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WWE 2K23 provides much-needed consistency for the series

Our WWE 2K23 hands-on session gave us a good insight into how the series is moving forward after 2K22's big changes

WWE 2K22 saw a lot of major rebuilding of the series’ gameplay thanks to a longer two-year development cycle, so it’s no surprise that WWE 2K23 isn’t throwing all that hard work straight over the top rope. After a turbulent period following 2K20, this game is settling the series back into a good rhythm of annual releases.

This means that there aren’t any sweeping gameplay changes like what 2K22 brought to the table, with most of the gameplay improvements being refinements and little touches that smooth out the overall experience. To be clear, that’s not a bad thing – it’s those little touches that make a wrestling fan smile, getting the games closer to the TV product than ever before.

WWE 2K23 Roman Reigns' entrance

A great example is Roman Reigns’ entrance. Ever since he unified the two world titles last year, fans have been begging for double championship entrances to be added to the game. In 2K23, they’re finally here, and Reigns walks to the ring with both the Universal Championship and WWE Championship draped over his shoulders. Unfortunately, we learned from the developers that no other double champion entrances are in the game yet, but they also said it's something they hope to develop on next year.

It’s not just Reigns’ entrance that has expanded though, as he now has a new Finisher that makes me very happy. The Superman Punch and Spear have been combined into one move, with Reigns striking the punch in the corner before rebounding off the ropes into a Spear. You can still do those moves separately if you want, but putting them together in one smooth animation like this helps me feel the fast-paced action better than ever – I hope moves like this aren’t exclusive to the Tribal Chief either.

The other major gameplay addition is the return of Payback moves. These act as secondary special moves that do a variety of things. They might let you automatically kickout of a pin, hit your opponent with brass knuckles, or spit “poison mist” in your opponent’s face. These were cool spots to pull off in a match that could turn the tide, and now they’re better integrated than ever.

WWE 2K23 WarGames

As where before they’d charge up separately to all your other special moves, now they’re tied into the momentum bar which you use for your signature moves. Not only does this tie them into an already well-developed system, but it adds a layer of resource management. Do you want to spend some momentum now to get a quick advantage, or let it build a while longer to try and get your signature move?

As for game modes, I got to play around with the new WarGames match type, and it’s a big win for the series. Having two rings could’ve completely broken how this series plays, but the team has done a fantastic job of making it work. Each entrant adds a new layer to the match, especially as they have the ability to throw as many weapons into the mix as they want. It wonderfully captures the carnage and chaos of the real thing, and I’m sure it’ll be a fan favorite mode.

That said, there is definitely still room for future games to improve on it. The biggest issue is that, by the time the final entrant hits the ring, the earlier entrants are so beat up that they can usually be pinned quite easily. This means the match can end immediately after everyone’s in the mix, and it’s disappointing when it happens. On top of that, it’s a shame the wrestlers starting in the small cages don’t get entrances, but WarGames itself is a big enough achievement that I don’t mind missing small details like that for now.

WWE 2K23 Rhea Ripley's entrance

I also got to play a couple of this year’s Showcase matches, where you play as John Cena’s greatest opponents to hand him losses. Playing as a different wrestler each time is a huge improvement over 2K22’s endless string of Rey Mysterio variants, and sends you into each match with a different strategy.

The problem is that every match still has you filling out a checklist of basic moves and actions, which isn’t particularly fun – especially when your reward is a cutscene of the match playing out exactly as it did in real life. I appreciate what they’re trying to accomplish, but when I think back to older games, they had much more interesting modes like the “Beat the Streak” mode from 2K14, where you had only your wits and skill to beat an overpowered Undertaker. That kind of thing would’ve been the perfect fit for the “Cena wins lol” meme of his career.

I still enjoyed playing the matches, but much like last year, I think I’ll speed through it to get all the unlocks and then never touch it again.

WWE 2K23 does exactly what it needs to do. It takes the goodwill and trust that 2K22 reestablished with fans and holds onto it, not rocking the boat with huge changes, but instead iterating on what fans enjoyed most about the last game while adding in new features that everyone’s sure to appreciate.

If you want to know which WWE superstars are on the roster, check out our WWE 2K23 roster reveal for every currently confirmed wrestler.