STAFF REVIEW of WWE 2K23 (Xbox One)

Wednesday, March 15, 2023.
by Peggy Doyle

WWE 2K23 Box art If you are into wrestling at all, you've likely heard about WWE and the video games with the same name. They come out each year promising a new experience and have an updated roster of talent. Does WWE 2k23 show us any new moves and become the new undisputed champion of sports games? Let’s check it out together.

Full disclaimer, I haven’t played many wrestling games over the years, but I am most definitely a huge fan of wrestling. From the local indie scene, through New Japan, NXT, AEW, WWE and more, I’ve watched it all. I attend as many live events as possible. It’s something I’ve been a fan of for as long as I remember, so although I may not have a massive amount of knowledge of the wrestling video game genre, I know wrestling. Rest assured; I was pretty excited to review this but knew I would be critical as well.

After WWE 2k20 had a less than stellar reception among fans, the WWE 2K team essentially started from scratch, and by the time WWE 2K22 hit the market, it was a massive step in the right direction. I only dabbled in 2K22 so I can’t make a lot of comparisons, but from talking to many friends who excitedly wait each year for the game, most of them were pretty pleased with what 2K22 offered them. Lucky for us 2K23 used this springboard and continued in a positive trajectory. While there aren’t many massive changes between last year's installment and this year, there are a few worth mentioning.

War Games is the obvious big new addition. This match mode is chaotic to watch live or on TV, and the WWE 2K23 version gives us the same feeling while playing. Multiplayer matches are either 3v3 or 4v4 in two side by side rings, all surrounded by a double steel cage. 2 opponents start in the ring while their teammates are locked in a cage, being released one at a time into the match, thus always creating a sort of imbalance in numbers. Once all members are in the rings, the match official starts. It’s chaotic, and violent.

WWE 2K23 also gives us the return of advanced entrance creations, something many people are excited about. If you like making custom characters with layers upon layers of creativity available to you, there are many hours to be had playing around here. Even if you’re not a huge fan of wrestling but just like character building, you would enjoy your time in this part of the game. I’m not even ashamed to say I spent over two hours creating a character and didn’t even customize all options available to me when it came to entrances (music, pyro, lighting, animations etc.). These options are available in the MyRISE (Story) mode and rival what is normally just something you’d have in the Universe (Sandbox) mode.

Showcase Mode is the first mode I tackled. This normally takes the form of working your way through the career matches of the cover superstar. This year it’s John Cena, and it takes an alternative approach where you aren’t playing as Cena in the matches, but rather his opponents. This was an interesting take in that you were meant to not be the winner of the matches, but rather to defeat Cena, so these were highlight matches in Cena’s 20 year career in which he mostly lost. I say mostly here, as there were some surprises as is to be expected with WWE, nothing is ever completely going to go the way you expect. Cena sets this showcase up as these are the select few who were able to beat him which elevates them in the history of WWE. I guess you could say that you may not be able to see John Cena, but you can beat him. Like in 2K22, the matches switch from gameplay, to cut scenes, to real life footage relatively seamlessly.

I am a pretty big fan of Cena, primarily because of his massive amount of charity work. He holds the record for most wishes granted through Make A Wish and if that alone doesn’t make him a ‘good guy’, he genuinely comes across like a sincerely good human. The Showcase mode just made me like him more. Listening to him give the history behind the matches and talk about his opponents was simply fascinating. It’s a nice mix of kayfabe and real-life history. Cena is charismatic and I enjoyed the Showcase Mode very much.

MyRISE is the main campaign mode for WWE 2K23. Aspiring superstars walk through the curtain for their WWE debut here. This year there are two stories to work though. “The Lock” has you play as the next big thing, the sure thing coming from the indie circuit, destined to make it big. “The Legacy” has you play as a second generation superstar in the making. Your aunt was a former top talent, champion, and hall of fame inductee. “The Lock” has you playing a male superstar role while “The Legacy” is a female superstar story. Both stories were interesting and gave you multiple options to change and shape your career through matches and creating personal relationships.

The stories range from believable to kooky and, in short, feel like they could some right from the world of professional wrestling. You will interact with many of the WWE roster in MyRISE and some of the stars have some great interactions with your character. You can customize your character at the beginning of each story, or import characters you’ve already created in the creation modes. Each story gave me about 10 hours of gameplay. This will vary depending on if you choose to play strictly just the main story or dive into all of the side stories available to you. There is some replayability here too, as you can go back and see what may have happened if you had chosen a different path or dialogue option. I can’t say too much about either story without spoiling them, but I enjoyed both of them and it was nice to see two unique stories.

The biggest downside to the MyRISE mode for me was the loading times. In a mode where you are constantly refining your character and hopping in and out of matches, the loading screens were substantially longer than those in any other mode, even on an Xbox Series X.

MyGM mode is a management sim where it’s your show, your choices, your destiny. You choose one of the existing GMs in game or create your own and take on the tasks of drafting superstars to your roster, planning weekly shows and Premium Live Events (Previously called Pay-Per-View). You use your budget to keep stars happy, deciding rivalries, locations for events, advertising, etc. You can compete against your friends or have the computer play the other GMs you face off against. Ratings are what matters, so see how you use your management skills to create the dominate brand. After each event you’ll see how you did so you can adjust and plan for the next week's show. At the end of the year in game you will see how you stacked up against the others at the Slammy Awards. Basically, the wrestling Oscars.

MyFACTION is your card collecting and management mode. Online multiplayer action where team building is key. Collect, manage, and upgrade your cards as you play against friends or strangers online. Ultimately creating the most powerful 4-person faction. You can compete in Weekly Towers and Faction Wars. New themed packs will roll out throughout the year. While I can give you the basics of this mode here, I’ll be honest. I barely touched this. This mode just doesn’t appeal to me, and that’s mostly because I prefer to not play games that basically require real money to be invested. I’m sure that you can have fun with no money spent, but this really is a micro transaction mode in my opinion. Certain characters, ranks, models, etc are ‘hidden’ behind faction walls that I can only assume you need to invest money or a heck of a lot of time to earn. I know this mode appeals to a specific group of players across many different sports games, but it's just not for me. I won’t go into too much depth here but there are 4 different types of virtual currency in MyFACTION:

MyFACTION Points - which can be spent on card packs and contracts – are awarded for completing matches and challenges;

MyFACTION Tokens – which can be spent in the Token Rewards market to unlock powerful WWE Superstar and Legend cards – are also awarded for completing matches and challenges;

Virtual Currency - available for purchase and spent exclusively in MyFACTION on card packs, boxes, and contracts. As an important reminder, anything that players can purchase with Virtual Currency can also be unlocked with MyFACTION Points.

Store Tokens - Earned for gameplay throughout all non-MyFACTION modes, these tokens can be spent in the Store to unlock Superstars and any other items for use in non-MyFACTION modes.

Universe Mode is consistently a favourite among friends who play WWE games yearly, and I can see the appeal. Everything is customizable and you can also just sim-out dream matches. There are sliders for almost any move for each superstar, meaning you can take their signature moves and make them really weak and throw them into a match with a rival to see how they’d fare. Rivalry actions have been added, allowing you to choose different cutscenes to play out for your viewing pleasure. If you don’t want to play any of these modes, you can literally hit the ‘play’ tab and jump into a quick play match of your choice. Choose to play any type: 1v1, Tag Team, Hell In A Cell, Royal Rumble etc., set whatever parameters you want and off you go. Simple to jump in and enjoy your own way.

Community creation looks to be a hit again this year. I’ve seen some things the community have created from last year, like replicating my local indie scenes rings from events, or creating some favourite local wrestlers in the game. Some people are far more creative than I am and this content all goes online to be shared with other players. Gameplay is similar to previous years, combo based attacks and defense are taught through a tutorial at the beginning of each mode. Your teacher is New Day’s own Xavier Woods (Austin Creed). I am not sure they could have found a better person for this. His banter is natural and his energy is infectious. He’s a superstar, a gamer, and has such a great vibe. I had a smile on my face any time he was on screen.

As you work through the tutorial from light strikes through finishing moves, it’s each done in small steps to make you feel confident, or frustrated if you’re not really great with quick time events like me. In fact, this was my biggest issue with the game, when matches had specific objectives. If they had lists to complete, you couldn’t finish the match until they were checked off in order. This made for some longer matches than anticipated in certain cases. Oh, and the referees... wow. They are really slow to get into position to count and really slow to get that 3 count when pins happen. It was pretty frustrating.

You can still dodge, counter moves or break combos, but the timing of these is finicky and there is still some off-timings on moves and spatial awareness. Rope break when characters aren’t even near the rope was a common issue experienced. From time to time my character would simply not stop attacking when I was trying to turn away to head to a corner or to tag my partner into the match. Small issues, but nothing earth shattering. I didn’t play against anyone online, so I didn’t ‘lose’ any matches because of it. Different moves target different areas of your opponent’s body, and as you perform certain moves your characters finishing move bar will fill up. Your signature and finishing moves are all customizable at any time throughout the game should you find you’re just not loving what your character has after some practice. There is so much customization in WWE 2K23, that you can certainly find a character that feels right for you.

Rosters for WWE 2K23 have been updated with over 180 characters are available to play, clothing is current for the most part (evident from the Sami Zayn shirt that is relatively new to his character on shows for example). Music and entrances are as they appear in reality, although a few are outdated, but this is the nature of wrestling as things change from time to time. Graphically I can see an upgrade compared to last year. Lighting is better, skin rendering is much better, especially on characters with darker skin tones, and hair physics are more natural. There is still some strangeness with the way it moves, but it’s definitely better. The superstars are well represented, although some of the curvier ladies were still represented significantly smaller than they are in reality. While the modelling is well done, the facial movements and lip syncing are still strange, but better than they have been in the past. Voice acting is as expected, those stars who cut better promos on TV seemed more natural in the game in my opinion.

I experienced some graphical issues playing on the Series X, a few freezing moments where I was stuck in a 'T' pose, but the animation was telling me I was pinned. I was stuck running against the ropes in another segment, but once an opponent hit me it cleared up. I once hit an opponent so hard that he morphed out of his hair. Nothing game breaking, more comical than anything.

The soundtrack for WWE 2k23 was curated by John Cena and it was enjoyable the first few times I heard the songs, but quickly became repetitive and I had to turn it down and eventually off. Same with the banter from the commentary desk that was repetitive at times and often not representative of the actin in my matches. That being said, there are a massive number of wrestlers in 2K23, so knowing that, what they’ve accomplished is rather impressive. The commentary table are reactive though and should you bring an opponent down to their table, they will scurry out of the way and comment on the action.

This is all a very long-winded way of saying I liked WWE 2K23, a lot. I liked it more than I thought I would and expected myself to be really critical about it. I put a lot of hours into the game and I can see myself putting a lot more into it as well. If you are a wrestling fan, I am sure there is some part of WWE 2K23 that you will connect with, whether it’s being a GM, the online factions, or even just creating characters and running simulated matches. I am so happy I had the chance to review this.

**WWE 2K23 was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 8.7 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 8.5 / 10


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