WWE 2K23 Review: A New High Bar for the Series

WWE 2K22 revitalized the series, but there was still room for improvement. With WWE 2K23, 2K Games has answered the call and built upon the already stellar foundations of the previous entry while adding the truly delightful WarGames mode to the mix. There is always room for growth, but 2K23 is absolutely loaded with content for wrestling fans of all kinds, and the wrestling itself is as smooth as it's ever been. Some will say there's a lack of new content, but between the new John Cena showcase, the added features to MyGM, the two new stories of MyRISE, the return of Make-An-Entrance, and the addition of WarGames, that theory doesn't quite hold up. WWE 2K23 refines what the previous game did so well and makes the returning modes even better. It also manages to craft one of its most entertaining experiences in the ring thus far and set a new standard for the series.

The biggest new addition to WWE 2K23 is WarGames, which brings 3 v 3 and 4 v 4 options. WarGames matches are always wonderfully chaotic affairs, and 2K has captured that chaos beautifully. From the adrenaline rush of the new competitors entering the ring to the multitude of options, the two-ring caged setup allows for, there's just so much fun to be had throughout the match; especially as tables, chairs, and stop signs are thrown into the ring with every new entrant.

(Photo: 2K)

Perhaps most impressive about the mode is how smooth it all is for how much is happening at any given time. Royal Rumbles have more people in the mix, but there is typically only the ring and the outside to account for. Here someone will be climbing up the cage to jump off while someone else is setting up a table on one side of the cage as two people are teaming up on someone else in the other ring, all while two other people fight in the area between the rings. In my experience with the mode, the framerate stayed step for step with the action (in both 3 v 3 and 4 v 4).

While the sheet chaos happening can make it hard to make out prompts from time to time if you are behind some people, those moments were rare and never substantially affected the match. That said, my one major gripe about the mode is that there aren't trash cans available. Trash cans have become somewhat of a tradition in WarGames matches, with Io Shirai, Dakota Kai, and more having memorable moments with them in the past. In fact, having a few additional weapons of any sort would've made things even better, but these are small nitpicks to an otherwise stellar mode.

On the 2K Showcase front, John Cena takes the stage for a walk through some of his most memorable losses, with some key surprises thrown in for good measure. Your mileage will obviously vary depending on how big of a Cena fan you happen to be, but I enjoyed how much attention was paid to making the matches feel as if Cena was really walking you through them with personalized steps through the match, and the introductions are well executed and get you primed for the match that is set to happen. The fact that he was so willing to focus on the moments he lost because of the effect they had on him and his career is laudable, and despite Cena already being a previous showcase star, helps set this version completely apart from that previous entry.

There are some key match-ups here too, ones that WWE historians will get a kick out of, and as in years past, the mode does an exceptional job at transitioning from in-game graphics to real footage. The only hiccup is the music playing alongside the match becomes grating, as it's just on loop for some rather lengthy matches, and it also overwhelms the reactions from the crowd, it took away from what was happening onscreen. 

On the MyGM side, the mode is even better than last year's, and that was my favorite part of last year's game. The same addictive qualities are back but this time there's even more to get lost in. More GMs to choose from mean more special GM abilities, and there are more Championships in the mix now thanks to every brand having a secondary Championship and both Men's and Women's Tag Team Championships. That was the biggest drawback to last year's version, but that's not all we get, as more match types are also included and some of those have additional perks depending on the rivalries you are featuring on the card. The Hall of Fame goal now gives you more than just being the best brand as an incentive, and also carries more rewards and Power Cards to unlock along the way, plus special perks that you can choose from throughout the season. It's still my favorite mode, though MyRISE gave it a run for its money.

(Photo: ComicBook)

This year MyRISE gets two stories, those being The Legacy and The Lock. Both let you walk a Superstar from the beginning of their WWE career to legendary status, but they approach it in totally different ways, and I appreciated both stories. The Legacy has you coming in as the daughter of a former WWE Champion, while The Lock has you coming into WWE as an independent wrestling star who is viewed as a surefire future Champion. Both capture the melodrama of WWE storylines and are pleasantly self-aware, bringing up WWE's penchant for changing your name and gimmick when you come from outside of the company or that you shouldn't sneeze around the boss man for instance.

Those are very early examples but they are indicative of a sense of humor that I appreciated throughout both stories, and the choices along the way are fun as are the various alliances you forge and the rivalries you encounter. I genuinely enjoyed some of the new characters and both make use of some fan-favorite Superstars in entertaining ways, especially Sami Zayn. The graphics in MyRISE also improved, but when people start talking you can see there's more work to be done on animations. The synching often doesn't quite match up, and while the movements of certain models are fine, others look stiff and awkward.

MyFACTION comes back with some small but impactful changes, and I already found myself enjoying the mode's Live Events. I will say that I clicked far more with this mode than last years simply due to the refined gameplay. Playing a simple one on one match is just far more fun when the systems themselves are so smooth, and since that is a big part of MyFACTION, it didn't seem like a chore to wrestle so many matches to unlock more cards and points this time around. Speaking of the gameplay, it's a small thing, but the new pin system is my preferred version, so while the old one is still included, the new one leaves it in the dust.

(Photo: 2K)

Universe adds new elements as well geared to letting players have greater control over how rivalries are booked and how they play out on a step-by-step level, and now you are able to see so much more of what the game has to offer in terms of cutscenes with that change. On the Creation Suite side, there are more items to use and the return of Create-An-Arena and Create-An-Entrance modes, but both aren't quite what they could be. Create-An-Arena didn't receive much in the way of attention, and aside from some added props for the entranceway, there are still things missing like being able to use NXT cage barricades for custom arenas or feature a host of weapons littered on the floor at ringside.

On the Create-An-Entrance front, it's awesome to have it back, but it's not the most user-friendly mode to use. At the moment Title Entrances go straight to special Title animations, and there's no way to use a standard motion unless you choose a default setting for a Superstar. The only problem with that is it's then difficult to preview the motions, so while it's nice to be able to choose those settings, the way this is done and laid out could use some small tweaks. Hopefully, this is the type of thing that can just be updated with a patch though.

When heading online, as you might expect, WarGames matches are the most popular lobbies at the moment, and I was worried that these would be laggy and choppy since you're factoring in so many variables. In my experience though that wasn't the case, and I greatly enjoyed the WarGames matches since it actually felt like regardless of experience level you could still have a good time causing chaos in the ring and get some chops in. On the one-on-one side of things, it can still be quite easy to get stomped if you encounter a player who has the reversal timing down to a tee, but with the ability to get back on your feet more than in past games (at least it feels that way), there is a bit more room to get some momentum back.

(Photo: 2K)

Graphically the game can be gorgeous, though as in games' past, it all depends on how accurately the Superstars are recreated in the game. There are some truly impressive face scans this year, especially for first-timers like Indi Hartwell, Zoey Stark, and Bron Breakker, and Superstars like Ricochet, Finn Balor, and Alexa Bliss are also standouts. Meanwhile, some stars still aren't quite at that accuracy level, and sometimes things like coats can look a bit bulky and take away from the impressive character models. What is impressive though is how 2K really tried to get current looks in the game, so while Bayley doesn't come out to Damage CTRL's entrance music, she is wearing Damage CTRL gear. Likewise, Sami Zayn has his newest WWE shirt in the game despite it only coming out around 3 months ago, and there are several examples of this amongst the roster. The only real knock against the Roster itself is the lack of legends, though for me personally, I wanted more NXT stars in the mix, so it's not a deal breaker.

WWE 2K23 isn't a massive leap forward from WWE 2K22, but that speaks more to how solid a foundation WWE 2K22 built rather than any slight to 2K23. The new title builds upon the systems fans loved in last year's game and allows them to flourish, especially in MyGM and MyRISE, which feel like they reach the promise of what 2K22 initially teased. The core gameplay feels as smooth and fun to play as ever, and WarGames is pure adrenaline in a cage. Coupled with more options across the board and a compelling Showcase, WWE 2K23 has set a new high bar for the series, and if this is the jump fans can expect for WWE 2K24, we are in for even better days ahead.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

WWE 2K23's Standard Edition and Cross-Get Edition will release on Friday, March 17th for PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, Xbox One, and PC.

Are you excited for WWE 2K23? Let us know in the comments or as always you can talk all things wrestling and gaming with me on Twitter @MattAguilarCB!

Review copy provided by the publisher.