Every single year, the WWE 2K series manages to both impress and disappoint me. It is clear that the developers at Visual Concepts understand the WWE product; I can tell that the new features presented year after year are intended to give wrestling fans (like myself) an experience that portrays the product authentically. However, it’s always been a “two steps forward, five steps back” situation where that intent is often not well executed, giving a lukewarm experience at best.
After playing a bit of this year’s iteration, WWE 2K19, it is apparent that the developers are listening to the WWE Universe’s woes. Instead of creating a definitive, authentic experience, the aim of WWE 2K19 is to make the series “fun” again. It may just be an iterative entry rather than the pinnacle of wrestling games that we know it could be, but it is a much-needed deviation to help shape the series’ future.
That fun factor begins with gameplay; if I couldn’t enjoy something as prevalent as gameplay, I don’t see how I could enjoy the game at all. This has been an issue in previous entries in the WWE 2K franchise. Since it is attempting to simulate real-life wrestling, the gameplay relies heavily on your wrestler’s movesets and animations, and properly timing hits and grapples; this direction made the games sluggish and unresponsive, which really takes the fun out of playing it.
WWE 2K19 aims to change that. When you start your first match, you’ll notice that the gameplay is noticeably faster. It is such a small fix, but one that does create a sense of responsiveness that was missing from last year’s WWE 2K18. It has a slight arcade feel while still keeping its simulation integrity: however, the fundamental gameplay is still the same. You’re still trying to time hits and grapples; you’re still playing those terrible “mini-games” (or button mashing) during submissions and chain wrestling. There is still a looseness to the gameplay that just feels off.
When I press a button, I want that to immediately initiate whatever move I’m executing. This really is for any game in any genre, but especially in a wrestling game, if my performance is being hindered because an animation has to play before the move I selected initiates, that just isn’t fun. I do think that WWE 2K19 does feel more responsive – the animations are slightly snappier – but there is still a hindrance present.
A new and welcome improvement to the gameplay are the Payback abilities. When you’re getting beaten to a pulp, which tends to happen if you can’t properly pull off a reversal, you can use the Payback ability to turn the tide of a match; the one I used gave me an instant finisher, for example. Like many of the quality-of-life improvements that WWE 2K19 makes to the series’ gameplay, it’s a nice addition but doesn’t improve it to the point where you won’t notice its flaws.
The feature that is probably getting overhauled the most is My Career. Whether it’s NBA 2K or WWE 2K, this is the mode I always look forward to every year. This year, it seems WWE 2K19 is taking notes from its basketball counterpart. After you create your My Player – which still has some limited customization options as opposed to the game’s wrestler creation suite, which can be obnoxiously in-depth – you can start a story-driven experience that sees that character’s journey to becoming a WWE Superstar.
The most jarring part about playing the My Career mode was watching your character cut promos without any voiceover: in fact, there wasn’t any voice acting at all. This time around, there is now full voice acting, some of which is done by actual WWE Superstars. Honestly, you’re not going to get award-winning performances here: it is serviceable and you’ll get some laughs along the way. Seeing Braun Strowman curl a rafter as he essentially tells you that you are garbage was perfect and all I needed to see from this mode to get me excited.
If you’re not a fan of the Monster Among Men, the linear narrative does make the mode a bit more intriguing than last year’s disappointing iteration. Again: it doesn’t seem to be this award-winning tale of a down-on-their-luck wrestler making it big. Instead, it’s a fun take on that journey. Your character will begin in an indie promotion called “BCW,” where you’ll get noticed from WWE and NXT Coach Matt Bloom. I won’t say much, but there are a lot of ups and downs your character will go through in just the beginning moments of the story.
Matches in My Career are more objective-oriented than the traditional matches where you are only tasked to win. Some matches will have that as the sole objective but others, like one I had in a parking lot, will want you to go to certain areas of the arena and perform specific moves to activate a cut scene. While it does mess with the flow of a match, it does provide more challenges and adds a bit more variety to gameplay.
While you play through My Career, as well as any other mode that involves your My Player, you’ll upgrade them by unlocking skills and abilities via a skill tree. This skill tree is one of the largest I have seen in a video game: in fact, it seems too large.
As you play with your My Player, they will level up and give you access to this skill tree. When you reach level 50, you will be able to “prestige” and unlock another portion of the skill tree. This can be done five times, with each skill tree slightly different than the next. I am not sure how long it takes to prestige, but it seems like something that would take hours to complete. On one hand, it gives players something to strive for and gives the game tons of replayability. On the other hand, it seemed like a bit much and a journey that I’m not quite sure I will make.
Along with these features, WWE 2K19 also introduces the new Towers mode. Similar to the towers that Mortal Kombat is known for, you can select any given tower and fight through a pre-determined set of wrestlers to earn rewards and virtual currency.
The one I played, called UK Takeover, featured WWE and NXT Superstars from England like Tyler Bate, Jack Gallagher, and Pete Dunne. This particular one was timed. At the beginning of the match, it also had a section for listing stipulations implying that other towers may have different win conditions or handicaps that may differentiate itself from other towers. This one did not have any stipulations; I also started with a finisher just in case I needed some help.
This is where WWE 2K19 can be the most replayable wrestling game yet, specifically the My Player Towers. Whether it’s a Daily, Weekly, or Pay-Per-View tower, there will be a new one to conquer every day. As long as you like playing the game, there will always be something new to do.
Making a comeback in WWE 2K19 is the 2K Showcase, a mode that highlights specific moments in the WWE. This year’s Showcase features one of WWE’s most popular wrestlers, Daniel Bryan. His career went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows when he had to retire due to a career-ending injury. Eventually, he did enter the squared circle in his first match since his retirement this year at WrestleMania 34. Looking at it like that, it is only fitting that Bryan would be the focus for this mode’s comeback.
The 2K Showcase begins with a documentary-style video – similar to something you would see in WWE’s 24 series – starring Daniel Bryan himself as he reminisces about his early days in the industry. You then cut to his match against John Cena as Bryan Danielson at Velocity in 2003. Similar to the My Career matches, you’ll have to complete certain objectives to play out certain moments from the match. Again, this just provides more content, as well as fan service, for the WWE Universe.
WWE 2K19 seems to be an improvement from last year. It still has its problems, but this entry’s goal is to simply make this series fun again and I think it accomplishes that in some aspects. The story-driven My Career mode, the 2K and My Player Towers, and the ever-so-slightly faster gameplay are all evidence of this. I’m not expecting this to be the best WWE 2K game to date, but I do believe this is a step in the right direction.