Last year, I stated that WWE 2K22 wasn’t so much “a step in the right direction,” but rather that it “picked itself off, dusted itself off, and went right back to the philosophy that it was following before.” This isn’t so much a condemnation. WWE 2K20 sank the series to new depths, and a course correction was needed. However, after I did the review of WWE 2K22, a patch was released by 2K Sports that corrupted my save data and made Universe Mode inaccessible. This was a commonly reported problem that never got fixed. You just had to delete your save data, start over, and hope the same thing happened.
However, with WWE 2K22 dead to me, I had high hopes for WWE 2K23 because the bar was still set extremely low. Thankfully, despite all my trepidation, it managed to step over it. I am so beaten down by the series by now that the bare minimum is acceptable. WWE 2K23 exceeds the bare minimum, proving that if you never give up, you might eventually become sufficient.
WWE 2K23 (PC [Reviewed], PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X)
Developer: Visual Concepts
Released: March 16, 2023
MSRP: $59.99 (PS4, Xbox One, PC) | $69.99 (PS5, Xbox Series X|S)
John Cena is on the cover of WWE 2K23, which means he is the focus of Showcase mode. For years, Showcase mode has been probably one of the worst parts of the 2K series’ single-player events. Rather than just playing matches, you’re dropped into significant events from the star’s career. You then have to perform very specific moves in order to advance.
The twist here is that, rather than play as John Cena, you take the role of his opponents and get the chance to beat him up. That would be fun, but again, you’re just performing different dance steps. You’re competing against an uncooperative computer-controlled wrestler to try and get them into place, just so you can pull off a very specific move. Chances are, you won’t know how to do this move until you’ve opened the objective menu and read specifically how to do it. I can not imagine a more mechanical and less compelling approach to gameplay.
However, it’s worth it to endure playing through this significantly laborious mode because there are a lot of things that are only accessible once unlocked through playing these matches. One of them is Bruno Sammartino, who has been on my wishlist for the roster for years. There’s also ‘80s-era Hulk Hogan and various alternative appearances of other wrestlers. I just wish they weren’t locked behind such a tedious gameplay mode.
However, once you’ve got Bruno Sammartino available for grappling, you can get to the good stuff. A lot of the good stuff is still compromised in many ways, but it’s the best the series has seen since 2K took over.
The time is now
Despite my considerable grievances with WWE 2K22, its foundation was surprisingly solid. After the trainwreck of WWE 2K20, 2K Sports took a year off to rework a lot of things, and the result was appreciable. Everything about the wrestling itself felt a lot more solid and enjoyable.
When you jump into WWE 2K23, much of it will still feel familiar. The UI, the customization suite, and the visual style are all the same as the previous few entries. Visually, the improvements made are extremely subtle. While I don’t necessarily feel that they need to overhaul the entire UX every entry, there are some drawbacks that weren’t addressed, specifically when it comes to sorting and filtering the move-list and even parts options in the create-a-wrestler modes. As it was in previous iterations, the creation suite is very onerous to sort through. The whole set of tools is very powerful and gets better year after year, but they definitely haven’t gotten any easier to use.
It is nice, however, that the advanced entrance editor has been re-implemented, largely as it had been before its removal. You can now choose individual segments from pre-existing entrances. While the fact that you cobble them together, it does give you the tools to create a near-perfect fit for your wrestlers. It makes it so you’re not necessarily going to have something easily identifiable as an existing wrestler’s entrance. I am so thankful to have it back.
The biggest, most appreciable change in WWE 2K23 is that MyGM mode has been expanded. After Universe died for me in WWE 2K22, I moved to play MyGM, and it was a decent stand-in. It’s a specific mode that has you run your own WWE “brand” and compete with the others for ratings based on how well you stack fights, manage rivalries, and book your shows. Now, it might be my preferred way to slap my wrestle figures against each other. There are now five brands to pick from (Raw, Smackdown, NXT, NXT 2.0, and WCW), which can be run by a number of GMs or one of your making. There are now four slots for participating shows, and they can be run by either a human or a CPU.
While the gameplay flow and UI (once again) is largely unchanged from last year, so much has been piled in that it doesn’t feel like a quickly thrown-together modifier. More match types are available. The roster that GMs pick from is still completely customizable, so you can tweak it for the feel you want or slot in your own creations.
I still wish I could create my own brand for MyGM mode. There are already tools for making your own show in Universe Mode, so I feel like it’s not much of a stretch that the ability would materialize, but it’s still not possible this year. Considering all the improvements made, I’m not too broken up by it. If anything, it makes me excited for next year when this sort of thing might make its way in. For now, it’s still an extremely fun campaign to toy around with.
MyRise is about as decent as it was previously. It’s a good mode if you want a pre-assembled story to play through, rather than creating your own with the other modes, creation suites, and good old-fashioned imagination. There’s now a separate story for wrestlemen and wrestleladies. The voice acting, writing, and animation in this mode are all egregiously bad, but it’s a framework around solid wrestling, so it’s worth a look.
While it’s obvious that Visual Concepts is working hard to clean up the bloated and tangled backend of the game engine, there are still some holdover issues. Notably, the loading time can grow to obscene levels at times in WWE 2K23. This is especially prevalent when using lots of custom wrestlers and images and cramming them into the same match.
While I played on PS5 this year, last year has left me aware of the issues the PC version faced. Most notably, every time that a patch was dropped, the whole 60-70GB game file had to be re-downloaded. This year, that apparently isn’t the case, which shows some improvement on the technical side.
Never give up
Each year for the WWE 2K series, there are always some steps forward and a few steps back. Depending on where your priorities lie, it’s entirely possible that there will be some drawbacks that will perturb you. This year, however, I feel like the product suits me better than it has in well over a decade. I still have a laundry list of things that I want to see implemented or re-implemented (custom entrance themes, better organization in creation suites, custom brands in MyGM, photo mode), but I’m at least content with what is in this year’s offering.
Building on the reasonably solid gameplay foundation of WWE 2K22, WWE 2K23 manages to finally find a comfortable spot. It is, at its core, the same general game that we get year after year. It kind of sucks that we have to keep paying for small improvements. However, small improvements got us here, and here is a pretty decent place to be.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]