After jumping back into the ring in WWE 2K22, I found myself leaving rather impressed. While being out of the wrestling scene for many years, since the Nintendo 64 days, I found a pleasantly polished and deep title that left me wanting a little bit more. With the ever-increasing complexity and graphical fidelity of other sports titles on the market, it felt like 2K Sports and Visual Concepts were finally getting this franchise back on the right track.
Booting into WWE 2K23 for the first time, I half expected to be treated to a fairly similar experience to last year, especially given the nature of the subject matter. However, it seems that Visual Concepts is back on its feet, and ready to bring the WWE series back into the limelight with a plethora of changes I had no clue I needed.
Sweaty Drama Has Never Looked This Good
While WWE 2K22 was a visually impressive game, there were still a few parts that felt lackluster, and that was the first noticeable improvement in 2K23. The general presentation, from the menu screens to the expertly crafted entrances, everything looks stunning this time around. While still held back by previous-generation consoles, the current-generation versions look better than ever, even if some aspects could still use a little work.
Watching The Rock saunter down to the ring, muscles shaking, is an impressive feature that helps sell WWE 2K23 as more than a cut & paste entry. These subtle tweaks are also noticeable during gameplay, alongside bruising and red marks that appear on the bodies and faces of wrestlers after taking significant damage, inching this franchise closer to real life.
There are a few character models that could still use some TLC — Cactus Jack is one of the worst offenders, looking like Mack Foldger instead of Mick Foley — but for the majority of Superstars included on this packed roster, they look better and more realistic than ever. Even in the ring, watching their bodies degrade due to damage is impressive, and something I hope they continue expanding upon.
Showcase Mode Steals The Show, And New Modes Impress
Taking notes from last year’s entry, WWE 2K23 allowed me to step into the shoes of John Cena — or so I thought. Unlike the Showcase Mode that allowed us to kick butt as Rey Mysterio while learning about his favorite matches, you’ll be controlling John Cena’s opponents and watching his greatest matches unfold. It’s unique and took me by surprise to see him take a more humble approach to the situation, and offer some of the most fascinating wrestling action available.
Working through different objectives is the main aspect of these Showcase matches, stepping into the shoes of Rob Van Dam, Kurt Angle, and more Superstars to deliver a lesson in humility to John Cena. Mixing Live Action footage from these older matches with the high-definition models can be jarring, but it’s still such a neat mode that offers plenty of replay value for those who love the life and story of one of the biggest superstars in WWE history.
Alongside the Showcase mode, I took some time to jump into the completely revamped MyRise mode and found an even more engaging and enjoyable story than last time. Not only that, but the addition of a second story that will let you pick and choose different results is impressive, considering that this is a feature-packed game. While WWE 2K22 felt overwhelming, WWE 2K23 has increased and improved in almost every aspect.
MyRise is better than before, but what about the MyGM, MyFaction, and MyUniverse modes? They all received a fair number of increases and upgrades, making them feel smoother. The ability to continue through more seasons of the MyGM mode without needing to start everything over from scratch, or start a new save file, is great, especially if you find yourself loving that mode more than anything else, and incremental changes to MyFaction make it feel more polished and cohesive overall. MyUniverse is still one of my favorite modes, and it feels better in just about every way.
Gameplay Tweaks Improve The Overall Experience
To be fair, the in-ring action felt the best it ever has in WWE 2K22, and that is mostly unchanged. With a few new gameplay features, WWE 2K23 feels like a more refined version, with dodges and other actions making their triumphant return. However, the new additions to the pre-wrestling action are the biggest game-changers.
Digging into the menus, you’ll find the ability to change the in-ring AI, and customize it to your liking. Yes, a feature that has been a huge selling point for Fire Pro Wrestling is now available in a AAA Wrestling title and can be — unironically — game-changing. While some of the wrestler ratings may feel off, with certain superstars being ranked low compared to where they should be, being able to alter their in-ring AI to your liking can make each match as bombastic as possible.
Watching wrestlers like Otis and Rikishi take the to high-ropes as their go-to action for attacking is hilarious, and can lead to some of the most ridiculous matches possible. However, being able to fine-tune how these wrestlers act in the ring can make every match more exciting, and is a very welcomed addition.
The other big change is the addition of War Games, where two sets of wrestlers go at it in three-man brawls, which is exciting. However, it feels more like a novelty that can be built on in the future, especially since each individual ring is caged off from the other. It’s fun to watch, but not incredibly fun to play, as it can get overwhelming with the amount of action on screen.
Commentary Takes A Flying Leap Off The Top Rope
The overall commentary sounds and feels more authentic, especially considering that there are over 100 wrestlers in WWE 2K23. Hearing the commentary crew accurately call out wrestlers, moves, and even locations help keep the engagement levels high, considering that Commentary has sometimes been a low point.
In a particular match, I grabbed my opponent and led him to the Commentator Table, and watched as they all sprung backward and started jabbing at one another with verbal barbs. Hearing them comment that we were too close for comfort, and then instantly start ribbing each other because the focus wasn’t on them, made for an exciting and dynamic match.
In the ring, you’ll hear wrestlers grunt and groan in agony. Physical exertions when punching, and getting punched, help this feel like the most authentic representation of the sport to date, even if the lines may not have been recorded by the actual wrestlers themselves. They may have been, but I’m personally unsure and don’t want to make assumptions on this matter.
On the other hand, the in-ring sounds of bodies smacking canvas, the floor, is full of thump. It would be nice to have a bit more variety, as it seems that a majority of the sound bytes are repeated, but it’s still satisfying to hear the cracking of lumber when driving someone through a table, or the reverberation of steel on a skull.
The Road To Wrestlemania
While the overall presentation, gameplay, and almost every other aspect of this game have been completely revamped, there are still a few things I would love to see in the future.
A bit of TLC to some of the character models, particularly of those that are no longer with us, would be appreciated. Seeing Macho Man Randy Savage mode re-used is disappointing. There is an unpleasant uncanny valley vibe going on with some of the models, leaving your brain hurting trying to figure out if that’s what they looked like.
Something feels like it’s missing from the Wrestlemania rings, too. The most exciting night in show business, but the vibe and energy don’t match. While seeing your standard crowd during an NXT In Your House match is fine, let’s increase the energy when it comes to Wrestlemania.
Not to mention, the overall Rating System seems skewed. While it felt fine last time around, seeing someone like Austin Theory, a current WWE Champion, being ranked 82 Overall feels wrong. A lot of newcomers are rated on a fairly skewed scale, and while the ratings may not make much difference in the long run when in the right hands, it just feels like favoritism.
Step aside, No Mercy, there’s a new late-night living room champion in the building. After just a few matches, I found myself jumping onto my dashboard and immediately deleting WWE 2K22 from my console, as this is an improvement in almost every possible way. From the improved opponent, AI that can be tweaked to your liking, to the commentary making every match feel alive, Visual Concepts and 2K Sports have almost perfected this genre.
Watching the rise of John Cena was electrifying, and the general gameplay improvements have made this the most competent Wrestling game to come out in decades. With an overwhelming amount of content, it’s going to be difficult to find time for many other games coming out this year. WWE 2K is back in full swing, and this is going to be the title to beat for years to come.
This game was reviewed using a copy of the game provided by the game's publisher,public relations company, developer or other for the express purpose of a review.