WWE 2K23 doesn’t break the mold from last year’s big re-debut, instead offering smaller improvements and additions to the elements that worked.The action feels similar but a little more polished, the modes have more features, and is a more solid package all around. Though there are still some kinks to work out, 2K23 stands as a respectable follow-up.
Control-wise, 2K23 is identical to the previous game’s revamped setup, but is a bit smoother. Legacy issues remain, however, such as how finicky picking up weapons feel. I’ve also become increasingly frustrated having to hit multiple reversal buttons due to the often annoying guessing game of deducing which input your opponent may hit. I’d prefer a single, universal counter since nailing the timing alone is tricky enough in its own right. In a nice touch of accessibility, you can now choose whether pinfalls require you to mash buttons to escape or become the “stop the needle” minigame from WWE 2K games past.
WarGames stands as the big new match type, and it faithfully replicates the fun and chaos of the real-life version. Beyond that, the usual offerings return as you remember them, though a more robust tutorial does a better job onboarding or refreshing players to the combat’s various nuances. The roster is impressively deep this time around, looks great, and is mostly up to date. I also didn’t encounter any significant technical glitches – always a good sign for this series. Overall, the gameplay hasn’t changed significantly, so if you enjoyed 2K22, you’ll slip right into 2K23. If you didn’t, it’s unlikely this entry will change your mind.
The documentary-style Showcase mode has a fun twist, letting you relive cover star John Cena’s career as told through his biggest losses. This is a meatier offering than last year’s Rey Mysterio Showcase, as you’ll beat Cena using a wide assortment of his greatest rivals, from Edge to The Rock to Brock Lesnar. The general framework remains unchanged; you can complete objectives such as performing certain moves to unlock extra goodies like era-specific versions of wrestlers. This can feel like work, but the rewards are generally worth the effort, especially if you’re a diehard member of the Cenation.
I enjoyed Cena’s narrations where he praises his opponents while discussing what he learned from these defeats, though I miss listening to the subject’s commentary during the mid-match transitions to real-life video footage. Watching these clips in relative silence dilutes their effectiveness. The generic music that plays during these matches is outright bad, and it’s even worse that you can’t turn it off within the mode itself. Still, Showcase offers a decently fun trip down memory lane and concludes on a delightfully goofy and unexpected twist that almost makes it worth completing just to see.
I had a better time with MyRise compared to last year’s, which offers two separate story campaigns. As either a newly signed indie darling or a second-generation prospect, both stories offer totally different choice-driven narratives that range from being silly to cringy with humorous inside jokes for smartened-up fans (such as executive VP Shawn Michaels claiming WWE has a “great track record” of repackaging superstars under new gimmicks). Though this adventure unfolds in identical fashion – chat with superstars backstage to engage in main and sidequests while picking fights on your social media feed – MyRise is a stronger package this year.
MyGM remains a fun time sink that offers new match types and other options to help build your chosen brand. Additional GM’s (including Xavier Woods and Tyler Breeze for UpUpDownDown fans), modifiers that change the course of a season, plus the option to compete against up more players, are nice bonuses too. I’ve never been a big fan of the sandbox-style Universe Mode, and though it now offers expanded narrative control for steering a superstar’s career, it’s not enough to retain my interest for very long. MyFaction, in which you collect, build, and customize superstar teams via a trading card game format, is pretty much the same but does include competitive online play. As with everything else, smaller tweaks bolster their respective modes in ways that should please their existing fans but may not be enough to attract new ones.
Creating superstars is a dependable treat, and the increased customization options and larger number of superstar save slots enhances this. Photographic face-mapping is a nice touch that, while tricky to work with, lets you re-create existing wrestlers with greater accuracy than ever. Uploading or downloading custom images to an online database is easy as pie; I have fun making my own superstars, but I get an even better kick simply viewing and downloading thousands of community creations. Creating custom arena (which can now be used online), entrances, videos, and championships isn’t markedly different from before, but remain entertaining avenues for flexing my creativity.
As of writing, the online play is, unfortunately, a bit of a disaster. During the game’s early launch for Icon and Deluxe Edition players, I never played a match where my opponent(s) wasn’t immediately disconnected and replaced by an A.I..While that’s a smooth fix to keep players in the game, the inability to play without interruption is very disappointing. As of launch things haven’t improved much, so I hope it will be patched up soon.
WWE 2K23’s more incremental bells and whistles means it’s technically an overall stronger package than 2K22. However, unlike last year, it doesn’t benefit from the rose-colored excitement of getting to play a big wrestling sim again after a years-long absence. The similarities to its predecessor means 2K23 feels more formulaic than special, but it still continues the series’ overall positive trajectory. Like watching a returning legend perform their greatest hits night after night, the novelty has faded, but I’m still pleased to have them back – for now.