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In a single year, the world of wrestling can undergo many shocking changes. Just one year ago, Cody Rhodes being in WWE seemed completely impossible, but now he’s set for the main event of WrestleMania this year. While it’s a wild ride for the TV product, it means any wrestling video game is out of date virtually the moment it releases.

The WWE 2K series has slowly gotten better at dealing with this over the years and despite a few out-of-date gimmicks like T-Bar (please take a moment to laugh at this stupid name) and Nikki A.S.H, this year’s roster is more robust than ever before, especially with the new DLC wrestlers on the way.

WWE 2K23 Bobby Lashley

Small but meaningful improvements are the name of the game this year. It’s understandable and what we expected. 2K22 saw such a huge overhaul to the series, and there’s no point in throwing that all away just for the sake of novelty. WWE 2K23 takes the solid foundations of last year’s game, picks at every detail of every game mode, and finds ways to make it better.

MyGM is one of the most obvious improvements. You can now have up to four players in a game at once, you can have both mid-card and tag titles on your show, and there are more GMs, match types, rivalry options, production options, and anything else you can think of for the mode. It’s still not on the level of the classic Raw vs Smackdown games, but it’s a lot closer than anything else has come to date.

Universe mode has just one addition, but it’s surprisingly deep. With expanded rivalry options, you have greater control of what happens before, during, and after a match. You can even set stakes for the rivalry, like number one contender feuds, or feuds where the loser is fired. It’s by far the mode with the least improvements, but this single system sets the stage for something a lot greater in the years to come.

WWE 2K23 Becky Lynch, Bianca Belair, and Asuka in WarGames

Showcase mode is an interesting case. Playing as Cena’s opponents was a brilliant decision, letting us play as a variety of wrestlers, instead of 2K22’s 12-straight Rey Mysterio matches. However, Showcase is still a fundamentally boring mode. You can progress each match simply by winning the thing, but what you’re supposed to be doing is fulfilling the objectives – playing each match as it happened in real life – which isn’t fun.

It’s just a checklist of moves and actions you need to carry out, broken up by occasional cutscenes, where real-life footage is spliced in for effect. It feels more like a documentary than a game mode, and some of the objectives can be really frustrating – especially when they rely on the AI doing something for you to react to.

Simply copying what happened in real life isn’t enjoyable for a video game. I think back to modes like 2K14’s “Beat the Streak” mode, where you had to beat a ridiculously overpowered Undertaker, and wish we could have cool stuff like that instead.

WWE 2K23 fight in the ring.

Ultimately, though, Showcase is a very small part of what I get out of these games. Since I was a teenager I’ve put hundreds of hours into every WWE game playing them against my friends, and 2K23 won’t be any different.

The core gameplay of a match is something that always pulls me back in. It may not be as fast-paced as some of the classic titles, but the more realistic presentation and timing-based gameplay make it a unique fighting game. Combine that with the almost 200 wrestlers on the roster, all with their own memorable movesets and cool actions, and you’ve got endless replayability.

This year sees stamina become a much bigger part of gameplay after being a non-factor in 2K22. If you’re relentless on offense then you’ll quickly find yourself out of stamina, which gives the perfect opportunity for your opponent to launch a counterattack. This is aided by the momentum bar, which now has several functions besides charging your signature move.

WWE 2K23 Cody Rhodes' entrance

Unique Payback moves like the low-blow or surprise pin use up that bar now, as well as actions like ring escapes and instant recoveries. It creates a much more delicate balancing act in matches, forcing you to choose between small advantages instantly, or big advantages later.

WWE 2K23 does what any annual sports series should do. It gets the roster as up-to-date as it can, expands on the game modes that are already there, and refines gameplay little by little. In a year when the WWE games will finally have a big competitor in the upcoming AEW: Fight Forever, this is a solid entry to remind everyone who the king of the mountain is.

Score: 8/10

Version tested: PS5