Twenty-nine months. That’s how long wrestling game fans have been waiting for a new WWE title to appear, and hopefully bury the awful memory of WWE 2K20.
2K Sports and Visual Concepts’ previous release was considered one of the biggest let-downs in the 20-year history of the series, with an unacceptable amount of significant bugs and some bizarrely poor wrestler likenesses dragging it to a new low.
After skipping a year to head back to the drawing board, then delaying a further five months to be sure it was totally ready, WWE 2K22 is finally here, and it’s thankfully been worth the wait.
While there are still a few things that could be bettered further in future games, overall 2K22 provides such a notable improvement over its predecessor that wrestling fans can rest easy knowing the dark days are finally over.
As with other recent games in the series, WWE 2K22 can best be described as a suite of separate modes that each do very different things with the main combat engine. We’ll cover each of the five main modes here, but it’s the combat that marks the biggest improvement this year and the reason why the entire package is significantly better.
This is mostly down to the complete overhaul of the defensive controls, which were awful in 2K20. We went into detail on this in our hands-on preview last month, but WWE 2K22’s combat completely abandons the concept of having a limited stock of reversals, and instead gives players infinite reversals, along with a number of other ways to avoid attacks.
2K20’s combat was a dull, unrealistic mess where the trick was simply to force your opponent to use up their reversals so they were left completely defenceless for a period of time until they charged one up again. It was boring for the attacker, it was frustrating for the defender, nobody was happy.
This time players can not only reverse as often as they see fit, they also have access to new block and dodge moves, which give them even more flexibility in evading attacks. Get two experts together and the thing could end up looking like a lucha-libre match with reversals all over the place.
There have been changes to offensive gameplay too, most notably in the form of a new combo system, where players can string together up to four attacks (mixing up light strikes, strong strikes and grapples). These are effective if they all land, but the opponent can break a combo by correctly guessing which move is coming and hitting the same button.
The result of all this is a far more back-and-forth type of wrestling, which feels a lot more like what you actually see on TV and, crucially, is significantly more satisfying to play.
“The result of all this is a far more back-and-forth type of wrestling, which feels a lot more like what you actually see on TV and, crucially, is significantly more satisfying to play.”
Some of the other frustrating elements of gameplay in previous years haven’t been entirely eradicated but they’ve been hugely dialled back to the point where they’re anomalies rather than the norm.
You can still stun opponents and leave them defenceless – which is useful when you want to trigger your finisher and make sure it isn’t reversed – but it takes a hefty beatdown to get them in this state.
The stamina gauge is also completely gone, meaning the ends of matches (which are supposed to be the most exciting part) are no longer boring, stop-start affairs where players rest up after every move.
Players can still run out of stamina but, again, it takes a lot of effort to reach that point, and when you do a small circular gauge appears, showing you it’s running low. Literally stopping for a second or two refills it.
Other gimmicks that were too fancy for their own good have been ditched too. By default, kicking out of pins and submissions is back to good old-fashioned button-bashing (instead of timed gauges, which were a nightmare if ever playing someone online or playing with a TV with some input lag).
The option to switch back to timing-based gauges is still there for those who may not be able to press buttons quickly, but we do prefer the new default.
WWE 2K22 Review: Story Modes
The game plays great, then, but what do you get to do with these improved mechanics? As well as the ability to play any custom match type you want or head online for a fight, there are five other main modes.
Showcase follows the career of Rey Mysterio and has the player recreating ‘key’ moments in his past. The selection of matches is odd – most of them are far from his greatest moments – but those that are included feature a cool new effect where the gameplay sometimes transitions seamlessly into video footage of the real match, which then transitions back to playable again.
Showcase is easily the lightest of the modes in terms of content: it’ll take you a couple of hours to get through the 12 matches on offer, and once you’re done you’ll probably never look at it again.
It’s worth playing through, though, because it’s the only way to unlock the likes of Eddie Guerrerro, Shawn Michaels, JBL and a special ‘hidden’ wrestler in the last secret match (though if you watch the show these days it should be easy to guess who it is).
MyGM has players taking over the running of a WWE brand – be that Raw, SmackDown, NXT or NXT UK – doing a draft and then putting together shows in an attempt to perform better and ultimately get higher ratings than a rival brand.
This can be played either alone (against an AI rival), or in two-player mode with a second player controlling the other brand. Either way, it’s oddly compelling, even though the match options are quite limited. We covered MyGM in far more detail in our hands-on preview, so it’s worth checking that out for more information.
MyRise is the main story mode, in which players create either a male or female superstar and take them through their career, starting at the WWE Performance Center and making their way to Raw, SmackDown or NXT.
There are a number of story paths here, depending on various choices the player makes. The wrestler’s background – were they previously a pro athlete, an MMA fighter, an indie wrestler, an actor – and the player’s decision to play as a ‘heel’ or a ‘face’ affects the story, as do other decisions made along the way.
The story’s length depends on the player in a sense. It’s possible to get past the Performance Center stuff quite early, or players can choose to hang around and take on more side-quests. There’s a checklist available that shows players which missions can still be unlocked, which is very useful for those who want to make sure they’re getting the full experience.
That said, Visual Concepts has clearly designed this mode with multiple playthroughs in mind, and even says as much when you first start it. Not only are the multiple routes, the male and female stories are also completely different. As the game explains, there are 10 save slots in this mode for a reason.
Universe mode is essentially a sandbox, where players can either choose to play as one superstar and make their way through a weekly calendar, or to basically play god and have complete control over all the shows and PPVs, plan rivalries, book matches and the like.
As anyone who’s played Universe in some form in the past will know, this mode is practically endless and is designed to give a bit more substance and meaning to players who would otherwise be happy just playing random one-off matches with a wide range of wrestlers.
All of these modes have appeared in some form or another in the WWE series in the past but it’s the final mode, MyFaction, which is the most interesting (and perhaps the most contentious).
WWE 2K22 Review: MyFaction and Microtransactions
MyFaction is WWE 2K22’s version of the MyTeam mode in NBA 2K games (or Ultimate Team in FIFA or Madden, if you’d rather). The aim is to build a stable full of high quality wrestlers and take part in matches and tournaments with them.
The game gives you around 10 ‘cards’ (i.e. wrestlers) to start off with – five men and five women – who can then be used to fight in the various weekly ladders, preset series of matches and the like.
Each match brings with it a series of mini-accomplishments (sometimes optional, sometimes mandatory) and ticking these off while winning matches earns in-game currency which is then used to buy packs of new players.
It wouldn’t be a 2K Sports game without microtransactions and here, finally, is where they make an appearance. If all the grinding is taking too long for you, you can conveniently spend real money on a secondary currency called VC and use that to buy packs (please don’t, though).
In truth, we’ve been enjoying MyFaction enough without even considering spending any extra on it. Performing certain tasks also earns you little emblems when can be spent in their own store on unique cards, and some cards support evolution, which means they can be upgraded in value if you perform certain bespoke achievements for them.
It’s surprising how restrained the microtransactions are in general, actually, especially given that the NBA 2K games are often cited as among the most egregious examples of the practice.
MyFaction is the only mode that supports them – none of the others, not even the MyRise story mode, have VC – and it gives you a steady enough supply of cards that you really don’t need to spend real money.
It also helps that MyFaction doesn’t have any ‘special’ characters who aren’t otherwise freely playable in the other modes, so the concept of FOMO is significantly lessened too. Of course, this doesn’t escape the notion that the fact that microtransactions even exist in the game at all is a nonsense, especially given how many WWE fans are children.
“It’s surprising how restrained the microtransactions are in general, actually, especially given that the NBA 2K games are often cited as among the most egregious examples of the practice.”
If pressed, we’d guess that 2K realised it’s in relationship repair mode with this game after the disaster that was WWE 2K20, and that it’s potentially cooled it with the microtransactions so as to attract as little ill will as possible.
Ultimately though, the thing that will most likely achieve this is the in-ring gameplay, which is such an enormous improvement over its predecessor that the sighs of relief from the fanbase will be palpable.
Granted, there’s still room for improvement for the next release. The Showcase mode is far too brief and needs to be brought back up to the same lengthy, in-depth standards as in previous games, and while the creation suites are as detailed as ever, fans are still crying out for a Create-a-Story option to make their own angles and plots.
For now, though, those fans can rejoice, because WWE 2K is back, and while it may not be – to paraphrase Eric Bischoff’s theme song – better than ever, it’s certainly still what The Miz would describe as “awesome”.
WWE 2K22 is the comeback fans of the series have been hoping for. While it still won't trouble WWF No Mercy for the 'best WWE game' title, it's the first time in many years that the series has delivered both in and out of the ring.
- Complete combat overhaul makes defence far less frustrating
- MyRise story mode's multiple routes will give it some longevity
- MyFaction is the new star of the show, as long as you're in it for the long haul
- Showcase mode, while great, is too short
- Microtransactions pop up in MyFaction, though are thankfully not too intrusive