Every new WWE game is met with cautious enthusiasm by wrestling game fans worried that it may not live up to expectations, but WWE 2K22 has to be the most nerve-wracking release yet.
It’s for good reason, too. Last year marked the first time in the series’ history that an annual entry was scrapped, with 2K Sports deciding that it needed another year of development before it was ready to return.
After all, WWE 2K20 was such a monumental disaster that even the most ardent fans of wrestling games had to concede that things were in need of a serious revamp.
That revamp finally arrives next month in the shape of WWE 2K22. We went hands-on with it earlier this week, and while it’s still too early to make a call, we came away from it feeling that it might just provide the defibrillation the series has needed for so long.
Although 2K20’s initial release was marred by its host of bugs and glitches, when you set those aside the main reason the game was a disappointment was its fighting mechanics.
The combat in WWE games has been in need of a refresh for quite some time, but it truly reached a nadir in the last couple of games thanks to a number of bizarre tweaks, most notably to its reversal system.
In recent years, players have only had a limited number of reversals, and after using them up they had to wait for them to slowly recharge. This meant games often boiled down to waiting until someone’s reversals had run out, then beating them up while they were completely defenceless.
It just wasn’t fun, and didn’t provide a satisfying enough back-and-forth like pro wrestling often does. And it appears developer Visual Concepts has agreed, which is why WWE 2K22’s defensive system has been completely revamped.
“2K20 just wasn’t fun, and didn’t provide a satisfying enough back-and-forth like pro wrestling often does. And it appears developer Visual Concepts has agreed, which is why WWE 2K22’s defensive system has been completely revamped.”
Now reversals are a little harder to pull off, but they’re unlimited, leading to some potentially exciting back-and-forths if two expert players are competing, trying to see who’ll blink first.
On top of that, the game has now added a block move and a dodge move, which give players new ways to avoid opponents’ attacks. Blocking can withstand physical attacks but doesn’t work against grapples, while dodging can avoid everything but requires better timing.
It feels like an attempt to get closer to something like WWF No Mercy’s legendary combat system, and while nothing will ever come close to that level (at least not yet), an attempt to head in that direction is at least a worthwhile endeavour.
The result of these new defensive moves is that the handful of matches we played were far more entertaining than anything we’d experienced not just in 2K20 but most recent WWE 2K games in general.
The pace felt slower (in a good way) and each time we avoided an attack there was genuine satisfaction in the knowledge that we were actually using a degree of skill to do so. Even reversals have a smaller window, so they still require better timing.
Things feel positive in the ring, then, but 2K22 also promises a host of new modes designed to keep players busy. During our time with the game we were only able to try out Exhibition matches and MyGM mode, the latter bringing a GM mode to the series for the the first time in 15 years.
MyGM lets you choose from a selection of real-life general managers (including Stephanie McMahon, Shane McMahon, Adam Pearce and Sonya Deville), or create your own character if you prefer.
After choosing a GM and a brand (Raw, Smackdown, NXT or NXT UK), players then have to choose a rival brand, and then enter a WWE Draft against them.
The Draft gives players a limited budget, meaning there are decisions to be made regarding how to best build a roster. Is it wiser to blow a wad of cash on someone like Brock Lesnar or Roman Reigns, or use that money to buy a few mid-carders instead in the hope you can make them future legends?
“Is it wiser to blow a wad of cash on someone like Brock Lesnar or Roman Reigns, or use that money to buy a few mid-carders instead in the hope you can make them future legends?”
Ultimately, the aim is to outdo your rival brand by putting on a better show than them. This is done by ‘booking’ a show every week, setting up a three-match card (and a couple of promos, if there’s budget for them) designed to keep fans happy.
Everything beyond simple one-on-one matches has a price, meaning players have to balance their limited budget. Having a Hell in a Cell match every week may mean great shows in theory, but when it’s so expensive that you can only afford to rent out a gym hall with no pyrotechnics then is it really going to be worth the cost?
To explain the mode in more depth would require a preview many times the size of this one, but in short, there are a host of other factors that have to be considered when trying to put together a great show.
Superstars have to be kept fit and happy, their rivalries with other wrestlers have to be properly maintained, and their fighting styles have to be a good match for their opponents. Putting two giants like Keith Lee and Braun Strowman together in a match isn’t as entertaining as having a giant face off against a cruiserweight like Rey Mysterio.
There are also power-up cards that can be acquired by completing set tasks, which in turn can affect a rival’s promotion. One card, for example, picks three random superstars in the rival brand and drops them from the next card, forcing the rival GM to book a show around their absences.
Potentially one of the best things about MyGM is the ability to play it with two players, with each player controlling their own faction. We can foresee great times ahead, with friends trying to outdo each other and using power-up cards to screw up each others’ shows.
So far so good, then, which is something we haven’t said about a WWE game for quite some time. It’s still too early to definitively call this one but the couple of hours we’ve spent with it so far have made it clear that at the very least WWE 2K22 won’t be the disaster its predecessor was.
While we’ll need to spend longer with its in-ring mechanics to see how they hold up to repeat play sessions, the core changes that have been made here are enormously positive ones, and will hopefully result in one of the better WWE games we’ve seen in a while.