The cover athlete for WWE 2K19 is AJ Styles, known affectionately to fans as The Phenomenal One. He is regarded as one of the best in the industry at the moment, as is evident by his in-ring work which sits head and shoulders above most others in WWE. It is both apt and ironic then that WWE 2K19 packs a phenomenal amount of content into this year’s game, but does not quite wrap it up into the total package of excellence that AJ Styles exhibits.
The to-do list then. Showcase mode returns, featuring the improbable underdog story of Daniel Bryan – a decent tale and nice to have that mode return. Universe mode is also back, with some tweaks should you want to design and play your own version of WWE.
The two biggest additions are Towers and MyPlayer. Towers is a classic arcade style slog – best one opponent and its onto the next, only your health remains. Sounds similar to Gauntlet mode, yet the difference here are variable difficulties and modifiers. They may range from submissions only to big heads and super speed, which mixes things up quite nicely. Towers are themed – such as UK talent – but sadly it doesn’t quite go the whole way. No restricting for example your player to a UK wrestler in the UK tower would have been a nice touch for example, and being able to pick your usual choice misses the idea a bit. Also not being able to save between battles is a misstep; some are long and require quite some stamina to do in one sitting.
MyPlayer is the 2K career equivalent. A story sees your custom character break through the indie scene and into the big time of the WWE. This is my least favourite mode. The cutscenes look rough, are badly voiced/acted, are very long and unskippable. Being forced to watch a terrible cutscene, which can last for more than twice the length of the matches is criminal. The worst is the second challenge which has your character mouth off against Brain Strowman and have to survive against him. The kicker is that he is supposed to just destroy you, so you can’t do anything but lose in 30 seconds. A 5 minute cutscene to play (but not really) and get another cutscene hurts.
Between the actual gameplay and watching, you are in a hub. You can have a pointless chat to another wrestler (I chose to fight a last man standing match, but for some reason just ended up in a cage), you can listen to some podcasts and upgrade a skill tree. It all just feels like fluff. I want to make decisions and see an impact borne out whilst playing with touches of story. A laborious story without much gameplay in a sports game seems daft.
To progress there are a ridiculous amount of in game currencies. They all do different things and allow for various upgrades, annoyingly your basic character must spend virtual currency (VC) for different attire and appearances should you want to customise them (which you probably will). This eats into your pot for the game outside MyPlayer.
Everything you do earns VC. The primary thing to spend it on are unlockable characters and arenas, ranging from 1,000 to 8,000. A single match will earn you c. 100 VC, so you can see the grind. Loot boxes in MyPlayer will let you have various attires but you need to buy them (in game currency only) but this underpins a lot of WWE 2K19.
The gameplay is decent at least. The pace is smarter and the behaviour of characters on screen works better which is a decent return to form. Yet years of adding and adding various elements result in an immensely confusing move set, even for wrestling game veterans. Simple and strong strikes, grapples, based on condition and position, hold and carry moves, environmental moves, context taunts leading to buffs (taunts which, again this year annoyingly are randomised from a preset) are all back. There’s simply too many slots to fill which results in uncharacteristic or unrealistic move sets as slots need to be filled.
A big change this year is the addition of payback moves. These are built up as you take a beating, with secondary ones offering things like auto reversals for a time period, and primary paybacks where you can summon a run-in for help, spew poison into your opponents face, or turn the lights out then on to surprise them. It’s cool but is another dynamic. Still though things can break down, with realism hitting a glitch and random volatile limbs can flail, or simply go limp as if you’ve killed an opponent.
Customisation is strong with complete control over created characters, belts, arenas, move sets, and for this year the Money in the Bank briefcase. Also options for run-ins at various points and briefcase cash-ins can add some nice drama.
As someone who felt last year’s game was a lame duck it’s nice to see an improvement. Yet it does feel like bits get addressed each year and others left alone or take a step back. For everything you can customise, elimination multi-person matches have been removed. Apparently they will be added in at some point with a patch, but why were they removed? Reddit complaints are strong on this, but this among other decisions scream of an oversight by devs making a game of a ‘sport’ they’re not fans of necessarily. A good example is the commentary: it’s terrible. It just plays like random soundbites, not always relating to the action and sometimes about wrestlers not even in the match. Crowd noise isn’t much better and just sounds like someone rapidly hitting a canned ‘cheer’ button.
The Deluxe edition gives you a bit more bang for your buck. Containing a kickstart for MyPlayer (some stat boosts to get you going) and the Accelerator which basically unlocks everything and lets you edit any stats of any wrestler you really are just unlocking what should be available in the game anyway – the kickstart in particular feels dirty considering the enormous grind in that mode. The final component is the Season Pass, which itself contains three packs (to be released); 50 new moves in the Moves Pack, 7 new wrestlers in the Rising Stars Pack (which are definitely not what you class as stars at the moment) and the Titans Pack – containing four wrestlers (of which only one might be considered a big star). You will have to judge for yourself if these additions justify an additional £30.
Perhaps it’s more symptomatic of a game akin to the WWE product of today. Obsessed with the impression of what it is, but on close inspection cracks showing and niggles build over time. It’s passable, even acceptable at parts but where it counts in big, major moments, it fumbles and slips. Perhaps, 2K need to re-evaluate what drives WWE fans today vs. what is offered to them, and tailor their game to that.
Reviewed on PS4