That’s The Wall, brother!
For the first time since the WWE series of games was handed off to 2K Sports, they’ve released something drastically different on consoles from the annualized and borderline sim-like WWE 2K series.
WWE 2K Battlegrounds features a wide cast of WWE superstars new and old, throwing each other dozens of feet into the air, into cars, and into alligators, all with over-the-top power-ups and abilities. This is anything but a simulation of modern professional wrestling.
All of that spectacle wears off quickly, though. Battlegrounds is incredibly shallow in regards to gameplay, and the overall progression is downright mind-numbing.
WWE 2K Battlegrounds (PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One, Switch)
Developer: Saber Interactive
Publisher: 2K Sports
Released: September 18, 2020
There is some charm to be found in Battlegrounds, such as locked wrestlers appearing inside plastic toy boxes or the comic book presentation of the campaign mode. The campaign tells the tale of Paul Heyman creating new sports entertainment programming in the form of “Battlegrounds,” which is a bizarre underground wrestling show, I think? Honestly, I’m still not entirely sure what Battlegrounds itself exactly is. (Last I checked, it was a filler-tier pay-per-view).
From there, Paul brings Stone Cold Steve Austin out of retirement to help recruit more wrestlers for his Battlegrounds show. For the most part, the storytelling falls into dull, generic shit to loosely tie together each match throughout the campaign. Honestly, “generic shit” pretty much describes everything else in Battlegrounds quite nicely.
From that first impression alone, you know what you’re in for. Battlegrounds could be described as soulless, monotonous, the Baron Corbin of wrestling games, and simply not worth your time and money. I could wrap up my review with that, but let’s keep going down the rabbit hole of this budget game that feels like it was originally intended for mobile devices.
The only highlight I can even think of with my time in Battlegrounds was when I was throwing other wrestlers into alligators out in the Everglades. Environmental stuff aside, what truly bogs down the entire experience is the sheer lack of depth found in the roster and overall gameplay. Wrestling is split up between styles ranging from brawler, high-flyer, technician, powerhouse, and all-rounder. However, they all play nearly identically within their same style, and these styles are applied across the roster. AJ Styles, for example, will play exactly like Shinsuke Nakamura because they’re both technicians. The only differences you’ll find between wrestlers within the same style are from their unique special moves.
Once you’re in the ring, the gameplay lacks just as much thought as the classes. Combos are broken down into very simplistic chains such as punching or kicking three times or a slight combination of both. You can perform a special move by holding down L2 while hitting either punch or kick, as well as perform grapples and throws, or your finish by holding down both L2 and R2 at the same time.
This is a far cry from the controls of previous 2K WWE games, but on the plus side, it is much more approachable. Honestly, Battlegrounds could have made a great party game if it wasn’t also plagued by tons of technical issues and microtransactions.
Sadly, for purely monetization reasons, the bulk of the roster is locked away behind their plastic toy boxes. In fact, nearly everyone on the cover of Battlegrounds (The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Becky Lynch, Ronda Rousey, John Cena, and so forth) is locked at the start of the game.
You can unlock a few characters in the campaign mode, but most have to be bought with WWE Bucks that you either earn from matches, completing dailies, or leveling up. The whole process is incredibly slow going. Legendary characters, for example, cost roughly 12,000 WWE Bucks. For context: You earn a few hundred a match on average, dailies only reward around a thousand, and the rewards for leveling up within the campaign depend on the level earned. So, if you’re hoping to unlock the full roster, you’ll either need to drop some actual cash or slowly grind it out.
This same nonsense applies to all of the customization options as well, from clothing and outfits to even unique cosmetics for the custom ring/arena creator mode. The majority of it is stuck behind a pay/grind wall, and this decision outright drags the whole game down. Bizarrely, you can’t even use your custom-created wrestlers in the campaign. Instead, you’re introduced to a handful of pre-made wrestlers who are all so terribly generic I can’t even remember their names outside of “Jessica Johnson.” Thankfully, she’s rebranded to the “Loch Ness Mobster” later on – which is just such good shit!
As for the technical side of things, Battlegrounds keeps up the tradition lately of these games being a complete technical mess. From numerous crashes, framerate drops in matches featuring more than two wrestlers (yes, even with this simplistic art direction and graphical style), and brain dead tag-team AI partners. It’s not as bad as the bug-filled mess that was WWE 2K20, but this isn’t much better.
Also, I’m just not crazy about the whole art and graphical style, in general. Everyone on the roster looks like they belong in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. It could always be worse, though, like a Kurt Cobain Funko Pop! kind of bad.
Online multiplayer is also a mixed bag of terrible. Issues I’ve already come to expect from the WWE 2K series are present here such as awful input lag and people quitting matches because there is no stat keeping or punishment at all. Most competitive matches are an endless series of reversals.
The commentary also hasn’t been good on WWE for well over a decade, and that’s not improving in this game. Jerry Lawler and Mauro Ranallo bring some decent energy, but their calls are all over the place and just straight-up not representative of what’s happening on-screen at times.
The reality is: WWE 2K Battlegrounds is a game nobody will remember a year from now.
It lacks so much of what made over-the-top arcade wrestling games great in the first place, while also being filled to the brim with microtransactions. The spectacle of its over-the-top moves and abilities are quickly lost in the tedium of its progression, lack of depth, budget presentation, and technical issues. It almost feels like 2K has come crashing down with the WWE license…and it hurts inside.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]