Throughout the company’s history, WWE has changed its product catering to the audience at the time. From the hard-hitting Attitude Era to the current generation of Superstars, shows like Raw and SmackDown have altered the storylines told and the wrestlers that represent the brand to the viewer’s favor. This change of narrative is exactly what 2K Games’ WWE 2K franchise attempts to do on every iteration. The latest release, WWE 2K18 is no different.
For the past three years, I have played through each title only to find myself questioning how they could make the next one better. The core of the gameplay and the modes surrounding it are fantastic on paper, but have always been blemished by long loading times, odd glitches, and a lack of substantial content to keep me going. While some of these problems certainly make their unsavory return, many improvements have made their way to the squared circle giving me some of the most satisfying experiences I have had with the franchise.
The facet of the game that exemplifies this notion is its excellent presentation. Not many sports games genuinely capture the emotions a viewer exhibits while watching its real-life counterpart. Every match I played in WWE 2K18 always felt like I was watching live wrestling. From the ringside announcers to the show-specific overlays to Jojo introducing the competitors fighting for any of the company’s championship belts, the game nails the flow of the WWE’s many shows.
The ultimate example of WWE 2K18‘s exceptional presentation is the excellent entrances. While some are outdated — Baron Corbin and the Usos were the two I noticed — watching the likes Shinsuke Nakamura, Bobby Roode, and Finn Balor do their signature movements as they approach the ring shows how well the game portrays what you see on TV.
Of course, some improbable events occur like Brock Lesnar having a match on Raw or Braun Strowman diving off the top rope (not that these things do not happen, but it is a rare occurrence), but that is to be expected when attempting to portray your dream match card.
WWE 2K18‘s new graphics engine further enhances the presentation. However, I would be lying if I said it did not have any kinks. You can tell that more time was spent on the more famous wrestlers from the huge roster. Superstars like John Cena, Finn Balor, and The Rock all look incredible. When you have them face the likes of Apollo Crews or TJP, you can certainly tell who got special treatment.
The women wrestlers who have revolutionized their division in the past year seem to get the short end of that stick. While their likeness is reasonably accurate, the hair of any long-haired Superstar looks atrocious. In motion, it looks like chunks of paper wildly swinging from atop the person’s head. All in all, the updated graphics engine is a considerable upgrade from last year’s iteration, but can use a bit more work for next year’s inevitable release.
The game mode I am always excited to play from the WWE 2K franchise is MyCareer mode which also received an upgrade this time around. Instead of the repetitive gameplay loop from previous releases, we are invited backstage to set up matches, talk to other Superstars for side quests, and get interviewed by WWE’s Renee Young. As a wrestling fan, this seems like a dream come true, but the mode’s many botches are found right at the start.
As you begin, you will create a wrestler with the MyPlayer Wizard. This allows you to create a Superstar quickly and easily. However, it lacks the depth of the actual creation suite, only letting you choose from minimal options. After you have created your character, you can customize it further, but I would preferably be presented with the proper creation tools so I can make the wrestler I want from the start and change his style at my leisure.
While the new MyCareer boasts a more open and ever-changing gameplay loop, I found myself getting shoehorned into certain feuds that I never chose, nor did I want to. I understand that these matches were to progress WWE 2K18‘s story to get on the fast track in the WWE and eventually have your Wrestlemania moment, but it all seems forced. After a few hours of playing, I was able to pick from a few matches, but it was never against someone I wanted to fight.
The “side quests” given seem more like optional objectives for your main quest rather than a different mission altogether. As you approach a Superstar, the top left portion of the screen will indicate if he or she is a company man or a fan favorite. Depending on which category they fit in, you will level up that persona’s upgrade bar giving you unique abilities only available to that personality. When you go to set up the match, your primary objective is a duplicate of your side quest. It is nice to get two missions done in one go, but having these optional tasks could have changed the flow keeping things fresh as you progress to that Wrestlemania moment.
In addition to the monotony of the updated mode, poor writing plagues MyCareer. Some of the script seemed like it was written with a particular wrestler in mind, but each line seemed just as generic than the next. If you found yourself talking to some of the lesser known Superstars like Eric Young or Naomi, much of that dialogue is recycled and used for a lot of the pros found backstage.
There were also moments when the wrestler I was currently feuding with changed midway into our storyline. In one instance I was in a feud with Akira Tozawa, only to find myself in a promo against Chad Gable, then getting approached about my confrontation with Jason Jordan. However, when I looked to see who my rival was, it was still Tozawa. It was an odd botch that broke what little immersion I had with the game mode.
MyCareer is this year’s disappointing feature. It is unfortunate because this mode had the most promise. The idea of becoming a professional wrestler, going backstage, talking to other Superstars, producing your match card, and becoming a champion all seems terrific and something any WWE fan would love to experience. Instead, MyCareer is as tedious as ever with incredibly repetitious gameplay and poor writing all bundled with atrocious loading times every time you are brought backstage or into the ring.
Universe Mode makes its return to the WWE 2K franchise mostly untouched. Save for a few adjustments to rivalries, the feature has not changed much from last year’s iteration. However, that does not mean there’s no fun to be had in the universe-building mode. Looking at what the match card had to offer and making adjustments to create the product I wanted to see was satisfying. Seeing my dream match of Shinsuke Nakamura and the AJ Styles fight for the United States Championship unfold was phenomenal (pun intended). You can control one of the wrestlers so you can ensure the result you want occurs.
The power ranking system is a nice touch giving you an idea who is hot on the roster and who is not. However, these rankings can be altered on the fly allowing you to customize each wrestler’s standings. As you look at each Superstar, you will see a goal each of them is trying to accomplish. Using the example above, AJ Styles wanted to retain his United States Championship at all costs. If he had (which he did not because I hoped Shinsuke Nakamura would win), he would receive an attributes upgrade and a higher spot in the power rankings.
While it was incredibly repetitive, I found myself continuously simulating through each show sculpting the universe I wanted to create, and playing through the month’s scheduled pay-per-view. Seeing my favorites like Becky Lynch, Kevin Owens, and Finn Balor get the spotlight was fun to witness as they all earned championships.
WWE 2K18‘s newest feature, Road to Glory, also uses your created Superstar in an online-only mode where you fight in daily matches to gain stars, boosts, loot boxes, outfits and player upgrades. Each day, a specific show and match type are showcased for players to partake in mirroring the WWE’s real-life broadcast scheduling. For example, Monday will feature Raw, Tuesday will highlight SmackDown, and so on. This all leads up to a pay-per-view to compete in and unlock exclusive apparel themed after the event. To qualify, you must gain stars by participating in some matches. The stars acquired during your match is representative of the amount you earn to qualify. For example, achieving a five-star match will garner you five stars.
Road to Glory is a neat concept. Giving players incentive to bring their created Superstars to the online ring is excellent, especially when you get to see some of the goofy creations people have come up with. However, it is unfortunate that unlocking apparel is tied to garnering loot boxes. From my experience playing WWE 2K18, I was only able to unlock the creation suite items this way. Now loot boxes impede your player’s progress, but creating your desired Superstar may be difficult with the default items unlocked from the get-go.
The mode also poses the same problem with MyCareer and Universe Mode. Road to Glory becomes a tedious exercise that loses its luster fairly quickly. It is nice that there is only one long loading screen between you and your next match, but the monotony from WWE 2K18‘s updated RPG mode trickles down to its new feature.
The creation suite used to make the Superstar you will use in Road to Glory and MyCareer has received a significant overhaul since last year. While some of the apparel is locked possibly hindering your ability to create exactly what you want, that does not mean you cannot build a wrestler you will be happy with. There are tons of options to choose from and customize to personalize every facet of your Superstar’s outfits, entrance, and move set. After looking at some of the user-created content, it is apparent the tools are there to make any wrestler you want. Let’s just say a few of Japan’s best wrestlers can make an appearance in WWE 2K18. Additionally, the menu loads much faster than the previously released title giving players a much smoother experience than its predecessor.
The series’ gameplay has also ironed out some of the wrinkles from its predecessor. Matches flow in a way that feels more authentic to the product. Like previous iterations, your goal is to put on a quality match for your viewers. This is represented in the form of a five-star rating. To achieve the highest rating possible, you must use a variety of different abilities, successfully reverse your opponent’s moves, and create memorable moments during your match. Getting to a favorable rating seems to be much easier than last year’s release, especially with the addition of new moves and the new features.
The carry system is a new feature that allows you to deviate from your standard move set and gain more stars. The controls to activate the ability is somewhat clunky as I found myself having trouble initiating the action, but when it did work, I was able to place my opponent anywhere I wanted in and out of the ring.
The animations of the signature moves and finishers also look fantastic in comparison to last year’s iteration. However, most of the aerial moves seem goofy if you do not position the opposition correctly. In some cases, they would botch and miss the opponent entirely.
These missteps are usually forgotten when playing with a friend. Playing couch co-op is remarkably entertaining as you not only compete for the win, but work together to achieve a five-star match. Even when your friend is just watching, regularly screaming for joy as your character executed their signature finisher for the pin is an experience I have hardly had in other sports titles.
WWE 2K18 is an upgrade from the previous iteration. It improves on the game’s core gameplay, graphics, and creation tools giving wrestling fans a fun experience they will enjoy. However, like previous iterations, the game poses a ton of excellent ideas that fall flat. MyCareer, Road to Glory, and Universe Mode are all fantastic features on paper, but lacks the depth players would want. This is a game built for the WWE Universe; it is for fans of all generations. However, if you play WWE 2K18 without an appreciation for the sport, it would be hard to convince you that it is entertaining.