STAFF REVIEW of AEW: Fight Forever (Xbox One)

Wednesday, August 16, 2023.
by Peggy Doyle

AEW: Fight Forever Box art I am unapologetically a massive wrestling fan; I’ve been watching wrestling since the 80’s and through its many changes in names and direction. I attend and watch small indies promotions just as much as I watch the 'big guys' on TV; I love the spectacle. When it comes to large wrestling promotions that you see advertised and on TV with their Premium Live Events (formally known as Pay-Per-View), there really is just the two - WWE and AEW.

Although I don’t normally play sports games, I have had the opportunity to review one WWE title in the past and I enjoyed it, so I was really curious whether the new kid, AEW: Fight Forever, could challenge to be the new king of the ring. With Hideyuki Iwashita, director of WWF No Mercy and Yuke’s developing it, I had high hopes. Yuke’s are veterans of the genre and need no introduction.

AEW: Fight Forever promised us something different from the WWE 2K series, a more Arcade style game. They bring a more cartoon style character model and highly energetic animation style. Most of the available roster have renders that are done quite well, and even those that are ‘less than great’, it’s still apparent which wrestler they are even without seeing the names on screen. The vibe is there, this is AEW. Of course, due to complicated licensing issues, the roster of any sports game out there is likely not going to be perfect. Rosters change during development. That being said, there were some very noticeable absences from the roster, like one of my favourites, Daniel Garcia, who have been with the company a long time, so I’m not sure why he was omitted. It may not be noticeable at first glance to most players, as the roster at launch is pretty good (around 50 wrestlers), and unless you are specifically looking for someone, you may not even notice they are missing.

Inside the ring is where AEW: Fight Forever shines. The move lists are done well and each character has their signature moves available. Some even have details such as spraying mist, like they would in real matches. For example, Adam Cole can lower his knee pad, and Orange Cassidy can fight with his hands in his pockets. Each button can kick, punch or grapple, and with the tilt of the stick can alter the moves as well. There is also a momentum meter that once full, allows you to unleash your Special or Finishing moves. Having a low momentum meter means you are more susceptible to injury or being pinned. This meter was a nod to the older school of wrestling games and a nice nostalgic touch.

Speaking on pins, when pinned the game directs you to mash the buttons to break out, but it doesn’t tell you which or how much. There isn’t a meter that shows if you’re close to breaking out. I found this frustrating as I didn’t know whether I was doing it right or not and just hoped for the best. To me this is an accessibility issue as well, constant button mashing should be able to be replaced and I don’t recall seeing that option. Also, please just let me know how fast or how much I need to push the buttons. While sometimes the buttons weren’t responsive in matches or would do a totally different move than expected, there was also a lot of issues with clipping and rubber banding when playing on the Series X. This made playing a lot less enjoyable. Mastering the gameplay was difficult to me, as the move lists aren’t particularly intuitive and I never could get the knack of learning some of the moves that I wanted to. Perhaps that will come with more time playing.

The limited voice acting in game is okay at best. The single player campaign, Road to Elite, was pretty well done. The scripted lines delivered and some of the character interactions were so ridiculous that you could almost believe they were acted out during one of the shows. Unfortunately, the majority of the Road to Elite story isn’t really voice acted at all, and you just read the lines with the characters mouths moving. Not particularly sure why this choice was made, perhaps a time/budget issue. The most disappointing voice acting to me was from the legend himself, Jim Ross. While I understand that he is a bit older and has some health issues, he sounded like he just wasn’t interested in doing this work. Voice acting isn’t easy, but it felt like he was simply reading lines and there was none of the energy behind them. I’m assuming he was used because of his legendary status.

In WWE 2K I really enjoyed the create a wrestler component and I was looking forward to the same in AEW. This was also pretty disappointing as the creation suite was very limited. Only a handful of options for faces, and less for the women than the men. While you can take your created wrestler into your Road to Elite story mission, it makes for a difficult playthrough as you won’t have a lot of skills to do well. Winning the right matches in this mode is also how you are able to unlock certain characters for the roster, so it’s important to choose wisely. I won’t spoil the stories I played (yes, more than once) because sometimes you have to play things multiple times to get the right outcomes. The main storyline in Road to Elite was enjoyable.

The storylines you have were often ridiculous but not really outside of something you would actually see happening on TV. I enjoyed my time playing this mode even though it felt disjointed at times, with stories just stopping and starting and not giving them a lot of context or content. They felt as though they were a means to an end. Between the matches in Road to Elite you can eat, do media interviews, sightsee or work out. Each of these will increase your health, social score, etc. These points don’t really have a lot of meaning unless you are playing with your created character, other than having good health and well being going into your matches of course.

Besides the Road to Elite story mode you can play matches with friends, solo vs AI, or even online against random people. Of the limited match types available, I enjoyed the chaotic anything goes Lights Out matches. A wide variety of weapons are available to use such as kendo sticks, skateboards, bats, and of course the typical tables, ladders and chairs. You can also have barbed wire and explosives too. These matches were hysterical to play and often left you with some laugh out loud moments. This is the type of ridiculousness that has been missing in mainstream wrestling games. The Exploding Barbed Wire Death Match is also a playable match option. The AEW debut of this match has one of the biggest and most memorable botches in the business and people were wondering whether that would make it into the game. Good news, you can set this in your options, and it gives you the same glorious results. It’s a nice nod for the fans and refreshing to see a company embrace its mistakes and have a laugh at themselves.

A lot of the online components of AEW Fight Forever won’t really be covered here in my review as I don’t particularly enjoy playing against random people online, especially in fighting games. When it first launched, people quickly figured out that if you quit before losing you could avoid taking the loss on your record and therefore manipulate your records and ranking. This happened quickly and was noticed, and the developers were quick to address it. This is a big problem with a lot of online gaming, not just fighting games, as the system often feels rigged to me if you don’t know whatever the meta happens to be and have not mastered the button combos, and as a new player, it’s just not an enjoyable experience. I am sure there are many others out there demonstrating the online components of AEW: Fight Forever should you choose to partake in that. Since the time I originally played AEW: Fight Forever for this review there have been a few updates, including the addition of a Stadium Stampede Battle Royal mode with 30 players. While this is chaos and enjoyable to watch others play, again it’s not something I have played. I am hoping to see more content and wrestlers added in the future and there are some DLC bundles dropping with some roster additions already announced.

One thing I was very disappointed to not have in this game was a GM mode. I love the idea of running the show and enjoyed many hours in that part of WWE 2K. I am hoping they may eventually add it at a later date.

The soundtrack for AEW: Fight Forever was fantastic with many notable popular songs, but I wish they had included a streamer mode though as some of the music could get you into trouble with copyright infringement. It really is something games should include, especially if they want content creators sharing easily with their audiences.

AEW as a promotion is my favourite. Their talent and presentation are a spectacle, and I was hoping for that same feeling from the AEW: Fight Forever game. I enjoyed it, and I’d recommend it to wrestling fans with a few caveats. It’s not a full game yet, but it’s also not a standard full priced game either, so that’s the fair trade off. It has great bones and there is something enjoyable there, it’s just not fully formed. It needs much more content for its creation suite, and more content overall. If you don’t play online, there just isn’t enough there to stay interested long term. That being said, I’m hopeful for the future of the IP and hope to see more from them. Also, there really was something special about when I saw my create a character join AEW and I got that “Ophelia Payne is All Elite” graphic. That is my favourite memory of AEW: Fight Forever.

**AEW: Fight Forever was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 7.5 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.5 / 10
Sound: 7.5 / 10


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