WWE 2K17 Hands-On: What’s New, What’s Good, Who’s Next?

I’ve never been "good" at wrestling games. I like them, some better than others, but I’ve never felt like I could win against another player who liked them. And because of that, I’ve always been ashamed to play them in public. But not anymore. Not since it now actually feels accessible and not clinical, which means characters like AJ Styles and Sasha Banks and Shinsuke Nakamura can be controlled like the crazy badasses I see on TV. Huzzah!

WWE 2K17 is an easily-approached, great-looking experience from what I was able to see. With the ability to compete in arenas from throughout WWE’s available library, from WrestleMania and Starrcade to Halloween Havoc and SummerSlam, and in various locations around the world. Sure, the people in the crowd look fairly unconvincing—especially the ones with Roman Reigns signs—but they’re not as bad as the cardboard cutouts that used to fill seats years ago.

Fortunately, those character models are on-point. With the exception of some wrestlers' eyes, and almost every instance of long hair being an inch off of their shoulders as if their skin is the surface of an air-hockey table, everybody looks damn good. Especially some of the women, with the Four Horsewomen looking like their physical counterparts in fantastic detail (Charlotte’s character model is a bit questionable in ways, though). And they move smooth, unless they’re using weapons, which are still grabbed as awkwardly and jumpy as they did back in the PSOne and N64 days. Some things are just too tricky to pull off reliably, I guess.

What’s really new this time is that not only can you make the matches you want to see, but you can even pull together your own show, complete with matches and any available titles you want to include. Need to bring back the awful Diva’s Championship butterfly abomination belt? You can! ECW World Championship (WWE or original) or the Hardcore title? They’re waiting to be granted to a deserving superstar. Sadly, the original Cruiserweight title is in and not the new one, but hey, there’s always next year. The recent brand split means there apparently wasn’t enough time to include Raw and Smackdown!-specific championships, but maybe those will come in a future DLC pack.

Also new is the ability to craft promos. Players can select from a handful of options to start building up their superstar in the eyes of the fans, either as a heel (bad guy) or a face (good guy), and either set up themselves as a favorite or hated antagonist against another wrestler. It’s a rudimentary system from what I saw, more like selecting the “right” dialogue at the right time. Maybe for beginners and casual fans, this can be enough, but hardcore wrestling fans might be disappointed by the lack of options. Crafting a good promo is hard, but there has to be a good way of pulling off such a system. Still, it's an interesting change going forward.

Some features previously derided are back, the biggest one being the submission system’s thumbstick mini-game. It hasn’t changed, but there is a new mini-game associated with ladder-based matches: an almost maze-like affair where a small ball has to be navigated through a spinning maze, gradually “unhooking” the case or championship belt as opposed to simply holding on for a long time. There’s challenge to it, and it takes effort to bring down the hanging item, so there’s tangible drama and struggle.

And the big deal is the updated roster. Some legends are back, like Andre the Giant, and some more recent additions don’t require DLC like the great Arn Anderson. (I won my first match of the night with his spinebuster. Good times.) The women’s division is in full force, and though it’s still a fairly limited roster—woefully lacking names like Trish Stratus and Lita, but including Alundra Blaze and the Four Horsewomen—and seemingly no ability to have an inter-gender match (like how Jacqueline won the Cruiserweight title), there’s enough competition to explore different match types with. Who knows when we’ll get to see a female-centric TLC match or Hell in a Cell for the WWE Women’s Championship?

It was easy to pick up and start handing out Bomaye/Kinshasa knees from Nakamura, Triple H’s pedigree, or Kurt Angle-perfect moonsalts like they were Halloween candy, and that’s good for casual players. Throw the submission and ladder match sequences into the mix, and there’s enough to keep wrestling fans interested for a while to come. True, it will take some doing and updates to get things up to speed after the brand split—this may be the most already-out-of-date version of the franchise with even former-WWE star Alberto Del Rio/Alberto El Patron starring in the commercial a week after he very publicly left the company—but right now, I’m not complaining. It feels good and fun. Let’s see if the finished product holds up to scrutiny when it’s released on October 11th.

Oh, and Arn Anderson should be the first character to hold the “vacated” WWE World Championship on YouTube or Twitch. Make it happen, please.