WWE 2K has been a bizarre franchise up until this point. As the WWE games series went from SmackDown to SmackDown vs. Raw to WWE 2K, the titles themselves gradually morphed into a chaotic attempt by their various developers to keep building on the foundation just enough to keep players interested year after year. When WWE 2K15 came out, the series clearly stumbled in a desperate attempt to start over. The series’ engine was eventually redesigned from the ground up, and things felt like they were back to square one. In the process, though, so many match types, the Create-a-Wrestler function, and other bells and whistles had to be cut or simplified so the franchise could start from scratch. The WWE 2K teams built on that fresh start across the following several games, and while we’re still missing legacy features like the wonderfully bonkers Create-a-Story mode, the series feels like it’s finally starting to catch up.
The problem is that as those studios desperately tried to get these installments out year after year, the foundation started to rot. Quality control fell to the wayside. Bugs and glitches started to overwhelm the engine, and we eventually ended up with WWE 2K20: a shame of a release that found itself on seemingly every “worst of” video game list in 2019. It was the kind of disaster that couldn’t be overlooked. 2K Games took a year off and released the cartoony and underdeveloped WWE 2K Battlegrounds as a kind of placeholder title.
When it comes to the disaster that was WWE 2K20, I can’t help but reminisce about the existence of New Coke. Back in the 1980s, Coca-Cola was taken off the market and replaced with a new recipe that most people hated. After New Coke’s failure, “Classic” Coke returned and was seen as something worth celebrating as new despite actually being something quite old. Never underestimate the status quo. However, Coke was always supposed to be the same, and these WWE 2K games are ideally intended to be unique installments. WWE 2K22 is without a doubt a better game than WWE 2K20 was, but does that make it anything more than two steps back and two steps forward?
First off, WWE 2K22‘s gameplay is definitely tighter and feels better than this series has in many recent years. I’m glad to see the end of reversal limits, and while the “combo breaker” system takes some getting used to, I consider it a step forward. I’ve also never really cared for the “OMG” system, so I don’t have any qualms about those spots being taken out.
As we’ve previously discussed, though, the game’s roster is a pretty big problem. I feel like I shouldn’t be moaning about issues with the WWE TV product and the behind-the-scenes situations/rumors when discussing a video game, but the game reflects all of those issues so much that it’s hard not to. Besides, so many wrestling games have rosters that are dated by the time they’re released. It’s been like that since Ravishing Rick Rude was in WWF WrestleMania Challenge for NES. It’s an expected hazard.
It’s just that there are dozens of modern wrestlers who aren’t part of the WWE anymore. So many have been let go due to budget cuts (despite record profits) or for the sake of cleansing the company of Triple H’s friends and favorites for petty, political reasons. Even just seeing Road Dogg in MyRise mode feels awkward. On the opposite side of that, NXT 2.0 was seemingly too new to be embraced, meaning we don’t get such memorable acts as Bron Breakker or wrestling mobster, Tony D’Angelo. Hey, at least Veer isn’t in the game. That’s especially accurate to the current WWE product!
Roster concerns aside, it’s ultimately the variety of the basic gameplay experience that helps make these experiences shine. So far as that goes, WWE 2K22 certainly has a lot of variety…for better and for worse.
MyRise, the series’ latest attempt at a career mode, has some issues with the dialogue and repetitive nature of the feuds (also accurate to current WWE), but at its core, it’s one of the better single-player campaigns we’ve seen from these games in recent years. Every wrestling game has to come up with its own take on career mode and the nigh-endless choices that come with MyRise absolutely blow 2K20’s “our protagonists are losers because wrestling fans are losers” story mode out of the water.
2K Showcase returns with a look at Rey Mysterio’s career. The format is perfect and does a fantastic job at not falling into the trap of rematch after rematch like some of the rivalry-based Showcase modes of the past (I’m looking at you, Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels). The bigger problems here can be attributed to the strange absence of Kurt Angle (meaning we don’t get to see Rey’s big WrestleMania 22 win for the World Heavyweight Championship) and WWE’s historical tendency to drag Rey around a lot despite his beloved nature. He’s a guy whose world title reigns are notoriously bad, so while there are some important matches against Eddie Guerrero early on, the shine of the matches dulls as it goes on. Towards the end, the game has to convince us that a Raw match against Gran Metalik is one of Rey Mysterio’s career highlights.
GM Mode returns after 15 years. Granted it’s always been a niche thing in these games with its own cult following, but it’s surprising that it took so long for this mode to make a comeback. It’s pretty great for a new start, but it’s a touch too simple and definitely could use some extra love to really find its form.
At least that’s more than I can say for MyFaction: a card-based experiment in building your own stables. The highest compliment I can give is that if WWE 2K22 has to have microtransactions, at least they’re largely limited to this mode. There is at lkeast enough happening on the disc to keep me from being entirely insulted that MyFaction is even an option.
Otherwise, the Creation Suite is still a thing of beauty. They had to nerf Create-an-Entrance for bug reasons, but I’ve never cared much for entrances after the second day of playing these games anyway. Considering how frustrating things were in WWE 2K15 when this series decided to start over, it’s refreshing to see how far the Create-a-Wrestler function has evolved since then.
Speaking of evolution, as someone who digs playing and simulating Royal Rumble matches, it really is great how loaded Royal Rumbles feel in these games nowadays. Gone are the days when all you could do was Irish whip someone over the top rope and grapple with them until they maybe fell to the floor. Now there are so many options in how eliminations can happen, reflecting the awesome, unpredictable nature of the PPVs. This isn’t specific to this very game, but it’s something I never see anyone else really mention.
Whatever the future brings, WWE 2K22 is an absolutely critical game. It’s an apology, but it needs to be an apology that gets widely accepted. There are rumors that WWE might be interested in moving the franchise over to EA, which certainly puts a lot of pressure on how well WWE 2K22 performs.
Even if this isn’t 2K Games’ last hurrah with the WWE license, there’s a growing sense that the entire concept of WWE games dominating this particular marketplace could soon be in danger. At the very least, there is the lingering threat of All Elite Wrestling’s upcoming game. While footage and details of that game are sparse, the expectations for it are nearly mythic due to the promotion’s ever-expanding roster (I will absolutely pre-order if it means Hook DLC), patience in its development, and the popular insistence that it will invoke memories of the beloved WWF No Mercy. Much like AEW itself, that game feels like a real competitor to a product that has gotten by for far too long by virtue of being the only real option in its class.
It’s hard to say what WWE 2K22’s role will be in the big picture of wrestling video games, but even if it mostly feels on par with a game from three years ago, it’s an overall success for one reason: momentum. The game has problems, but there’s still so much to love and so much that feels ready to be expanded in future installments. It no longer feels like the franchise is crumbling under its own weight and an unreasonable development schedule. It’s trying to push things forward and, if 2K plays their cards right, we might have a real, unforgettable classic on the way in a year or two.