We had been looking forward to seeing if WWE 2K23 was going to be able to build on the momentum of its predecessor. Having played it on a PlayStation 5, we can safely say that it does.
When we reviewed WWE 2K22 last year, it was a return for the franchise after its developer had taken time to rethink and rebuild – a positive signal after some of the earlier releases hadn’t been received all that well. This was especially true for more casual pro wrestling fans who don’t care too much about having the latest new fighters on the roster and just want some of the all-time favorites – they just want a good wrestling game, and there was a lack of innovation in that area until last year’s reboot of the franchise.
WWE 2K23 builds on that game’s foundations, though of course the change is less radical than it was last year. What’s nice to see, however, is that changes aren’t limited to some mode being added or something like that – 2K23 showcases little and not-so-little improvements all across the board.
Take the Universe mode, for example, which now features a ton more options to build and feed into rivalries. You can define how a rivalry plays out in much more detail this time around, and can even raise the stakes surrounding a match to add more drama to this. In a way, it infuses the mode with a roleplaying element, letting you act out your own grudges rather than just picking one from a roster – if you’re invested in the personas of WWE, this is a big plus.
Other changes can be seen in MyGM, where it’s now possible to have four players at once. Last year’s game reintroduced the mode, but WWE 2K23 brings it much closer to the fully featured mode that came with PS2/PS3 era games that were so beloved by the fans. There are a lot more customization options for the mode this time, and even though it can feel like they’re a year overdue they’re definite improvements.
Also returning is the game’s Showcase mode, for which they’ve taken a very different approach even though it’s still a series of connected fights that features a single fighter. But where you controlled Rey Mysterio throughout these fights last year, WWE 2K23 serves up a change where John Cena is the main character but you actually control his opponents. As a result, there’s a ton more variety – though the objective-driven nature of the mode is a bit lost on us, as it ‘forces’ you to play the matches as they went down rather than giving you free reign. Doing so triggers cutscenes for a visually exciting mini campaign, but unless you’re a diehard fan with fond memories of these battles, it’ll feel a bit restrictive and not like something you’ll regularly go back to.
Luckily, the core gameplay is good, with a massive roster that’ll grow with more DLC to include well over 200 wrestlers – an insane amount for any fighting game. There’s a few repeats in there (like a handful of John Cenas from different eras), but these are exceptions and it’ll take ages before you run out of fighters to try out – each one bringing a unique set of moves, adding to tremendous replay value.
The gameplay engine still relies on timing, but stamina has been made a lot more important as well – you’ll risk running out of gas if you keep attacking, making you vulnerable. It might frustrate some looking for a more arcade-like experience, but it does help in bringing the real life momentum of these battles going back and forth into the game. The associated bar that you charge up can be used for a number of special moves too, which can help turn the battle in your favor or keep an opponent from countering. It’s a finely crafted system with enough depth to keep the game enjoyable for a long time – especially when you consider that massive roster.
This makes WWE 2K23 a solid next step for the franchise – one that delivers on the promise of last year’s version.