A tad rowdier
As God as my witness, my wrestling spirit was broken in half somewhere around 2002. WWE was moving out of the Attitude Era and into the era of prosperity, as Mr. McMahon had just taken down his arch rival Ted Turner in a triumphant shoot: the WCW was no more, and the WWE had the opportunity to just buy out the rest of its competition without fear of stagnation.
It was tough to continue watching when so many of my friends, whom I gathered with every few months for pay-per-view matches with, lost interest. It took me years to re-integrate and even though it was never the same, I still have a lot of love for the world of sports entertainment.
I also picked a decent time to heavily invest in a new wrestling game.
WWE 2K19 (PC, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One)
Developer: Yukes, Visual Concepts
Publisher: 2K Sports
Released: October 9, 2018
MSRP: $59.99 (Standard) | $89.99 (Deluxe)
2K’s strategy, much like WWE owner Vince McMahon, is pretty much the same: toe the line, trot out retired superstars from time to time, and try not to innovate too often. It’s a formula followed by many annual iterations (not just sports games), and after many years of fatigue the powers that be somewhat wised up. WWE 2K19 makes strides to clean up last year’s performance, including the always popular request of “fixing basic glitches and bugs.” I did not encounter anything major this year at all.
It continues to amaze me how in-depth a wrestling game can be compared to the arcade nature of old, with taunts that perform different functions, multiple grapple and striking combos, and frame-perfect counters. Speaking of counters the system as a whole feels so much tighter compared to 2K18, and the limitation of adding a cooldown to counters is a great touch to avoid a clown show of reversals. You need to make the tactical decision to hit that counter when you really need it.
Payback is sort of like Marvel vs. Capcom 3‘s X-Factor in that it boosts you temporarily, encourages comebacks, and contains limited uses. It can take several shapes like instant kickouts when pinned, cheap shots (that can disqualify you if the ref is watching) or extra temporary power. They’re customizable so you can help add to the fantasy of an already dirty wrestler or slightly alter their playstyle without veering too far off course. Paybacks herald in a more arcade-focused WWE 2K19 and it’s for the better.
MyCareer is still going with the underdog “I lived in a van and became a superstar” angle, but expanded and literal. in the case of the van. Expanded in theory of course: the RPG elements of discovering new side matches is kind of droll compared to the main events, as is the trite voice acting that doesn’t match up in a dialogue heavy sport. “Choices” often don’t matter (thanks for asking what type of match I wanted and then picking it anyway Braun Strowman!). But once again the rising star concept works as you’re slowly introduced to more behind the scenes drama and big-ticket characters at a reasonable pace.
Showcase mode is back with a multi-mission storyline involving fan-favorite Daniel Bryan, complete with a documentary style intro and an ongoing series of vignettes hosted by Bryan himself. Bryan is an incredible choice for this as his every man persona and signature catchphrase make it really easy to root for him: especially when the entire mode is framed as “The Return of Daniel Bryan” amid his upcoming WWE Championship bout at Crown Jewel.
What I really love about these recreations of events that already happened: you don’t actually have to win all the time, just hit key historical beats to sell it to the audience. It’s brilliantly done and I hope this version of Showcase is here to stay after its absence. There’s also custom matches, WWE Universe (which allows you to alter cards and play or simulate a fantasy season of WWE where Roman Reigns never wins), Towers (which are a lot like Mortal Kombat‘s challenges) and online play.
As soon as you create a character in MyCareer with the (mostly alright) editor you’re asked to pony up in the form of in-game currency loot boxes: which, depending on which edition you buy, vary. The idea of a MyPlayer MMO-like skill tree is cool, but not when you’re limited with style points. I long for the day when basically every wrestling maneuver and animation was automatically unlocked from the start: here you need to spend currency on randomized packs (read: loot boxes) to nab five random items per pack.
Oh and don’t forget, there’s a slightly different colored token icon to denote “deluxe tokens,” a rarer currency that can be used to snag “legendary” items. While there is a lack of real money purchasing, you can’t help but feel like 2K is steering players toward the the “Deluxe Edition,” which is $30 more expensive and provides numerous currency bonuses. It’s a clever workaround.
It might be the new normal for sports games but in a highly-customizable genre like professional wrestling it feels extra awful. Some of this is offset by the expanded creation options and the ability to download hundreds of community-created wrestlers, plus the gigantic as-is roster. In the end you just have to resign yourself to not being perfectly happy with your creation and ignoring the loot box system altogether.
The quality of any given WWE 2K game is a gamble year to year, but 2K19 manages to claw its way up from being buried alive by the travesty of last year’s entry. Daniel Bryan’s Showcase is a clear highlight as are the mostly welcome mechanical changes. Here’s hoping they don’t regress again in 2019.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]