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March 2024

WWE 2K23

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Sports
Publisher: 2K Sports
Developer: Visual Concepts
Release Date: March 17, 2023


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PC Review - 'WWE 2K23'

by Cody Medellin on March 15, 2023 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

WWE 2K23 features several franchise advancements, including a unique new take on the 2K Showcase, the WWE 2K introduction of the fan-favorite WarGames, and expansions to several marquee game modes.

Buy WWE 2K23

To paraphrase the now-retired wrestler Mark Henry, WWE 2K22 showed that Visual Concepts and 2K still have a lot left in the tank to develop wrestling games. The graphics were greatly improved, but the fighting engine became simpler to operate without losing the series' depth. It wasn't flawless — the roster was grossly outdated — but it did show that the companies were serious about turning things around after WWE 2K20 single-handedly made the series a laughingstock. One year later, the game seeks to capitalize on that strong foundation with WWE 2K23, and while it still isn't perfect, it builds upon that strong foundation.

Starting with the fundamentals, the core fighting engine hasn't seen any immediately apparent changes. It still feels like a more technical fighting game with a grounded feel. Button-mashing can still be done to avoid submissions, and the same can be done for pins, but using the right analog stick is not only easier but also provides less wear on your hands. Reversals sit in the middle of the difficulty curve when it comes to execution, but you can try to perform counters by matching your opponent's strikes at the right time. It gives you the incentive to learn everyone on the roster so you can better read their moves. In short, it still feels easy to learn compared to older titles, and those who mastered the scheme for 2K22 will instantly feel at home.

With the fighting engine established in this second game, some of the issues start to become more noticeable. Targeting is best done by clicking in the right analog stick; having your character try to automatically face an opponent doesn't work as quickly as you'd want it to. Perform an aerial move or one from the ropes, and there's a good chance that you'll float in the air and become magnetic as you instantly connect to your opponent and vice versa. Play as a heel with managers, and your managers will never be smart enough to know when to cheat without letting the ref see it. The game still needs work in this regard, and the hope is that this gets worked on for next year's version if they can't resolve it in a patch.

The roster can often be a sore spot for WWE games, but thanks to a combination of rehires and a lack of future endeavoring of the roster, this is perhaps one of the more up-to-date rosters the series has seen. The roughly 180-person roster comes with a good mix of current stars from SmackDown, Raw, and NXT along with some Legends to give you a variety of matchups for both the men and women. Unlike last year's version, you won't see any of the wrestlers that left, like Mandy Rose or Sasha Banks, and while Jake "The Snake" Roberts is here even though he's still employed by AEW, that's a special enough case that more people will be grateful for his inclusion rather than mystified. The only wrestler that people will raise their eyebrows at is Naomi, since she walked out with Sasha Banks some time ago.

While the roster feels more updated when compared to previous 2K Games entries, it faces a new problem:  It exists in a strange time paradox compared to the real product. If you use the current champions as a guide, you can guess that the cutoff point for the main game was around the beginning of September. That type of delay between the game and real life is expected by now in wrestling games, so seeing Domonic Mysterio despite being a heel with The Judgement Day is expected. Then again, it does have inconsistencies, like Wes Lee being the NXT North American Champion and Austin Theory being the U.S. Champ, both of which happened in October and November, respectively. Charlotte Flair is a Smackdown Women's Champion, which she won close to the end of 2022. The biggest discrepancy is with Sami Zayn. The commentators still talk about him with the conspiracy theorist persona, but he's getting cheered by the crowd and has both the Titantron and shirt from his post-Bloodline, time which happened in late January of this year. You can tweak some of the parameters to make it more up to date, but initially, it's an interesting mashup of timelines.

The WWE-related presentation has improved a lot in this iteration. The game still doesn't have the AR graphics that TV viewers would see, but it spices up the bland Titantrons that WWE uses nowadays. It's really cool to see the chyrons for people like Alba Fyre, Roman Reigns and Cody Rhodes — as well for teams like Toxic Attraction. The game makes some of the crowd chants special, such as when you take a main roster star and fight in an NXT arena. The crowd chants, "Welcome Back," to start off the match. I wish the game would have show-specific commentators to complete the package, but considering the amount of work needed to get everything recorded, the current team of Michael Cole, Cory Graves and Byron Saxton does just fine.

There are two big things that 2K has spent a good deal of time highlighting in this year's iteration. The first is the inclusion of WarGames, a match type created by Dusty Rhodes in 1987, when WCW was better known as Jim Crockett Promotions. The match type has never been included in any wrestling video game, since it's quite a feat. Two wrestling rings are placed side by side and enclosed in one long, steel cage. One member of an opposing team is placed in the structure and is allowed to fight it out until one new team member enters five minutes later. New entrants enter every two minutes, and depending on who drew the advantage, there are numerous two-minute periods when there's an uneven situation until an opposing team member evens things out. It follows a hardcore match format in that everything is legal, but wins via knockout, pinfall or submission can only occur once all of the team members for both sides are inside the ring. While more modern WarGames matches have gone for five-person teams, the format is limited to 3v3 and 4v4 matches, like when NXT did them.

Like the real-life match, WarGames is completely chaotic. Even a full 3v3 match can quickly devolve into something akin to a battle royale, and it gets crazier in a 4v4 bout. The space between the rings adds a nice corridor for fighting before you transition into the next ring, but the gameplay in either ring feels normal. The good news is that the game doesn't suddenly get into collision issues, and transitioning between the fighting spaces doesn't feel awkward. It's a fun match type, but there are some issues that need some resolution. There are a few moments when someone comes in from the opposing team and stands back while you're attacking their teammate. Spam your attack move enough, and the brief disadvantage that you're supposed to get can quickly be negated when your own teammate arrives. It's easy to briefly lose your position on-screen. Between the cage and the number of other wrestlers present, there's a good chance that you'll either be getting pummeled or performing combos and not realize it.

The other big highlight in WWE 2K23 is 2K Showcase featuring John Cena. This is the second time that Cena is the cover athlete but the first time that the mode is completely dedicated to him. Past versions had him sharing the space with other superstars and their big feuds. Much like the showcases for Rey Mysterio, Daniel Bryan and Stone Cold Steve Austin, you'll go through some of the big matches and rivalries Cena has had over the past 20 years. He narrates the mode, and while it is told out of chronological order, you go through a wide swath of rivals. (The only one who's apparently missing is CM Punk.) You'll want to go through this mode to unlock some items — including new arenas, belts and wrestlers — by completing certain goals as the match progresses. Defeating your opponent is sufficient to move forward. Performing some of the objectives will show you sections of the actual match; they're fun to watch, since executing the moves in the game would be too much to handle.

You rarely play as John Cena. Except for a few matches, you'll play through mode as Cena's major opponents, and their objective is to defeat Cena. It's alluded to in the tutorial when you have a fantasy match between Xavier Woods and John Cena at Wrestlemania. You beat Cena in that tutorial match, and the same story happens with the likes of Rob Van Dam, The Undertaker, AJ Styles, Kurt Angle, and more based on matches that Cena lost. Depending on how much of a Cena fan you are, the mode can be cathartic and hilarious, since this kind of thing never happens for the cover athlete. It also helps that this is hosted by Cena, who is aware of jokes made at his expense. The mode still has some oddities, like the lack of commentary, music playing constantly throughout, and the blurring of audience members and referees for the live action shots. That said, the mode plays out fantastically, and you appreciate it because a cover athlete may never be celebrated for losing again.

All of the other modes have seen changes and improvements, but the degree varies greatly. Online play is more stable, and while you still get the chance to finish matches that disconnect because the AI takes over, you aren't going to get too many disconnects in WWE 2K23. It still would've been nice to get some cross-play, since the PC population is likely to be smaller than those of either the Xbox Series or PS4/PS5 consoles, and anything that increases the possible pool of fighters is a good thing.

MyGM mode returns this year with a raft of improvements. As thanks for making the mode popular enough to return, both Xavier Woods and Tyler Breeze can be hired as GMs alongside Kurt Angle, Eric Bischoff, Adam Pierce and a few others who have taken on the mantle over the years and are still with the company. You can also decide to create your own GM. You can have multiple belts to juggle instead of just the main ones, and you can have WCW as a brand alongside NXT 2.0, Raw, and Smackdown. Perhaps the biggest improvement is that you now have local multiplayer and the ability to play multiple seasons instead of ending at the first one, putting this on par with the beloved GM modes of past WWE games before 2K took over.

Universe mode returns this year with a story mode that is interesting but otherwise very similar to what was experienced in 2K22. By contrast, MyRise features two different storylines. For the men, you have The Lock, where you debut in the WWE after being somewhat established elsewhere. For the women, you have The Legacy, where you debut at Survivor Series but are better known for your aunt, who was a six-time champion during the start of the Ruthless Aggression era. The stories are better conceived, but prior flaws — bad audio mixing, subpar animation for cut scenes and groan-worthy dialogue  — remain alongside some genuinely nice moments.

The creation suites are as elaborate as ever, and the ability to take creations from any platform and upload your own images to use in the game make it one of the better creation systems if you can deal with the slow load times when creating or modifying a character. Aside from the ability to further tweak your entrances, the big new thing for this year is the ability to play in any created arena online. For those wanting to use the engine to play with a completely different wrestling organization, this makes it possible.

Rounding things out is MyFaction, which remains a big money sink that many people complain about for adding too many microtransactions to a full-priced game. Many players seem to be OK with spending more on it. For the detractors, the presence of four different currencies dedicated to specific things in this mode alone will fortify their opinions, as will the fact that the mode is still so reliant on an online connection that it can't function without it. For the supporters, there are still towers to earn more stuff. Online play is the final piece that people have been waiting for to make this mode worthwhile. Aside from that, everything else remains the same to the point where no one's opinion on the mode will change based on the iteration in WWE 2K23.

The audio builds on what was done in the previous game, but the improvements are slight. Commentary does repeat, but the banter between Cole, Graves and Saxton is good enough that you'll enjoy how natural it sounds, especially since it isn't as scathing as it was when the trio was constantly together. The musical selection is more rock-heavy, which is a surprise considering the cover star, and the hip-hop is more Latin-flavored. The effects sound fine, but there are moments when some won't sound very impactful, such as when someone hits the floor.

The graphics are in the same boat as the improvements in that they're also slight. Blood is here, but good luck seeing it unless you get in at the right angle. The graphical base is confirmed to be the same as the PS5/Xbox Series, and it shows with a more animated and diverse crowd and more details on the wrestlers. The game doesn't require beefy hardware to run, so the benchmark with a Ryzen 7 5800X and a GeForce RTX 4090 easily gets over 170fps when running with everything maxed out at 4K. The only real improvement from last time is the toggle to make some of the action scenes run at 60fps, which was patched into 2K22 sometime after it was released.

If you're planning on playing this on the Steam Deck, you're going to get a much better than expected experience provided you're willing to do some tweaking. The game defaults to a mix of Ultra quality shadows and shaders with standard model quality and texture quality. AMD FSR 1 is on, and with VSYNC off, the benchmark runs in the mid-50s fps-wise, but MangoHUD says the game is running with 50fps as the peak. What's interesting is that the game can look like it's running in slow motion, since this frame rate feels slower than the cut scenes that run at 30fps. Of course, the benchmark is running a cage match with six people and a ref present, and a standard one-on-one match runs the game at 60fps on the Deck. Play a tag team match, and the frame rate drops to the 40s when you get a wide shot with the crowd but goes to 60fps once the camera gets closer to the two main competitors. At these settings, the battery runs for about two hours before it needs a recharge. Some modifications to the options give the Steam Deck some room to reach three hours.

WWE 2K23 shows that Visual Concepts and 2K are continuing their trend in the right direction for wrestling games. Flaws aside, the fighting engine is still good, while the pageantry also remains nice even if some flourishes are missing and some other issues are no fault of Visual Concepts. The game does a good job of being up to date, and the modes ensure that there's plenty to keep people busy and glued to the game for quite some time. There's still stuff that needs work, like having cross-play from the get-go and some tweaking to add more polish, but wrestling fans will really enjoy WWE 2K23 since it still emphasizes fun above all.

Score: 8.0/10

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