Unlike Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Black Ops 4, WWE is a franchise that I play every year. This is a series that I nitpick through year on year. This year marks the return of the showcase mode focusing on the unstoppable Daniel Bryan. This year also offers Challenge Towers, and as it the norm, the biggest WWE playable roster yet. But is this enough to satisfy a long time jaded fan, let’s find out?
WWE 2K19 is a professional wrestling video game developed in collaboration between Yuke’s and Visual Concepts and published by 2K Sports. It was released worldwide on October 9, 2018, for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. It is the twentieth game in the WWE game series and a follow-up to WWE 2K18.
There are certain expectations when you load up a WWE game for the first time.
You expect to find a free play mode, where you and up to 4 of your friends could have their pick from a vibrant and expansive roster of WWE superstars and put them inside (or outside depending on stipulations) the squared circle to answer the eternal question, ‘Who is the better man?’ (Shawn Michaels is and always will be the man, BTW). CHECK.
You also expect to find an online mode, where you can compete with people all across the world in various kinds of matches online. The matchmaking should be fair and the lobby should have reasonably low wait times. CHECK.
You also expect to find a Universe mode. Where you are given absolute control over the entire WWE Universe. You can play god to your heart’s extent and play out those dream matches that you always dreamed of. Adam Cole Vs. Dusty Rhodes why not. Machoman Randy Savage teaming up with Ultimate Warrior and Ric Flair to take on the Shield at Wrestlemania, inside a Steel Cage, with Blob head mode turned on, Absolutely. And it should not be limited to just matches. You can edit roster, create new shows, mix up alliances, make old belts active again. In essence, you should be able to create your own version of how WWE looks today. CHECK.
Finally, you expect a robust creation suite. A place where you can let your imagination run wild and give birth to that perfect Superstar who is a 500-pound skinny giant and can jump off the top rope, and enters the ring ballet dancing while pyros spew fire all around him. He should also be able to share his creation with the world and download the creations that others have shared too. CHECK.
But then there are the 2K Towers. A first for the WWE2K series, and perhaps inspired by the towers in Mortal Kombat, players can participate in a series of challenges/matches against a bevy of WWE Superstars both old and new. Most of these towers have a recurring theme, like Intercontinental Champions, or NXT Passouts etc. No tower is the same, as some offer limited Superstar selection, while in others you don’t regain your health when moving from one match to another. Indeed the Million Dollar Tower that culminates in you competing against a gold plated AJ Styles, puts you in line to win a million dollars in real life. DOUBLE CHECK.
And also the My Player mode. My player mode is essentially an extension to the My Career mode in earlier games. This mode does put some restrictions on how you can create a player, so it fits into the mold of the character that Yukes are trying to create a narrative around. Once created the My Player mode offers its own suite of game modes. You could compete in the daily, weekly or monthly towers specifically tailored for your CAW. Or you could take part in matches online taking on other CAWs of WWE enthusiasts around the world. Finally, you could experience the custom tailor made story which sees you start as an indie star and then making your way to the top of the WWE mountain.
Ohh there is also the Showcase.
Story & Narrative
The Showcase mode makes a return this year, with the spotlight firmly on the inimitable Daniel Bryan. I would have personally picked AJ Styles for the Showcase, because well he is the cover athlete this year, but I can’t complain (long-time readers will remember I had the same problem with WWE’12 when CM Punk was the cover athlete). The Showcase mode offers a look at Daniel Bryan’s up and down career with some insights by the GOAT himself. Each match, a highlight from Daniel Bryan’s career offers some objective apart from winning the match outright and act as a visual reminder of the hell that Daniel Bryan has put his body through just so we could chant YES along with him. I mean that guy has taken some serious bumps. Some of those matches helped remind me how good they were and makes me respect Daniel Bryan even more.
While not as tumulous as the Showcase, the other place where the narration is on offer in WWE2K19, is the aforementioned My Player mode.
Initially, only a handful of costumes, moves and entrance themes are available to you. But as you progress through the story and gain Style Points (essentially Skill Points), you unlock better equipment, better skills, better moves, and even better clothes mirroring the transformation of a rookie into a proper WWE superstar. It’s as close to an RPG as a WWE game can get.
But the main problem with the My Player mode has always been the amount of fluff that was placed by Yukes in between the actual narrative points. It took too many dark and inconsequential matches to get to the juicy bits. I am happy to report that this particular problem has been solved. Your story of rags to riches moves way faster this time, and there are multiple interactions with various WWE figureheads, most of which have been voiced by the Superstar themselves. You do not go more than 3 matches without a cutscene, and the pacing of the story feels way better this time around.
Gameplay & Mechanics
The WWE gameplay and mechanics are easy to pick up and difficult to master. Unlike most fighting games, WWE 2K19 prefers the slower methodical pacing of an actual wrestling match. Instead of continuous sequential pressing of a button, WWE 2K19 breaks the beating into individual events, each one atomic in its action, result and consequence. Each one could be countered if you have a counter slot available (or 2 depending on the situation), and each successful counter would leave your opponent open to the next attack.
Every match you play goes through the same motion. You start with hits, move up to grapple and stronger moves, build up your momentum and then try to finish with a finisher. Everything else, stuff like putting someone through a table, pushing him off a ladder, DDT through a chair, or spearing through the barricade, has been made much easier to achieve, so your matches end up looking more spectacular more often than not.
Depending on how spectacular each match is, you are given a rating out of 5. This rating, however, is only dependent on how you perform. How many moves you use, how many counters you execute, how many dramatic moments take place. So even though your opponent just kicked out of an RKO for the third time, it doesn’t add to the match value. Which is something that Yukes need to fix, I mean if they are trying to create a product as close to an actual WWE match as possible, then selling your opponent is as big a part of that as anything else.
The WWE Universe tries to mimic an actual living organism and WWE Superstars move from Happy to Upset to Popular to Jobber to Injured, as they would in a normal WWE roster, except when it doesn’t. I mean I put The Brian Kendrick in 3 matches with Brock on 3 consecutive shows, and he wasn’t injured (The last one was a Hell in a Cell); and Seth gets into a single match with Miz, and comes out with a broken rib. I mean against the Miz of all people.
Graphics, Performance & Sound
In the graphics department, WWE has improved year over year. There are a lot of comparison videos online, so I am not gonna argue if the baby oil on Ziggler shines better this year. Suffice to say that some Superstars (for eg. Triple H, Daniel Bryan, AJ Styles) look really close, while others (especially some of the women superstars) don’t. Where Yukes have hit the home run, again and again, is the entrance, the arenas, and the soundtracks. All of them feel authentic and are as close to the actual thing as possible.
Then there is the menu overhaul, which makes the game look way cooler. The transition between modes and panels feel slick and with different WWE Superstars adoring the right-hand side, it just feels like the sweet spot for the WWE UI, just keep this and never let it go. If you are nit-picking though it was probably not the best idea to have a white colored loading icon on a greyish white background. Sometimes you are not able to see it and wonder if the game is stuck.
Which it doesn’t. The game rarely got stuck. Frame drops were rare, or at least I didn’t notice them, and even when there were 6 people on the screen, the game held up. The Loading times too have improved for the better with this version, and you get into your match quicker. Even the online mode, felt like it was able to get matches faster (probably because I am in Canada), though the timing of counters in online and offline mode is completely skewed, so it can be a bit jarring when you move from one mode to another.
The coup de resistance for WWE 2K19 though is the fully voice-acted dialogues from all the WWE Superstars which you interact within the course of your My Player career. Not only does this make the experience more immersive, but it also adds variety to the dialogue set, as even the same line spoken by Kevin Owens sounds completely different when spoken by Sami Zayn.
Its a pity then, that I cannot the same about the commentary. The color commentary available for Free play, Online, and WWE Universe mode is extremely limited, and you would soon be hearing repeated phrases in the space of a match which saps the experience of it being a WWE match.
WWE 2K19 feels like a completely new game. I haven’t liked a WWE game this much since Here Comes The Pain. New modes, overhauled menus, revamped My Player mode, and a smoother online experience makes WWE 2K19 the Wrestling game to own.