WWE 2K23 Review: The Champ Is Here
Visual Concepts is back with its latest installment in the ever-so-popular WWE 2K franchise, and for wrestling fans this could not have come at a better time. After all, WrestleMania 39 is right around the corner, and much like this year’s event, WWE 2K23 promises to be EVEN STRONGER than ever. And with massive changes to MyGM, Showcase mode, and the infamous MyRise, it’s hard to argue that this is potentially the most refined version to date.
Here’s my review of WWE 2K23 for the PlayStation 5.
WWE 2K23 Review
What I Like
The first thing I noticed when I started my first match in WWE 2K23 was the beauty of the graphics. I’m playing on PlayStation 5, and I had to take a step back and take a moment to breathe it all in. Maybe it’s the improved lighting or because the character models look night and day from previous years. But whatever it is, this truly feels like a next-gen wrestling game. Even the crowd looked vastly improved. Sure, there were still duplicate models, as seen in any sports-gaming crowd, But this year they just seemed more lifelike and into the action.
As for the character models, I can confidently say they are as good as ever in a wrestling game. Wrestlers look jacked and true to their real-life counterparts. Even the way their hair moves appears more lifelike, and you can even see some of the character’s muscles move as the player maneuvers around the ring. Simply put, 2K23 is beautiful, down to every last hair on Seth Rollins’ chest.
From a presentation standpoint, 2K has always done this very well, and this year’s installment is no different. Entrances are spot on (my favorite is the Bloodline’s entrance), and the graphics and overlays for each arena add to the look and feel of each event. For example, title matches have belt overlays and feel different than a regular exhibition match. My only gripe would be that some of the entrance music seems drowned out. It makes sense to have the crowd take over more significant moments, but being unable to hear the infamous “There’s only ONE Royal Family” took away from part of the presentation.
Commentary throughout the match is generally on point but can get repetitive for those who play the game endlessly. That said, it always seems relevant to the match, which can’t necessarily be said about other sports games on the market. Overall, the graphics and presentation in 2K23 are as good as I’ve seen in a wrestling game, which is precisely what you’d expect from a next-gen game created by the Visual Concepts team.
The heart of any great video game is its gameplay. And if you liked previous installments of the series, you will love this one. Gameplay feels much like its predecessors, but this year it seems wrestlers feel a bit heavier. The game speed feels toned back a bit as well. This gives the game more of a “sim” feel and is a massive win and a step in the right direction.
A new addition this year that Visual Concepts added was a timing-based kick-out meter. The objective is to time the little line perfectly inside the red area. This, like any new feature, will take time to master. However, once you have it down, it’s much more fun trying to time a kick out or to break free from a 10 count during a last-man-standing match than it is to button mash, risking the flesh of your thumb with every kick out.
WarGames is another new feature added this year, and everything about it is as chaotic as you’d imagine. Players can choose between 3 vs. 3 and 4 vs. 4 matches. Much like the actual match, two superstars start in the ring, as the others enter later on. One of the coolest features about this is you can toggle between wrestlers. This is necessary if you want to bring weapons into the ring. Changing into a superstar that’s getting ready to enter the match before he enters the cage allows you to reach under the ring, kicking WarGames up a notch. This is by far my favorite match type and never once does it feel too bogged down or crowded.
Matches Will Keep You On The Edge Of Your Seat
A critical part of any match is the reversal-based timing system. Mastering this is a game-changer and an absolute necessity when playing on higher difficulties. Thankfully, for those who may struggle with this (it took me a long time to master), there are ways to make the timing window more user-friendly. That said, you have to go through trial and error because the slider system isn’t as straightforward as I would like.
My favorite part about 2K23’s gameplay is that it never seems like the AI is overpowered. Of course, a great understanding of the reversal system is necessary to play on those higher difficulties. But matches are back and forth and, at times, can have you fully immersed. For example, I fought a match as Seth “freakin” Rollins vs. Cody Rhodes, and from the very first bell I was standing up out of my seat.
The match was amazing, with both wrestlers hitting their finishers multiple times. I thought I was done after a Cross Rhodes, but I kicked out in epic fashion. After another exhilarating back and forth, I would eventually hit a second Curb Stomp, finishing off Rhodes in what Dave Meltzer would call a six-star match. And let’s not overlook how well 2K integrated the PS5’s DualSense controller. DDTs and piledrivers feel more real now than ever before.
This year, MyRise takes a new approach to what we’ve become accustomed to, wasting no time throwing your created superstar into the action. In previous installments, you’d have to work up the ranks from a developmental superstar to a featured wrestler on the main roster. But not this year. In WWE 2K23, gamers immediately get thrown into the fire, accepting Sami Zayn’s open challenge for the Intercontinental Championship. But before you challenge Zayn for the championship, you must decide which type of backstory you want for your created superstar.
There are two options: “The Lock” and “The Legacy.” The Lock is what is widely considered a once-in-a-generation superstar. A natural athlete who was destined to main event WrestleMania. Legacy is a second-generation superstar, cursed to follow in his parent’s footsteps. Each story is different and is dictated by the outcomes you choose along the way. This is a fresh new approach to 2K23’s single-player story mode and should keep gamers occupied.
Without getting into too much detail, this is by far the best single-player mode we’ve seen from 2K23. My only gripe is with some of the dialogue. Yes, it’s nice to hear superstars like Sami Zayn and others talk on the mic, but the audio feels out of place, and often the wrestler’s mouth is moving 100 miles a minute.
With that said, MyRise is a massive step in the right direction and will be the game mode I keep returning to.
Admittedly, I wasn’t a big MyGM guy in the past. The game mode seemed watered down and needed work to be something worth committing countless hours to — especially when there was only one season to play through. That said, this year’s game delivers in every aspect. Gone are the days of only having four general managers to choose from. You can even make your own created GM if that’s your preferred route. I picked Mick Foley and immediately took over the RAW Brand, but there are several other brands you can choose from, including SmackDown, NXT, and even WCW.
The most significant change is the ability to play endless seasons. This adds a ton of replayability to the game mode, which is nice because there’s a lot of stuff for gamers to dive into — playing around with budgets, drafting your own WWE roster, signing free agents, production elements, and so much more. Yes, the game can feel drawn out over time, with things becoming repetitive. But with the ultimate goal being to make the WWE Hall of Fame and win the rating war vs. your fellow GMs, gamers will want to keep playing well into future years.
The options are endless in MyGM this year, making it one of my favorite game modes in WWE 2K23.
Very few games have as extensive of a customization suite as the 2K franchises, but this year’s game raises the bar like never before. Not only is the wildly popular create-an-entrance feature back and more accessible than ever, but gamers can take their created arenas online for the first time. This is a game changer for those wanting to replicate another promotion, such as AEW or NJPW, without the creative chops to pull off such a feat.
Additionally, 2K has added a slew of new templates allowing those who may feel a bit overwhelmed by the options to try out this new feature. But where Visual Concepts raises the stakes is with how much more detail gamers can put into their created superstar. When starting MyRise, my wrestler looked as detailed as some of WWE’s top superstars. This is both a curse and a blessing because with added options, and the ability to make wrestlers much more realistic looking, comes tireless nights trying to perfect such an art. And it is an art!
The one major gripe I still have is the inability to scan characters’ faces into the game. This has been frustrating for years. 2K’s Ed Gein route of putting a layer over the wrestler’s head and trying to make it look right is old and outdated. Thankfully, where there’s a will, there’s a way. And if you can dream it, you can make it in WWE 2K23.
This year’s Showcase is done exceptionally well. And for the first time in the game’s storied franchise, you play not as the hero of the story, John Cena, but as some of his most memorable rivals. This adds a new element to Showcase, which beautifully weaves between the game and vintage WWE highlights. It also keeps things fresh because, as the developers said, “Who wants to play as the same character repeatedly?”
Cena’s dialogue adds another element, peeling back the layers and giving wrestling fans his perspective of some of his top matches. Some of these rivals include RVD, Kurt Angle, The Undertaker, Batista, The Rock, and Brock Lesnar, among others. Winning as these characters will unlock new arenas, outfits, and characters. My only gripe is how difficult it can be to land some of the objectives throughout the match. For example, while you aimlessly try to land an Angle Slam on Cena or Rock Bottom through a table, his only goal is to win the match. This is not a deal breaker, as WWE 2K23 does a great job of allowing gamers to see the move lists in the start menu, but it can become frustrating at times.
Even with the occasional frustrations, Showcase mode is a must-play, if not for anything else but to relive some of Cena’s most iconic matches and unlock some of his most iconic attires. There are even a few special surprises for gamers to discover that may quickly become their favorite Cena to date.
As a father with three kids, finding adequate time to play video games can be hard. So, I’ll be the first to admit that in the past I’ve been a bit overwhelmed with Universe mode. So, when I was asked to review 2K23, I was excited to try it and compare it to what I’ve tried in previous installments. This year, Universe gives gamers far more control than ever before, which is most notable in its revamped rivalry systems. This year, you can set rivalries and dictate the outcome using momentum points earned throughout Universe mode. Another nice added feature is now gamers can pick and choose what cutscenes and animations they want to incorporate into their stories.
As we’ve seen in previous installments, you can choose to control a specific superstar or run a completely open-world universe, picking and choosing which matches you’d like to play. I went with the open-world option and have quickly become hooked. That’s not to say that it isn’t overwhelming, but with all the new features and the addition of particular match types like WarGames, there’s plenty to keep gamers returning.
What I Don’t Like
In a day and age where most sports games have their own unique trading card system, WWE 2K23 is no different. Gamers can battle it out in live events with objectives such as “defeat the Bloodline in a six-man tag match” or break 20 submissions. These objectives lead to virtual currency, which can later be purchased to upgrade your cards and Faction. According to the Visual Concepts team, here’s a list of the tokens that can be earned throughout My Faction and how you unlock them.
- MyFACTION Points – which can be spent on card packs and contracts – are awarded for completing matches and challenges;
- MyFACTION Tokens – which can be spent in the Token Rewards market to unlock powerful WWE Superstar and Legend cards – are also awarded for completing matches and challenges;
- Virtual Currency – available for purchase and spent exclusively in MyFACTION on card packs, boxes, and contracts. As an essential reminder, anything that players can purchase with Virtual Currency can also be unlocked with MyFACTION Points.
- Store Tokens: Earned for gameplay throughout all non-MyFACTION modes, these tokens can be spent in the Purchasables Store to unlock Superstars and any other items for use in non-MyFACTION modes
This all seems way too gimmicky to me. And while I do love the idea of live events and unique things to earn while competing against other gamers online, the sluggish online play, coupled with the inevitable number of gamers who would rather pay to win, will make MyFaction unappealing to some. On the other hand, I like that they added the ability to compete online with fellow gamers. Still, with a game with so many better game modes to spend countless hours playing, MyFaction will likely be an afterthought for many.
Bugs And Glitches
Like any video game, 2K23 has occasional hiccups — some range from players warping into one another to managers not appearing next to their superstars. I’ve even seen players get lost at the top of Hell in a Cell. However, most of the glitches I’ve experienced have come during matches involving a cage. At one point, in my very first WarGames match, Roman Reigns got stuck between the cell and the ropes. Of course, he’d eventually break free, but these are some minor bugs you will experience throughout your playing time with 2K23.
It’s nothing like the darkest days of WWE 2K and how rampant the bugs were a couple years back, it’s just something that the series constantly battles against.
The Bottom Line
While diehard fans of the series might not see massive improvements, the changes to MyGM, MyRise, and Universe modes will keep things fresh and allow gamers to play the game year-round. Additionally, the minor tweaks to 2k23’s core gameplay and the new timing-based kick-out system give the players more control over the action. Like every year, Showcase is a must-try, especially if you want to unlock all the John Cenas in the game (and you do).
But what will ultimately set 2K23 apart from other wrestling games is its massive creation suite. Create-a-wrestlers this year look as good as some of the WWE Superstars. And I can’t wait to see what the community has in store for us casual gamers this year. Adding the ability to download player-created arenas is the icing on the cake. It’s not perfect, but WWE 2K23 is the best game since the 2K name started being used.