Step aside, Tom Cruise. This is the real deal.
It’s that time of year again. The birds are singing, the sun is shining, the leaves are falling, and it’s just cold enough to make for comfy sweater weather. But with that chill breeze comes ominous tidings. If you hadn’t heard through the faint whispers of your neighbors or through breathless voices scattered on the wind, the WWE games have returned. It is 2K18, and we must all fear. We must all fear this dark sacrifice. WWE 2K18 has arrived, and like the many incarnations before it, it too wades through the waters of mediocrity. Taking two steps forward and three steps back has been the running trend of the WWE 2K series, and while this is no exception, the biggest tragedy is that it manages to bring some cool ideas to the table. WWE 2K18 toys with some neat concepts that aren’t capitalized on in any meaningful way.
WWE 2K18’s gameplay feels almost exactly the same as it did in WWE 2K17, if not worse. The biggest new feature is an impenetrable carrying system that allows you to lift your opponents and bring them somewhere else for a short time. It’s entirely useless in a competitive match, looks terrible, accomplishes very little, and requires you to learn an entirely new set of awkward button combinations to pull off. It’s hard to understand why time and effort went into this system when these games have had so many other glaring problems. The new additions to the gameplay this year aren’t all bad, thankfully, as there are a larger variety of moves that combo into each other. As mentioned in the WWE 2K17 review, the few combo moves in that game added a lot to the gameplay, and it’s good to see them continuing that trend. In addition, a practice play feature was added to the move-set editor, which is really handy if you just wanna get in and test some things out without having to load into a match.
However, some of the idiosyncrasies of the franchise that made for smoother gameplay are just gone. One shining example was the ability to perform running signature and finisher moves to opponents who were still getting to their feet. When you attempt it now, the game simply doesn’t allow you to perform the move until the opponent is to their feet, which just results in you bumping into them awkwardly. Instead of facing the opponent while walking around, your character instead looks off into whatever weird direction they’re moving in, often leaving you out of position or unable to do moves. Interruptible taunts were removed as well, which makes you wait through an entire wake up taunt animation before you can perform your move. It makes zero sense why these tiny features were removed or changed, and it’s ultimately heartbreaking for a series that needs more mechanics like this if it wants to be seen as a fun game by a larger audience.
For the most part, this is one of the best looking WWE games to date. It’s clear that a lot of love went into rendering 3D models of the roster, and the updated lighting engine accentuates the entrance animations extremely well. The entrances, while some were clearly given more attention than others, are the best looking they’ve ever been. Even the custom characters manage to look more detailed and lifelike than many other big titles on the market. The level of detail in the textures and entrance animations are genuinely impressive, but that level of quality ends the second you start handling the game. The gameplay animations are just as janky as ever. While some of the moves may look cool, walking around with a blank expression and throwing punches into the air is very awkward. I don’t know if these games will ever get to a point where the action looks, or at the very least feels good.
There’s one aspect of the game’s aesthetics that are more dreadful than anything else. Somewhere along the way of WWE 2K18’s development, the unfortunate decision to include sweat was made. During the course of a match, each wrestler becomes completely drenched in an unrealistic amount of sweat. Maybe if it was toned down a little bit, it’d be easier to stomach, but it looks like two goopy sloppy messes rolling around with each other, and it feels incredibly dirty whenever it happens. It not only looks horrible, it’s also unavoidable. I went to far lengths to find some way to fix this. As far as I know, it doesn’t happen to created characters, so I could ostensibly recreate the entire roster as created wrestlers, but that would waste valuable create-a-wrestler slots that I need for the Ninja Turtles. If you can tolerate watching wet seals flop around on each other, then you might be fine.
The new MyPlayer wrapper acts as the main mode of the game, and contains two returning game types: the single player MyCareer campaign and the online matchmaking Road To Glory mode, renamed and revamped from it’s 2K Tonight predecessor. Players use the character creator to make their own custom wrestler who is used between both modes. It’s important to note that you can’t import an already made character, or export your character out of MyPlayer once you’ve finished the campaign. The handful of the items you use to make your character are locked behind largely inexpensive in-game currency, while the majority are locked behind randomized loot boxes.
The part where this gets egregious is in the move-set creation, where you’re given an insultingly paltry selection of moves to choose from, while the other 99% are locked behind loot box drops. Not to mention, the currency you need to buy the incredibly expensive loot boxes is also necessary for stat progression. If this game had the option to pay for virtual currency with real money, this would be one of the worst examples of predatory microtransactions to date. It feels like a system built that way, but the part where you actually pay for the loot boxes was pulled last second due to the fan outcry against them. It also sets a terrible precedent for future WWE games: with a system already in place for microtransactions, all they need to do is pull the trigger. That’s incredibly scary for a series that has largely courted a teenage demographic, and hopefully they have the sense to pull away in future iterations of MyPlayer.
While Road to Glory seems like a totally serviceable online competitive mode, the revamped MyCareer appears to be the real draw of this year’s game. Instead of being a menu driven affair, you’re now put in the shoes of your created wrestler in a third person, over the shoulder campaign. I have extremely mixed feelings on this mode. It’s another bland, repeatable single player mode with tiny elements of an actual story that either went nowhere or actively stopped happening the second repetition finally kicked in after the tutorial. The thing that makes it worse is instead of navigating menus to select matches, you have to walk from the parking lot to the production area to view a match board while maybe walking around and talking to some other people to pick up tedious side quests. The MyPlayer Invasion from previous years which allowed you to play alongside created wrestlers from your friends list doesn’t result in anything fun or interesting happening this time around. Instead, you only seen a couple of friends pop up backstage very occasionally, and interactions are limited to them telling me I’m doing a good job and not much else. It feels like a real waste of a good idea.
On the other hand, there’s a sobering feeling that comes from seeing some of my favorite wrestlers completely in ring gear doing mundane things. Johnny Gargano trying to pick what he wants to eat at catering. Ember Moon looking at her phone standing glassy eyed, presumably just killing time before her match. There was even a time where Akam, one half of the Authors of Pain, dressed to the nines in a full Army of Two cosplay, told me how much he loved free catering, and that even though the food isn’t good for him, he still loves being able to save a few bucks. A game in which I have the option to be nice to Eric Young, because he seems like such a sweet dude, isn’t something I knew I needed in my life. I love this. If MyCareer was nothing but endearingly day-to-day conversations with larger than life personalities, it would be one of the best things to exist in gaming. The novelty of this wears off quickly, as lines begin to repeat and more wrestlers default to talking about how much they loved or hated my match, or are uncharacteristically aggressive for no real reason whatsoever. I hope for future iterations, 2K learns some lessons about the best parts of this mode.
Universe mode, the WWE game’s equivalent of a franchise mode, comes with a couple new features that add a tiny bit more depth to experience compared to previous incarnations. The biggest addition are power rankings, a full ranked list of every wrestler, along with personal goals that help them get higher on the list. Wrestlers that make it higher up on the list gain extra stat bonuses. Rivalries, the primary way of developing stories between superstars, have also been given a bigger spotlight. On top of selecting or letting the game generate monthly rivalries, potential rivalries will surface as a result of matches or promos that happen outside of the active rivalries. These also result in a variety of cutscenes popping up out of nowhere, which adds some unpredictability to Universe mode as a whole. It’s a neat touch, but the rivalry system still ends up feeling very lacking.
First of all, you can only have three active rivalries happening at a time per show, which will usually be used on championship feuds more than anything else. That’s not even mentioning how there can be up to four active championships on a show, and only three rivalries, meaning one title will always be left out of storylines every month. Also, you can only have one on one or two on two rivalries. That means if there are factions like The New Day with more than two people in a group, only two of them will come out for storyline matches instead of the whole team. This also excludes the possibility of multi-man rivalries that would result in Triple Threat or Fatal 4 Way matches at PPV events. Finally, the matches the rivalries lead to rarely involve any interesting match types or stipulations, so it’s typically just a standard one on one match to cap off a three month long feud. While you can still personally accomplish this through micromanagement, the rivalry system exists so you shouldn’t need to. Universe mode has suffered from this lack of variety for years now, and it’s rough seeing its most important system make a tiny handful of positive changes at a glacial yearly pace, and not coming anywhere close to where it needs to be in order to be an engaging system.
Overall, WWE 2K18 is another disappointment in a long line of disappointments. I ended my review last year with a glimmer of hope that future WWE games would lead to more positive changes. I don’t have that same spark this year. A mess of half-baked ideas and pointless additions don’t leave me as positive about the future of this series. The sad part is that these games aren’t incentivized to hit beyond their demographic. They make a ton of cash churning these out yearly, and meaningful changes would cost too much money, manpower, and time that they don’t have for their yearly release schedule. I’ve grown up playing these games my whole life and I want them to be good very badly. It’s partially my own fault for continuing to support these games despite all their misgivings. All I can really say is… just go play Fire Pro World.