Let’s get one thing out of the way first. I have not touched a wrestling title since WWF Warzone on the original PlayStation. Yes, it has been that long. Why did I wait so long to get my hands on a wrestling game? Well, the simple and short answer is that I had heard terrible things about the games before I had the chance. I watched some Let’s Plays and the glitches were hilarious and they looked enjoyable but the “counter” craziness that the game became was a turn off.
I now have my hands on WWE2K19, twenty years after the release of my last wrestling game, and, even though there are quite a few things to gripe about, I am impressed with the pure amount of content throughout this iteration. Basically, if you are looking to do something in terms of wrestling then you will find it here.
I kept hearing about this MyCareer mode in the WWE2K games that I had to check out to take a user created wrestler through the ranks to stardom. I have always been a fan of modes where you can take custom characters from zero to hero. The NBA games do it and so do the NHL games as well. They are a ton of fun and they really make you strategize your stats spending.
The MyCareer mode in WWE2K19 is a mixed bag with me. I loved being able to create my own wrestler. I knew the options were going to be endless but I also knew I was going to have to earn my aesthetics and stats (or just pay for it with real money of course so that you don’t have to grind the unlocks). Thankfully I had the Starter Pack so it came with 50,000 in currency to spend on some cool moves and some decent clothes. You gain more currency through matches in MyCareer so unlocking items becomes a grind but a worthy one when you want something specific. The customization of wrestlers in this game is insane and they have apparently been this way throughout the series. A lot of people buy this game for the MyPlayer customization options alone. They only continue to get deeper and deeper with this element.
Your wrestler has a skill tree that they can spend earned points on to upgrade their stats. You earn skill points through matches as you progress through your story. Depending on the type of wrestler you want to be (Attack, Defend, etc.) will determine where you most likely want to spend your points. As you unlock skills in your tree you will also find yourself unlocking additional moves that you can use during matches. This will expand your arsenal slowly and help you learn what you can do in different environments. These moves are in no way shown interactively and you need to explore them in matches on your own, which makes them happen randomly if you do not know what you are doing. This is why Showcase mode is great but I will get to that later.
One of the really interesting additions to the game is called the Payback mechanic. You can add Payback buffs to your wrestler to activate (once earned) in a match. This could be anything from getting out of a pin with a single button press, getting up immediately from being knocked down, using a finisher from your opponent and many others. This really helps you gain momentum and turn the tide in a match when needed.
The story is a bit of a cringe at times but has its moments. You are a no-name wrestler in the BCW (lowest ranks) and you are looking to get signed by the NXT. You live in your van and don’t have much to your name but you are a grinder and you fight hard for what you think is worth it. My play-through consisted of my wrestler getting offered a contract after my second fight but then having that contract rescinded almost immediately for causing drama with fans. I don’t know if this angle can change depending on your second match and what the outcome is of said match but it would make sense if it stayed the same. To be honest the story made me chuckle quite a few times and there were many twists and turns but the scenes were environmentally boring and the dialogue was sometimes presented in such a monotone structure that I almost felt the need to skip some scenes. Speaking of scenes, why are there sometimes 4-5 scenes in between matches that take forever to load? The flow of the career took a slow turn when I was just waiting for my next match to appear.
Aside from the cut-scenes and matches you will have options to talk to various people along your journey. Some of these conversations can open up side-matches depending on your choice of dialogue, which in turn can gain you more experience. These dialogue choices will also determine the type of wrestler you want to be (face or heel). In other words you can be an arse or a nice person.
What about the actual wrestling gameplay itself? Well, and this is coming from someone who hasn’t played a wrestling game in twenty years, the gameplay is somewhat subpar. Now before you start hating on me hear me out. The wrestling games I am used to back in the day were basic brawlers where you kicked the crap out of your opponent, they kicked the crap out of you but you both had the ability to go back and forth in the fight. In my initial matches for this game I felt like I had a decent grasp on the basic controls. You could punch, grapple, throw, pick-up, pin, drag, perform finishing moves, lock in a submission, and a couple of other moves. These were all explained by in-game tutorials that showed up whenever I was about to do something I had never done before (tutorial rant in a bit).
I am in the groove. I am really getting into this thing and then BAM!!! I get countered. In my mind I am like “when did these games get the reversal mechanic”? I quickly find out that the series has become a reversal-fest because if you can’t counter you won’t win any matches. Well, then I should just get good at countering right? Guess what? There is a counter limit by default and sometimes you can’t reverse a move because you are in a cool down state that currently does not allow you to reverse for a good chunk of time. Wow did this get frustrating. I did what any normal human being would do and I went to the options and turned the counter limit off and even set the difficulty to easy. Holy hell did this change my experience (for the good).
With the counter limit off and the difficulty set to east I was able to learn the controls at a comfortable pace, keep tabs on my opponents and experiment with different in-and-out of ring mechanics without getting my butt whipped. Sometimes you just have to tweak the settings to change your view on a game completely.
What I don’t understand is the Tutorial system. The random text pop ups during gameplay didn’t really help me out trying to learn moves because I wasn’t going to specific areas of the ring and I also was not experimenting with the ringside elements. It was nice when the popups did happen so I could get an idea that there was something else to learn but it didn’t provide me with enough in-game interactivity. This is where Showcase mode really shined.
Showcase mode takes you on a journey of Daniel Bryan’s (or Brian Danielson’s) real life career through the WWE and puts you in matches that actually happened. You will have to complete objectives that are specific to moves that the wrestler did in real life during each match. The objectives are actually an amazing way to introduce a tutorial-like atmosphere to the game and I wish they used this way of doing so rather than the text pop ups. I learned how to play the game in every way through Showcase mode and became a better wrestler for it. I even got to up the difficulty of the game once I got the hang of the Showcase mode showing me the ropes. This was such an amazing mode to go through and was the highlight of the entire package.
There is also Towers mode, which allows you to take one WWE superstar and run a gauntlet of matches while maintaining your health through each match. The higher you climb the better your currency gain is to spend on your custom characters. This mode is fun for when you know what your doing with every match type but can be infuriating on higher difficulties especially with your health being maintained through each match.
The Universe mode is back where you control the RAW and SMACKDOWN shows by editing the matches and playing (or not playing) as a wrestler in each match. You decide the outcomes when you can and continue to build your shows out and you progress. You can watch wrestlers cut promos and gain rivalries with other wrestlers. You can basically customize title shows and elements of the show that you want to happen as it progresses. The customization is very deep and makes for a fun mode to mess around with if you’re into becoming your own GM.
All in all, WWE2K19 has its ups and downs. I really enjoyed the Showcase mode and wish they had turned the tutorial into this but making objectives for you to complete rather than text pop ups. The customization options are ridiculous in such a good way for wrestlers and the content will surely keep you busy for a long time. The gameplay lacks and is better when you turn the counter limits off and the difficulty down but that is only from my experience. There is a lot here for a wrestling fan and you won’t be disappointed but they definitely need to fix the in-ring experience.