WWE 2K23 Review (PS5) – Like Edge returning at Royal Rumble 2020 after being shelved for years due to injury, WWE 2K22 made a triumphant return to the arena. Fast forward to 2023, Visual Concepts‘ wrestling simulation franchise is back to an annualised release schedule.
Launching a franchise yearly comes with the expectations of small adjustments and incremental improvements. From a two-and-half-year development cycle down to just one, is WWE 2K23 more than just a basic update, or does it step into the ring with more under its belt?
WWE 2K23 Review (PS5) – The Champ Is Here
Refining The Formula
When comparing WWE 2K23 to last year’s iteration from a gameplay perspective, at a glance, it would appear as though not much has changed. The core gameplay remains largely the same, save for a (very welcome) new pinning mini game that requires you to time your kick outs, rather than button mash.
Interchanging between light and heavy attacks and grapples to wear down your opponents is the name of the game, as it always has been. The attention to detail adds a much needed layer of realism that last year’s 2K22 was lacking.
The refinement of the animations, especially those that are character specific, are really impressive. Visual Concepts has gone as far as adding animations such as The Undertaker‘s iconic; tongue out, eyes rolled back expression when he hits the tombstone piledriver.
Seeing a wrestler crawl towards the turnbuckle after taking a beating, or pulling themselves up by the ropes from exhaustion, is exactly the level of polish and detail you want in a simulation, that makes it feel like you’re watching an episode of Monday Night Raw.
With a ton of different wrestlers to play as and stipulations to fight in, including the newly added War Games (which I expect you to read in William Regal‘s voice), there is definitely not a shortage of content to experience and that’s without its impressive selection of modes.
A variety of modes are available to play, and they definitely vary in quality. Showcase mode returns as the headline attraction, featuring cover star, and one of the greatest to ever lace up a pair of boots, John Cena.
Showcase mode which continues with its documentary-style approach, has you playing as Cena’s opponents rather than the franchise himself, which helps to mix it up, adding some needed variety to the mode. The rewards in this mode alone, especially towards the end, really make it worth playing.
MyFaction, which hasn’t changed much beyond adding multiplayer functionality, remains nothing more than a curiosity. What is essentially WWE 2K’s answer to FIFA Ultimate Team, is hamstrung by its ranking system, and I think the mode needs revisiting entirely.
Now for the mode I am most addicted to, MyGM. Improving on last years formula by extending the amount of seasons, this mode has had me up until ungodly hours, as I try and often fail, to book a wrestling show.
Drafting superstars for your chosen brand, booking shows, creating rivalries, fulfils such a specific fantasy of mine. Battling against opposing general managers like you’re in the middle of the Monday night wars, battling for the top spot of the power rankings, makes for such a compelling mode.
MyGM isn’t perfect by any means, lacking in narrative and gameplay variables. However, there is such great foundation here, that can only continue to improve with every iteration of WWE 2K.
The Next Big Thing
MyRise has changed tact this year. The story focused mode has split into two separate campaigns to choose from instead of the one, The Lock and The Legacy. After creating my superstar, who looked as though he walked right out of Vince McMahon‘s dreams, I selected The Lock.
The Lock has you step into the shoes of an age old wrestling trope, the next big thing. Whilst initially it might feel overly familiar for wrestling fans, it quickly becomes apparent that the story being told is quite meta and introspective.
MyRise tackles some controversial topics, like WWE taking away wrestlers’ names, their appearance, and identity, that made them famous to begin with. This narrative direction made for a refreshing change of pace that I was not expecting.
The Legacy is a female lead story, that has you attempting to live up to a fictional WWE legend known as Justine, who also happens to be your aunt. Roleplaying as the niece and trying to forge their own path makes for an interesting campaign.
Despite some stiff voice acting and egregious load times, I really enjoyed these modes, especially given the narrative misdirection of The Lock storyline.
A huge part of the appeal to wrestling games is the ability to create your own characters and even tweak existing ones. The sheer amount of freedom available in its impressively robust creation suite kept me editing move sets, entrances, and appearances for hours.
I especially appreciate “The World’s Worst Stunner” being added to the game, in reference to Vince McMahon poorly selling the Stone Cold Stunner at last year’s Wrestlemania.
Being able to customise specific parts of your entrance allows for a level of personalisation, that makes your character feel like a legitimate WWE superstar. Visual Concepts provide a level of creativity that even the likes of Bray Wyatt might struggle to compete with.
Timing the pyro to go off as you raise your hands, to the beat of the music, as you strut down to the squared circle, was another aspect of WWE 2K23 that surprised me, and proves how a lot of subtle changes can make all the difference.
Much like lot of aspects in this game, the visual fidelity in WWE 2K23 improved considerably. Beyond the aforementioned animations, WWE 2K23 is fine tuned to a higher degree than we’ve previously seen, specifically with its character models.
Sure, some wrestlers look better than others, and the hair isn’t always spot on, but overall it is really impressive, right down to capturing the beads of sweat as a fight progresses. I would go as far as saying it’s the best looking sports game available right now.
With tons of content, and no technical hitches to report, WWE 2K23 fine tunes its predecessor’s recipe to a highly detailed degree, which makes it very easy to recommend to casual and hardcore wrestling fans.
WWE 2K23 is the undisputed champ of not just wrestling games of which it is currently lacking in competition, but sports games across the board.
WWE 2K23 is out now on PS5, PS4, PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.
Review code kindly provided by publisher.