Game Review: WWE 2K23 remains the king of the ring

If you’ve fallen out of love with the WWE 2K series in recent years, we don’t blame you. Aside from the inconsistent performance and rampant bugs and glitches, the franchise certainly seemed to be heading toward a breaking point of sorts. Thankfully, WWE 2K22’s fresh showcase mode and steady performance yanked the franchise away from peril and in new and exciting directions. Thankfully, WWE 2K23 feels like a strong follow-up.

Its returning  2K Showcase mode now focuses on ring legend John Cena, which chooses to highlight some of his toughest moments, rather than his biggest successes. While gameplay feels largely untouched, remaining modes like MyRise and GM modes do feel a little deeper in certain aspects when compared to last year, even if they’re only likely to draw in returning fans in the long run.

The Ring Awaits

While gameplay feels incredibly solid, don’t expect too much of a change from last year’s WWE 2K22. This is far from a criticism, quite the opposite in fact. Its controls feel incredibly consistent and responsive as you pair light and heavy attacks with counters and a dedicated grapple button, of which most resulting animations feel slick and natural. Fights feel generally similar, although smoother thanks to a few nifty additions. Firstly, the new grappling mini-games take away from many of the repetitive stresses found in last year’s title. Players can now flick the right stick up at the right time to escape from submissions and pins. This feels much easier on the fingers, while still retaining the stress and urgency of escaping such situations. Players can still opt in for last year’s button-mashing mechanic, but it will more than likely wear thin against tougher opponents who usually throw you through hoops more than once.

Stamina played a role in WWE 2K22, but players will now have to manage their meters more closely. As your stamina wears thin, you’ll be more vulnerable to attacks, finishers, pins, and submissions. While it makes those mini-games harder, the general tide of a match can turn rather quickly as you struggle to strike back and even recover from certain attacks. It does add a layer of tension I felt was lacking last year but can also unintentionally slow matches in the earlier moments as you make conscious decisions on how to approach your opponent.

With more than 100 wrestlers to choose from, players will be spoilt for choice. But more importantly, spoilt for choice in terms of how they are utilised during gameplay. The Payback system now gives wrestlers two special abilities which grant them a single-use opportunity to turn the tide of a match. Choosing when and where to use them also adds another layer of depth to matches, as you’ll never know when your luck is about to change, for better or worse. Gameplay beyond this ultimately feels like a safe bet, but these changes definitely aim to push the franchise forward in new, deeper directions, enhancing both the tone and intensity of matches.

It’s also worth noting that much like WWE 2K22, WWE 2K23 looks great and runs even better. Small animation glitches and moments of clipping appear from time to time, but in no way break the experience, or appear consistently enough to feel frustrating at any point. Wrestlers also look incredibly accurate, filled with both polished textures and unique facial animations.

You Can’t See Me

The 2K Showcase mode does indeed return, this time focusing on superstar John Cena. Unlike last year’s approach to Rey Mysterio, Cena’s run choose to focus on some of his bigger losses and tough breaks, which add a layer of context to both the career and the man, as we unpack these matches with him thanks to pre-match commentary and real footage, seamlessly intertwined with gameplay, as you complete certain historically accurate moves in each match.

Matches themselves feel rather guided in that respect, but it’s incredibly satisfying to see each match transition to that footage. I would have liked, however, to see that footage laced with additional commentary, as opposed to the generic soundtrack that plays over those clips, which almost feels as good as the awkward silence that hangs over each match. Each match also feels relatively brief and direct but stands as a fresh approach to a rather successful 20-year career and is a welcome one, even if the mode itself plays things a little safe in terms of structure. The mode doesn’t add as much depth to the man more so than the wrestler, compared to last year’s take on Rey Mysterio, which might have focused purely on the success, but did touch on relationships with rival wrestlers and dealing with aging relevance within the sport.

The Life of a Wrestler

MyRise returns as WWE 2K23’s traditional single-player campaign, now dividing the experience into distinct portions. The Lock sees you taking control of a more traditional rags-to-riches story, while The Legacy sees you struggling to break free from the success and shadow of your aunty, a Hall of Fame wrestler. While last year’s MyRise mode was serviceable, this year’s iteration chooses to focus on two rather dividing tales, both of which question the definition of success in interesting ways. You’ll still be running around to complete quests, but each experience now feels more clear-cut and guided as a result, which helps with general pacing. While side-quests still feel a little pointless and bland at times, they too at least contribute to the development of your wrestler’s attributes.

The Universe mode also returns, giving players the ability to chop and choose WWE encounters as they see fit. It was arguably the best mode last year in terms of depth and longevity but feels like a copy and past of that same mode. It’s still great, but will more than likely draw those fans back in while fending off those who never really got hooked, between organising matches, managing feuds, and crafting storylines. The level of accessibility here is admittedly impressive but can feel a little dicey at times, with so many systems at play and menus to navigate.

The GM Mode stands as the more traditional sim-based mode, where players can manage the finer details of a wrestler’s career, from sponsored brands, and partnered managers and the ability to choose from a range of new power cards. This time around, players can jump on board with up to three other players to compete to be the best manager. While the general systems and pace feel very much the same as they did last year, this added layer of competition makes all the difference. Shake Ups also give players the ability to add certain situations to both matches and wrestlers, like the lack of stamina, which make for more exciting matches and more viewers as a result. But in the same breath, these decisions can also work against you.

Final Thoughts

In many respects, WWE 2K23 follows through on what made WWE 2K22 so good. Its functional mechanics feel smooth thanks to added Payback abilities and new submission/pin mini-games, while the 2K Showcase mode does its best to present one of the most well-known wrestlers in history from a new perspective. While certain features are worth checking out, the MyRise, Universe, and GM Mode all feel like the same car with a fresh paint job. As a result, fans of the franchise will appreciate the intention to leave what wasn’t broken, while doing their best to steer the franchise forward in new and interesting ways.


Highlights: Solid mechanics; New spin on 2K Showcase mode;
Lowlights: Certain modes remain incredibly similar to last year’s modes
Developer: Visual Concepts
Publisher: 2K Sports
Platforms: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Windows PC
Available: Now

Review conducted on PlayStation 5 with a pre-release code provided by the publisher.

Matthew Arcari

Matthew Arcari is the games and technology editor at The AU Review. You can find him on Twitter at @sirchunkee, or at the Dagobah System, chilling with Luke and Yoda.