DLC is unlocked from the start. Taking all of that away and focusing mainly on the base game, this roster is still huge.
My copy of the game has 192 total characters with 7 of them being managers. 59 of them are classic wrestlers and managers who are instantly unlocked instead of being earned by grinding out coins in game. The true star of these games for many though is not the included characters, but the custom ones that you can find and download through the online servers. Those have mostly been down for me in this review period, but knowing the passionate community for these games I imagine that the game’s incredibly robust creation tools will be put to good use in short order after launch. Let’s go over each mode and the incredibly odd PC port that performs well but has zero mouse support.
Modes Modes Modes
The game features 6 main modes. These are:
- Play – A quick play where you can set the Match Type, Match Rules, and Arena. Match types included are: One on One, One on Two, Triple Threat, Fatal Four Way, Five Man, Six Man, Eight Man, Handicap, War Games, and Royal Rumble. Each mode has its own available ruleset and listing them all would take a long time. The standout is War Games, making its debut appearance in a WWE game. A mini Royal Rumble tornado tag team match set in two side-by-side rings enclosed within a massive cage, this one is damned fun and great to finally see.
- Showcase – Showcase Mode returns with a twist. You’ll go through the career of John Cena, with a twist! Instead of playing as the Prototype, you’ll take over his opponents in classic matches that he lost. It’s a fun mode, with a lot of video that is sure to get anyone streaming the game quickly DMCA’d. Lots of blurring goes on in some of the clips, most likely due to lacking the OK from certain people to use footage featuring them. It’s a bit jarring at first, but the mode is fun and unlocks various characters, items, and other game options for you as you complete it.
- Universe – The Universe mode finds you taking a real or custom wrestler through a menu-driven career. You’ll choose your star, or make a new one, then start playing matches. It’s not so much a story mode as a series of basic menus where you attempt to work your way up the ranks. If you enjoy the gameplay and want to feel like a small part of a “living promotion” as the game puts it then this is the mode for you. It lacks the cringe of the other story-focused modes we’ll discuss in a bit.
- MyGM – The MyGM mode allows you to become the General Manager of one of the various organizations that the WWE owns. Raw, Smackdown, NXT, NXT 2.0, and WCW are available and you can choose from multiple GMs like Mick Foley or Stephanie McMahon to be your GM avatar. Each GM has specific bonuses that they’ll offer to your roster. To determine the rosters you’ll go through a draft where depending on the skill level each wrestler will drain a certain amount of your set budget. You’ll want to be careful here as spending too much on your roster means you have little to no budget left to actually put on shows. You’ll set 4 matches and 3 promos, hire people to run everything, work your way through the weeks, and do your best to gain the most fans. You can simulate, spectate, or control your booked matches and it’s great. This mode should be a ton of fun with a group of friends.
- MyFACTION – is the card-based mode that I gained a ton of benefits from with my Icon edition. It only loaded for me once, as it is tied to being online and the servers were rarely available. In that short time, I opened a ton of cards and instantly had a strong team ready to take on challenges and other players in no time. It feels like your typical microtransaction-heavy card-based nightmare mode that people seem to love. I didn’t get to actually do any of the challenges or matches as the servers were never up, which is concerning as most games tend to launch with dead/broken servers lately.
- MyRise – We finish with the story-based career mode. There are two paths available, The Legacy and The Lock. The Legacy is the women’s focused mode and sets you up as the niece of a made-up wrestler from WWE’s past. The Lock is the men’s side of things and finds you as an unbelievably hyped newcomer. Both modes feature terrible writing and a ton of downtime. The pro wrestlers involved do their best to carry things but it’s not a good watch. There is a major emphasis on social media and your goal is to get as many fans as you can. In The Legacy, I made my character as tall as possible, which broke most cutscenes. I proceeded to make my The Lock character as short as can be with a similar effect. There are choices to make, customizations to go over, and matches to participate in but I wasn’t feeling this one at all.
Customization Aplenty but Some Issues Persist
The thing that keeps these games so popular is the customization options. From what I’ve seen WWE 2K23 should satisfy the majority of fans with an incredible breadth of options available. As stated previously the servers were rarely available so I couldn’t dig into everything on offer. You can edit superstars, create new ones, edit entrances & victories, edit move-sets, and championship belts, create custom money-in-the-bank matches, fully customize and edit arenas, and create shows, custom match types, images, and even videos for entrances. The only thing missing is the custom scenarios of the past, which weren’t good but gave rise to some of the funniest clips I’ve ever seen from a video game. A lot of this game seems stuck in between treating the WWE as a real sport that requires simulation and a heavily scripted product. That is the only issue I’ve run into and it hurts the gameplay for me in a number of ways.
The gameplay systems go for a sports sim style while trying to maintain the look of pro wrestling on TV. I get the approach as the game looks good most of the time, with a large amount of custom animation work for entrances and moves. X is your quick attack with A being your heavy-hitting moves. Y is a counter when tapped at the right time, and a block when held down. B is for grappling and holding down different directions or buttons while using it will cause each character to perform specific moves or actions. There is a solid tutorial I recommend to any newcomers that pops up when you first boot the game up. One on One combat against the CPU felt good the majority of the time. Transitional animations, especially any high-flying move, can be hurt by jutter-ey frames and odd physics at times. This game wants you to feel like a pro wrestler in a world where wrestling is unscripted and a true sport. In video game form that means that the overly exaggerated periods of being knocked unconscious lead to significant periods of time where you have zero control of your character.
To counter a combo you can try to guess the next button press of your opponent. It feels great when it works, far too often I found myself spending 10 or 20 seconds completely out of control of my character. The Y button prompts for reversals and counters flash on screen for a split second, and even after a dozen hours it still felt like I had hit the button in time but nothing happened. The player health meters will go from Green to Red as you take damage, and major moves will lower the total size of the bar over time. I had a few matches where I either dominated or was dominated so severely that they ended within a minute. Other times I had to beat my opponent down for almost 20 minutes before I could finally get a pin or submission.
The pinning mechanic finds you having to press up on the right analog stick as you attempt to stop a quickly moving bar. It’s a clever system that ramps up the difficulty as your character becomes more beaten up. When things flow it looks great, but it rarely felt smooth. This is particularly evident in any match with more than two people. You need to press in the right analog stick to change the character you are attacking. It doesn’t work great in practice, and the CPU AI wasn’t helpful as a partner. I didn’t get to play with other people, but I feel safe in saying that a lot of my issues would be alleviated if my partners were actual humans.
A Mixed Bag Graphically
I played the game on Steam at 1440p with maxed settings. This port has zero mouse support, and one of the craziest keyboard control schemes I’ve ever seen. The left side of your controller is mapped to the left side of your keyboard around the WASD keys. The right side of your controller gets mapped to various buttons on the right side of the keyboard and it feels terrible to use. I did win one match doing it, but no matter where you’re playing I highly recommend a joypad. Graphically the game looks decent and ran well on my system. According to recent interviews, this is the same look as what you’ll get on Xbox Series and PS5 consoles. Faces look good, and bodies match their real-life counterparts proportionally, though the texture work can feel last-gen often. The arenas look damned nice, with tons of effects popping off in intros, and the crowd is handled well with a heavy depth-of-field effect.
Nothing here feels next-gen, and PC options are severely limited. The framerate appears to be locked to 60 fps as a max for all situations. While playing my CPU and GPU were barely taxed, and I don’t have an amazing rig. My CPU is an AMD 5800x and my GPU is an RX 6700 XT. GPU Utilization never went above 60% on average with only 4GB of VRAM being used in most matches. CPU utilization stayed around 5% even in a Royal Rumble with eight combatants in the ring at once. There seems to be a ton of headroom left here and if this is what the next-gen version looks and runs like then there is no reason that the PC version should be stuck performing like this. It never lost frames and load times were quick, but being stuck at 60fps the entire time feels ridiculous. Xavier Woods, a.k.a. Austin Creed is featured heavily in the UI which does a great job of working you through the many systems and modes on offer.
I only ran into a few bugs, a massive improvement from the insanely broken 2K20 version of the game. I think my biggest issue was with the camera height. In attempting to match TV you lose depth and readability in the gameplay. In the war games match, or any cell-covered one the front of the cell doesn’t go see-through until you’re right up on it as well. It was a small issue most of the time, I just wish I could have found some options to raise the height and tilt of the camera as well as the opacity of any front-blocking items. It’s a solid package on steam as well with only one crash in my 16+ hours. I got the game the Friday before this embargo, so I had all of Saturday and Sunday to play, write, edit, and narrate this review. I wouldn’t be shocked if post launch a lot of issues are found as this series is always plagued with them. For my time things worked well and were far more stable than I had experienced in previous entries.
Sound-wise the menu music is solid though limited. I heard the same songs a lot while working on customization and more text-heavy modes. The in-ring commentary is varied at first and does its best to emulate television. After 5 or 6 hours I had heard the same lines enough times that I ended up turning it off. It is not terrible but I didn’t find that it added to my enjoyment when it was on. All your favorite licensed music and custom-made intro songs are here in high quality and the crowd sounds pretty darned good. It’s a nice audio package overall, one that is matched by a great aesthetic for the UI.
Wrapping Things Up
WWE 2K23 continues the series’ upwards trajectory. It’s a massive package full of different things to do. The roster is enormous, the microtransactions seem egregious in familiar “yearly sports title ways”, and the in-ring action almost nails riding the line between sports sim and scripted tv show. There is a love of the genre on display here and for any major or minor fan of sports entertainment, this year’s entry is worth checking out.