Much like the pro wrasslin’ shows they replicate, WWE video games have routinely provided goofy fun in spite of their obvious flaws. While the in-ring action has improved over the years, a slew of bugs and glitches, awkward online play, and meandering single-player modes have blighted the license. Particularly in recent years, the WWE 2K games have felt sterile and joyless, as though there had been a decree to rip the “entertainment” from out of “Sports Entertainment.”
WWE 2K19, the sixth WWE game published by 2K, does not present a major turning point for the series. However, while it may still be plagued by many of the issues I had hoped would be ironed out by this point, it adds a bunch more that bring it more in line with the inherently ludicrous world of wrestling. Though the changes aren’t robust enough to convince naysayers, for fans of 2K’s previous wrestling games, this is the most significant evolution in the series so far.
WWE 2K19 Review – MyCareer
The most exciting improvement to WWE 2K19 is its wholly original MyCareer mode, which sees developers Yuke’s and Visual Concepts concocting their own wonderfully weird storylines within the WWE Universe. Former Tough Enough competitor A.J. Kirsch voices the custom MyPlayer character, nicknamed “Buzz” on account of his popularity, and the rest of the WWE locker room also pop up for entertaining (and occasionally bizarre) cameo appearances.
Much like their appearances on Raw and SmackDown!, some of the WWE Superstars are better actors than others, with certain wrestlers sounding like they’ve recorded their voiceovers in an airport bathroom. However, the presence of Triple H, AJ Styles, and the like lends the story authenticity, with it feeling like you’re a part of one of WWE’s weekly shows, even if Kurt Angle sounds like he wishes he was anywhere else other than the 2K recording studio.
Previous WWE 2K MyCareer modes forced the player through a series of identical matches with no clear direction. This isn’t the case this time around, with Buzz competing through a series of chapters that take him from an indie wrestler grappling in high school gyms, to a PPV main eventer embroiled in storylines with WWE’s roster. There are still some questionable matches to be had — a frustrating gauntlet match and an impromptu Iron Man bout felt like unnecessary padding — though it doesn’t veer into the monotony of previous WWE 2K games. There are also branching dialog options to ensure your MyCareer feels tailored to your actions, and plenty of fan service that’ll please both smarks and casual fans.
As you progress through MyCareer, you’ll have the ability to upgrade Buzz’s abilities and make him a more formidable opponent for his wrestling rivals. Though you can ostensibly dive into the intricacies of Buzz’s in-ring style using these upgrades, they don’t feel like they have much of an impact on your actual matches. For instance, spending some points on improving my leg durability felt a bit like a waste of time; even if it was improving Buzz’s capabilities, it wasn’t exactly easy to tell that my legs had grown a little stronger.
WWE 2K19 Review – Microtransactions
However, the real downside with MyCareer is the vast majority of its customization options being locked behind microtransactions. Loot packs can be purchased using three methods, with your Virtual Coins being obtainable in-game, while its purchasable coins both require real money. The customization options are expensive to unlock using your Virtual Coins, with this VC also used to unlock wrestlers and other more substantial items. Unless you’d rather spend 6,000 VC on a new jacket for your MyPlayer than unlocking Scott Hall for 5,000, chances are that your MyPlayer will be improved almost solely by way of loot packs.
These packs each contain only a handful of items from WWE 2K19‘s vast customization suite, so unless you spend a bundle of cash then you’re never going to get your MyPlayer to look and play exactly like you want them to. With cosmetic items, moves, taunts, entrances, and more being locked behind these microtransactions, I found myself stuck with a very basic moveset until I started using packs to make my Superstar a little more interesting.
WWE 2K19 Review – Creation Suite and Community Creations
This is a shame, as WWE 2K19‘s creation suite is staggeringly robust. Thankfully these customization options aren’t locked behind microtransactions outside of MyCareer, as the tools that allow you to tinker with your Superstars, entrances, arenas, are more intricate than ever. Want to add side-plates to your custom-built heavyweight title? There’s an option for that. Fancy creating your own Money in the Bank briefcase? You can spend a good hour making that look perfect, too. There’s even a randomize button this year for the more time-strapped player, allowing you to create an abomination within seconds.
The online Community Creations library also makes a return, with players once again uploading a slew of highly impressive Superstars, championships, movesets, arenas, and more to the cloud for everyone to add to their game. As always, this ever-growing dossier of wrestling-related content makes up for whatever 2K has missed this year, with absent WWE personalities such as NXT champion Tommaso Ciampa each being available to download. Want to have Kenny Omega square off against Okada in a WWE ring? WWE 2K19 will let you do that.
WWE 2K19 Review – Universe Mode
Your fantasy booking can continue in the returning Universe mode, which lets you fill the well-polished shoes of Vince McMahon and take over WWE’s programming. Whether you want to make minor tweaks to the existing WWE format or throw Raw and SmackDown! out the window in favor of weekly WWE, WCW, and ECW shows, combining Universe mode with WWE 2K19‘s creation suite leads to a nigh-on endless number of creative possibilities.
Unfortunately, while planning out your Universe is a lot of fun, a number of problems have carried over from last year’s game that make the mode less enjoyable than it should be. Promo battles are still stunted confrontations between charisma vacuums, with a “winner” being announced after choosing a series of arbitrary dialogue options. Rivalries often result in a Superstar repeatedly facing their rival until the upcoming PPV, at which point they just face them once again.
There are improvements, such as the ability to give Superstars defined goals such as winning a title or defeating The Undertaker at WrestleMania, though it’s still not the enduring timesink I hoped it would be. It would have been great if 2K would have allowed players to emulate the lunacy of its MyCareer mode, but it feels a little too much like modern WWE programming — exhaustingly long and lacking in surprises.
Though Universe may see you struggling for a lack of things to do, there certainly isn’t a lack of WWE Superstars to do those things with. Combined with its upcoming DLC there are over 200 wrestlers in WWE 2K19, with a roster spanning both past and present. With each fighter boasting unique movesets and playstyles, there are very few notables names missing from this line-up. The character models look a lot better this year, too, excluding Shawn Michaels who still appears to have been taken over by a particularly unconvincing imposter.
WWE 2K19 Review – Showcase
For those looking for a more straight-laced single-player experience without any of the customizable frills, this year’s Showcase mode follows Daniel Bryan’s ascent to the top of WWE. Featuring footage from Bryan’s career and an interview with the man himself, it’s a fun retrospective of what is arguably wrestling’s greatest underdog story. While Bryan’s story really starts to gain momentum heading towards WrestleMania 30, previous Showcases such as the 30 Years of WrestleMania or Attitude Era iterations were arguably more interesting. With Daniel Bryan’s story being so recent, there isn’t anything here that the modern wrestling fan won’t already know. However, getting to face off in some of his most memorable matches is still a treat for fans of the Yes! Movement leader.
Getting between the ropes in WWE 2K19 isn’t a drastic departure from previous games, though there are a number of notable changes. If you aren’t a fan of the reversal-heavy wrestling of modern WWE games, WWE 2K19 still isn’t going to convert you. Reversals remain king in this year’s game, and in online play especially, having a technical Superstar with a full meter of five reversals is much more advantageous than a powerhouse with three. Timing is everything, with a press of R2 causing you to weasel your way out of a move and gain the upper hand on your opponent. Reversing signatures and finishers can also completely change the tide of a match, and it’s as satisfying as ever to dodge out the way of Roman Reigns’ spear before immediately clocking him with an RKO.
WWE 2K19 Review – Payback System
This year there is also a new Payback system, where you can equip two special abilities such as low blows, increased defense, or even turning the lights off in the building before appearing behind your rival. These Payback abilities are separated into Minor and Major categories, with you earning them as you take damage during the course of a match. More dramatic than reversals and trickier to get the hang of, these new moves can lead to moments that feel like they’ve been ripped straight from an episode of Raw, even if they are sometimes cumbersome. For instance, why would low blows be an option if there wasn’t also a reasonable way to distract the referee? Nakamura and his testicle-loving fists are rendered useless in this department.
While WWE 2K19 doesn’t present a major gameplay overhaul, it does bring about some big changes to its game types. Royal Rumble and Battle Royal matches are more exciting than ever, with their reaction-based eliminations now being complemented by more spontaneous moments. You can punch someone off the edge of the ring and onto the floor, while reversing a running move near the ropes will see your Superstar pulling down the top rope and sending their opponent tumbling over to defeat. A Women’s Royal Rumble is also a possibility, with the likes of Ronda Rousey and Alexa Bliss able to take part in the event for the first time ever.
Unfortunately, these changes haven’t stretched to the numerous bugs and glitches that make their way into seemingly every WWE game. Wrestlers’ arms will occasionally contort until they become Lovecraftian nightmares, while TLC task Superstars with trying to prevent ladders from freaking out on the ring ropes. Compared to the seamless and balletic action of the real WWE, WWE 2K19 can sometimes look like a few drunks flopping on top of one another thanks to these technical issues. Though these are definite problems, they do have their own ridiculous charm; I can’t say I would particularly like it if the copious bugs were ever removed from my WWE games.
The Bottom Line
If you didn’t like previous WWE 2K games, then WWE 2K19 isn’t going to change your mind. However, if you’re like me and have always had a soft spot for this series, then you won’t be disappointed. While its gameplay remains very familiar, both for better and for worse, there have been enough changes made by Yuke’s and Visual Concepts to make it worth the upgrade. Old-school wrestling fans will find a ton of their old favorites to wreak havoc with, while the modern fan will familiar rags-to-riches MyCareer story. It’s not perfect, but this is the best a WWE 2K game has been in years.
Game reviewed on PS4. Copy provided by publisher.