WWE 2K23 is the follow-up to the relaunch of last year’s hit wrestling game series, which took a year off after the disastrous WWE 2K20. With 2K23, 2K Games and developer Visual Concepts are hoping to build on the solid foundation laid by last year’s title. The new game features John Cena as the cover star and the primary focus of this year’s Showcase Mode, while adding the incredibly complex WarGames match genre to a WWE game for the first time.
GameSpot has acquired an early version of WWE 2K23, with full focus on a limited edition show mode, partial roster, and the introduction of wargames. And while explaining the rules of war games is a bit of an undertaking, it’s a new kind of match that’s easy to spot as soon as you ring the bell.
War games are as much fun as you want them to be
WarGames’ match genre is incredibly chaotic and can be hard to follow at times, much like the real product itself. It consists of two teams of three or four men, depending on what you choose (we only had access to 3v3). Two opposing wrestlers begin the battle inside two rings encased in a steel cage, and one by one the members of each team are released from their cages into the crowd. Momentum swings back and forth as one team gains an advantage over the other and team members make their way to the ring. However, no one can win a match until every member of every team has entered a War Games bout. Yes, it’s exceptionally complicated as far as the rules are concerned, but fortunately, the pre-match intro scene breaks it all down for you. We’re sure there was a voice explaining the rules on that screen, but the room was a bit noisy, so we couldn’t hear a thing.
Outside of the learning curve of The Rules, the type match is a breath of fresh air for a franchise that needs something special to keep up with the TV product. Once the sheer mayhem embraced within the confines of two caged wrestling rings, the match genre is one of the most fun and innovative things 2K Games has done with the franchise in years. Depending on who you’re playing with, you can even do staging maneuvers between the two rings, which totally surprised me. “The Trench” – the area between the two rings – is a tight space that your wrestlers can find themselves in from time to time, but unlike the limited movement area in Hell in a Cell matches, you have a much greater range of movement in The Trench, so it doesn’t feel With the feeling of No Man’s Land. You can and should fight in this area, as you’ll want to use all of the available melee space, including climbing to the top of the cage and moving by cliffing on your butt. It’s true that there isn’t necessarily a tactical reason to do this, but it’s pretty funny to watch.
Outside of the chaos, the first thing WWE fans will notice is that WarGames has a different show compared to the live TV product. Gladiators who are not entered into battle usually wait for their chance to exit in shark cages – which tend to be at the top of the entrance ramp. WWE 2K23 places these wrestlers in cages in the mid-section behind the ring, complete with ladders for them to walk on, so players can always see the other members of their team waiting for their chance to participate in the WarGames. And when these gladiators enter the ring, they may or may not throw a hoard of weapons into the ring – whether they do so is an additional random element.
From the build we played, war games work. It’s something we were skeptical about because the real-life version is such an exciting match type, but it can be hard to follow. Sure, WWE 2K23’s version is a bit hard to follow at times, but that works given how chaotic the match must be. Yes, you’re basically dealing with one person at a time, but you also have to keep in mind the rest of your team, in case you have to break up a pin-up or a submission. Then there are a couple of loops, so you can break away from other people in order to have more time to pin someone, but in doing so you put some distance between yourself and the other team members, which makes it hard to break up the pins. There are tough decisions to make, and that’s what makes this type of match so exciting — and at times unnerving — that it is.
Interface: revamped, minus the boredom
Much like previous installments of the game, Showcase opens – this time with John Cena – with the superstar into a microphone, recounting the highlights of his career, interspersed with archived WWE footage. The intro sets the stage for some spin on the classic game mode, starring the aforementioned cover star John Cena. The twist is that unlike previous incarnations of Showcase, you don’t play as Cena match-after-match. Instead, you play as the opponents you’ve defeated over the years. So those on the “Cena Sucks” spectrum of polarizing Cena anthems get your dream – and AJ Styles too – you can beat John Cena.
You follow key moments in Cena’s career, playing like everyone else, as the cover star narrates the fight. Again, we couldn’t hear the audio during the action, so we can’t comment on the flow between what we saw during gameplay and the narration. In the WWE 2K23 build we played, there were 2 available Showcase Mode matches out of 14 confirmed matches.
The first match was Cena vs. RVD at ECW’s One Night Stand PPV at Hammerstein Ballroom. The RVD model looked exceptionally nice, and the Ballroom itself was a nostalgic jump back in time. You jump between playing the match, trying to complete optional objectives – if you complete them all, you unlock items to use in the game – and between match archive footage, a presentation created with WWE 2K22. There are plenty of 2K games and visual concepts created in demo mode from the past year here at 2K23.
Yes, the matches in Cena’s career have been a bit out of order, with the game starting in 2006 and the second match taking place in Cena’s debut on Smackdown back in 2002. However, it felt more natural as a player to actually fight-based Cena instead of Dive right into his first match against Kurt Angle as Cena brought “Ruthless Aggression” to WWE.
These were the only two matches made available for this version of WWE 2K23; However, this was a step in the right direction as far as demo mode goes, as playing as different characters each match was incredibly refreshing compared to the previous games. While Showcase Mode in WWE 2K22 was good and the presentation was great, playing as Rey Mysterio over and over again became boring, and many of Mysterio’s matches didn’t make an impact on making this year’s Showcase Mode a huge success. Things seem to be getting better with 2K23, as it’s refreshing to play the game as opponents of Cena, spending time working on specific objectives in order to unlock different arenas, tournament titles, and even wrestlers.
There’s even more incentive to play in all-display mode this year. We’ve noticed that some of the things you “unlock” by completing certain challenges won’t actually be available until you complete the demo mode as a whole. Yes, this is a little frustrating, but it is an incentive to get through the whole mode and play to the end.
New mechanics/overall gameplay:
One of the new gameplay elements in 2K23 is how you get kicked out of the falls. You can use the traditional “push buttons until your fingers drop” method – the method that wrestling games have stuck to for the longest time. Or you can select a new shape of this, a bar appears on the screen, there is a smaller red bar that goes back and forth which you have to line up with the cursor and then you click the right joystick. It is different and provides a great accessibility option for those who are not good at shuffling buttons or who may not be able to do so.
You can now taunt while holding a weapon, something new in the series. Some characters got completely new models – like Cody Rhodes and 2006 RVD, who look great – and others look like they haven’t changed much since last year, like Roman Reigns.
There are a lot of new animations this year, and because of this, the gameplay feels smoother compared to last year’s game, which itself was a much-needed upgrade from previous incarnations of the long-lived series. The gameplay felt more fluid and fast, and yes, there were a few minor glitches here and there – like hair clipping through people’s shoulders and the first time we saw someone teleport from the middle of the ring to the outside of the ring, causing them to be eliminated in the Royal Rumble match of 10 people — but overall, everything seemed smoother and more refined. The player’s HUD is sharper and easier to read, and it’s got a minor aesthetic update. The finishing tape has three separate sections so it’s more obvious how many finishes you have, although that wasn’t really an issue. Regardless, the new layout is an improvement, though we did notice that the top deck of the arena had no one on it during our time with the game.
Our view of WWE 2K23 was very limited compared to what we would eventually see, as we were given access to two modes of play, and when it is fully released we will see additional modes such as MyGM, MyFaction, MyRise, Universe, and Creative Suite. The WWE games by 2K are exceptionally large and offer a variety of different game modes. However, from what we’ve seen, WWE 2K23 takes the foundation laid in 2K22 and builds on the window that the team has to produce a new game. WarGames plays much better than expected and will undoubtedly be the standout addition to this year’s game. The changes in Showcase Mode are all for the better and the elimination of slow gameplay. This seems like another step in the right direction for 2K.
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