WWE 2K19 Review

October 24, 2018
Also on: PC, Xbox One

WWE’s latest instalment has arrived from 2K Sports. But with the gaming community beginning to tire of minimal improvements each year, does WWE 2K19 have the necessary changes required to convince players to take a moonsault back into the franchise?

In 2014 2K Sports took over the WWE license and began producing games that continued the trend of commercially, if not always critically, successful wrestling titles. Over the last five years 2K Sports has tinkered with their original product as you would expect, expanding the roster, adding new game modes and making graphical improvements, all of which have been gratefully received by fans of the series. However, beyond this there have been significant areas of the franchise that have been well overdue an overhaul. Niggling problems with clipping that ruin the gaming experience, frustrating gameplay, lacklustre commentary and unengaging story modes have all plagued the series in one way or another and more recently, even the most ardent fans are beginning to question whether WWE is going down the road of some football gaming franchises, where each release merely offers a lick of paint and an update or expansion to the roster of wrestlers. Luckily, 2K Sports has been listening. WWE 2K19 represents a large step in the right direction, though there are still a few issues for future releases to address.

Initial impressions of WWE 2K19 are very good. The presentation is lifted right from the WWE televised product itself, including full WWE TV intros and ‘Don’t try this at home’ messages. The menu screens are stylish with a black and white colour scheme, featuring character models of the more established wrestling stars and accompanied by a varied and modern soundtrack. Navigation is clear and simple, with the ability to set up any kind of match within moments.  

Shinsuke Nakamura makes everything cooler.

The initial clear sign of progress from last year’s WWE 2K18 is when you begin your first match. Wrestler models are highly accurate with whole body detail including musculature and body hair. In addition there is excellent texture work on tights and boots, especially those with complex patterns and designs.  A common complaint from the series has been that the more famous wrestlers have had much more accurate character models while those further down the pecking order have suffered from some rather unfortunate facial scanning (Dana Brooke’s terrifying visage from WWE 2K18 would have many opponents tap out immediately!). This year, 2K Sports has ensured that everyone from top guys like John Cena and Roman Reigns right down to the self-titled ‘Top Guys’ like The Revival are all accurately depicted in game. Lighting has been heavily worked on and the results are subtle and highly realistic, particularly during action replay shots and wrestler entrances, which are identical to their television counterparts.

Despite this there are still some noticeable problems. Hair just doesn’t seem to look right on the wrestler models, particularly on those with long flowing locks. At times, a character’s hair will seemingly divide into elongated ribbons which have a strange life of their own, leaving your chosen combatant resembling Medusa as their hair moves in an unnatural manner during manoeuvres. Tattoos also look like they’ve been stuck or painted on, their tone being far too black and making them appear more like transfers. While these are relatively minor issues, they can prove distracting for a title that strives for an authentic WWE experience.

Vastly improved character models, even on NXT newcomers like Kairi Sane

Arenas are well represented and there is a vast selection on offer, giving fans the opportunity to revisit pivotal moments from WWE history whilst enjoying modern venues like the NXT Arena at Fullsail University and last year’s gigantic WrestleMania from New Orleans. These have been painstakingly recreated down to the smallest details and enjoy similar advances in lighting effects, particularly on the large TV screens and ramp lighting, all helping to add to the authenticity of the WWE experience. The ring itself looks excellent and animation on the ring ropes has been improved. There are far fewer clipping issues with the ropes and the character models, which is a welcome improvement.

Sound in the game is excellent with all wrestlers being accompanied to the ring by their respective entrance music and some suitably satisfying and bone-crunching thuds and slams. The crowd roars, boos and chants appropriately with the action during the match and there are some very enjoyable moments for the player, especially when the ‘YES!’ chants get going during a Daniel Bryan match. Strangely, the developers haven’t opted for the crowd to boo Roman Reigns, so total authenticity is not completely realised.

‘The Boss’ takes a beating in this six-woman Elimination Chamber match!

An improved commentary system was a selling point for the game and the team on WWE 2K19 comprises Byron Saxton, Michael Cole and Corey Graves. We were promised a more natural commentary experience and whilst there are clearly many more new lines of commentary, the experience is not always natural. Lines are still somewhat stilted and on more than one occasion were repeated within a moment or two of each other. There’s the usual compendium of wrestling cliches and a bit of banter between the team, but generally it adds very little to the experience.

While presentation is excellent and graphically the game is stunning, this is irrelevant if gameplay can’t keep up. WWE 2K19 has made some changes to the gameplay system but much of the core gameplay remains the same. Players move their wrestler with the left stick and can run by holding down the right trigger in the chosen direction. The striking system is simple enough, with a button push for a light strike and holding down for a more powerful one. Grapples can be initiated by tapping X, then if successful, your wrestler may strike, hit a move, apply a working hold, target a limb, send their opponent into the ropes or put them into a submission. At first this seems like a dizzying array of options and it does take time to get out of the habit of button mashing when the wrestlers tie-up and instead consider your next move. After a while this becomes easier and allows the player freedom to focus attention on a damaged limb or hit a big move. Other controls allow you to easily exit the ring, climb turnbuckles, seek weapons, manoeuvre your opponent into the right position or hit that devastating finishing move or OMG moment.

Let off some steam, Balor!

Where WWE 2K19 falters is in the reversal system and the minigames that accompany certain situations. Wrestlers in WWE 2K19 have a finite amount of reversals available to them, shown in a bar below the health and stamina display. These reversals build during the match and each successful reversal attempt removes up to two bars depending on the move being reversed. Reversals are a key part of building excitement in any professional wrestling bout, representing the moment when there is a shift in momentum and the underdog or embattled hero makes their comeback. In WWE 2K19 this is shown by an on-screen prompt to press R2 at exactly the right moment for a reversal to be effective. However, this icon is so small and is flashed on screen for such a tiny amount of time that it is often impossible to time correctly, leaving players with a ‘too fast’ or ‘too slow’ message as their wrestler is pummelled. Frustratingly, computer-controlled players never have trouble hitting their own reversals, even on the easiest difficulty setting and even when they have been systematically demolished for the preceding five minutes. This frustration is all too often amplified by the player finding themselves with their store of reversals used up, leaving them utterly helpless and unable to defend themselves. This therefore means players will often find themselves on top for an entire bout only for their opponent to reverse several moves, batter them silly and roll them up for a pin against all expectations and the feel of the match.

Similarly, the minigames that pop up in certain situations continue to divide fans. When a pin attempt is made, the game asks players to stop a moving slider in the green zone to escape the pin. When wrestlers are more injured, the green zone is smaller. Past wrestling games have relied on button mashing to escape pins and while seemingly more primitive; it captured the frantic element of escaping a pinning situation far better. In WWE 2K19 the slider feels unresponsive and it’s all too easy to lose a bout because your timing is off, rather than because your opponent had done enough to win. Likewise, the submission minigame requires players to cover their opponent’s coloured bar on a slider except as you rotate the stick you realise it doesn’t move how you would expect, so all too often your opponent slips out of your Sharpshooter or Hell’s Gate with ease. An option to replace the submission minigame with a slightly more friendly quick time event  is welcome, but still makes the player feel that winning is down to luck rather than graft.  

As a result of the poor reversal situation and the disappointing minigames for vital situations, playing a match against some of the more difficult opponents feels like an uphill struggle and asks the player to resort to cheap tactics, rather than enjoying the mechanics of the game. Hitting repeated clotheslines in order to send the opponent to the outside where they are less likely to reverse everything doesn’t make for an engaging or exciting wrestling game, but this is often where the game drives you.

WWE 2K19 features a Showcase mode which centres on the career of fan favourite and ultimate underdog, Daniel Bryan. There are elements of this that are immensely satisfying for wrestling fans as Bryan himself introduces each aspect of his storied career with a video clip explaining what led him to this bout. What follows encompasses both highs and lows. Each bout in the Daniel Bryan showcase has additional tasks during the match for the player to achieve. Some are simple, like performing a taunt in the middle of the ring while the opponent is downed, while others are more challenging, like putting your opponent through a table at ringside. Completing a match and fulfilling all of the additional objectives unlocks extra characters, outfits and more for use in the general game. However, this also proved to be one of the most frustrating elements of the game. As the player strives to complete objectives they must also avoid defeat and all too often, having finished all of the objectives, the computer-controlled wrestler will leap up, reverse a move and easily pin the player, leading to a Game Over screen and requiring a replay. This was a regular occurrence and highly irritating.

Reliving career highs with Daniel Bryan Showcase. What could go wrong with Triple H as a special referee…?

“Feature-packed” is an understatement when it comes to WWE 2K19. In addition to the Showcase mode there is MyPLAYER, which takes a few different forms. Firstly MyCAREER, where players create a wrestler and guide them through their fledgling career from living in a van to main eventing on the biggest stage of them all. This is an enjoyable experience which involves memorable moments and encounters with WWE characters and personnel. There is an RPG element which allows players to choose how they want their wrestler to skill up and playing through this mode earns credits for the purchase of loot packs in order to unlock new gear for the editing suite.

Unlocking new abilities and skills in the MyPLAYER skills tree.

Road to Glory is an online platform for player created wrestlers to go head to head with other created wrestlers from across the world.  Lastly, there is MyPLAYER Towers which is a Mortal Kombat-style challenge to defeat a group of wrestlers, often with particular restrictions or match types put in place. Similar Tower challenges await wrestlers from the main roster, all with themes and progressively more challenging difficulty, offering bigger rewards for the more dedicated players.

In addition to MyPLAYER there is the WWE Universe mode which is a sandbox for WWE fans to play in, crafting their own shows, rivalries and much more. This game mode is massively immersive and offers players vast opportunities to create their ultimate match cards, dream rivalries and put the titles on the people they think are most talented or deserving. This is the game mode that offers the most longevity for players as they can recreate future wrestling matches, feuds and events.

WWE games have long been lauded for the incredibly in-depth creation suite available to players. In WWE 2K19 it is possible to create wrestlers, arenas and title belts. The editor itself has considerable depth, allowing players to tweak things down to the smallest detail, including facial structure, hair dye and body shape. There is a vast array of options for outfits and as the online community creations prove, it is easy to create wrestlers from any number of different groups across the globe. These are available for download and can be easily integrated into the game for player use. As well as editing and altering the physical appearance of combatants, players can create unique movesets and entrances, focusing on lighting effects, music, pyrotechnics and more.

The random creation option makes for some unique grapplers.

This year, 2K Sports has continued to employ loot packs. In WWE 2K19 this means either via cash purchase or utilising points earned through playing the game, players can invest in loot packs which come in three different varieties, with more expensive ones offering more exclusive rewards. These loot packs can contain moves, taunts, clothing and other items for use in the creation suite. Points can also be spent on unlocking legendary characters, arenas, titles and theme music. This seems like an unnecessary cash-in and having to unlock so many elements in this random manner takes time. It would feel much better to have all elements of the game as unlockable rewards for playing the different game modes, therefore encouraging gamers to attempt game modes or use characters that they might not normally do.

WWE 2K19 is crammed with features and presentation to help immerse the player in an authentic WWE experience. A huge roster complete with an exhaustive list of legends and newcomers, a vast selection of historic and modern arenas and overhauls of game modes like MyPLAYER and WWE Universe ensure that there is never a shortage of different things to do. However, while gameplay has seen some improvements there are still problems that can often lead to a less than enjoyable gaming experience. Ultimately, if players are willing to overlook these issues there is no better game that captures the WWE product and experience and fans of WWE should snap it up. For those of us who appreciate graphics, sound and presentation but overall value a more rounded gaming experience, consider this one carefully.

WWE 2K19 offers fans an improved WWE experience with some niggling gameplay issues.

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David Avraamides

It all began with a Super Nintendo and I never looked back. I'm a big fan of FPS, 2D Beat 'em ups, pro wrestling games, anything Star Wars and the Zelda series.