If you ever played with those plastic wrestler action figures as a kid, you’ll probably enjoy WWE 2K Battlegrounds. After the glitchy disaster that was WWE 2K20, 2K Games has regrouped this year by giving a pass on a full-scale mainline entry in favour of this arcade-y replacement. It’s smaller, cheaper and more fun, but it also feel like 2K isn’t certain if this is going to be a one-off or a recurring spin-off akin to FIFA Street .
Starting off with the positives, Battlegrounds looks better than 2K20. Low bar, sure, but this has been made on a more limited budget. Plus, the switch in genre is a risk that has paid off. There are a couple of consistent glitches, mainly around throw reversals, but nothing game-breaking or even that off-putting.
Most characters are instantly recognisable in the bobblehead design – although there’s less likeness in the ladies compared to the gents. The power-ups, signature moves and unique arena abilities all look great too, and perfectly capture the essence of what the game is trying to do. While other 2K wrestling games have tried to depict modern-day wrestling as a sporting event, Battlegrounds goes back to basics and depicts it as a spectacle.
The story mode is pretty solid, too. You play as a variety of newcomers across the different playstyles, and can either power through the main story or explore each character a little more through side matches. There are over a hundred unique events, so it’s more than enough to keep you busy, although only around half of them actually need to be completed to reach the ending.
The story mode is presented in a comic book format and features some great moments – like Brock Lesnar disappearing back into the swamp once he’s been defeated – but can feel a little lifeless. Stone Cold aside, none of the characters have much personality nor development, and even after completing all of the challenges, you never really get to know them.
The actual gameplay, though, is enjoyable if basic, and the story switches characters just before their fighting style gets repetitive. The biggest win, however, is the arena arena design, which features plenty of environmental attacks, akin to the Mortal Kombat series. I personally enjoyed flinging opponents into the waiting jaws of a gator in the Florida arena.
The story mode takes you through the basic match formats: 1v1, Tag Team, Tornado Tag Team, Gauntlet, Cage Match, Triple Threat and Royal Rumble. That sounds like some decent variety, but Cage Match aside, they just feature basic wrestling gameplay with different rules on the amount of players and whether elimination is by ring-out or pin.
It’s obviously a symptom of the game’s reduced budget – you have to give 2K credit for offering so much when it has so few ingredients to work with – but if this is to be the direction the series is heading in, we need stuff like Hell In A Cell, TLC and Casket Matches to further lean into the zaniness the game brings. 2K wrings everything out of this game that it can, but you can see the cut corners here and there.
More disappointing is the lack of party game features or online variety, which slightly undercut the arcade aesthetic the game is going for. Characters have very limited differences in their actual fighting style too.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the game is the inclusion of microtransactions. As a modern sports game – one that’s made by 2K no less – microtransactions aren’t particularly shocking, but it’s still bad news for players because of the “pay-to-win” implications. In Battlegrounds, there are two types of currency you earn while playing, one of which can be bought with real money. So, instead of working their way up the ladder to unlock wrestlers, players can fork out cash to do so instead.
I had hoped Battlegrounds would be like Crash Team Racing, where the characters were fairly easy to unlock by regular progress and the cosmetics required grinding. But here it actually requires you to make conscious choices over which characters you want to play. For a fun and breezy game like Battlegrounds, the extra work needed to acquire the full roster just feels like it goes against the spirit of the rest of the game.
But even then, the full roster lacks a number of legends on the list. While a lot of the old favourites are still there, a few of the male big guns are missing. The women aren’t so lucky either, with Ronda Rousey somehow down as their biggest star.
Battlegrounds feels like it could be a successful spinoff series, or maybe a one-and-done cult hit while 2K work on its ‘real’ wrestling game for next year. If you want some good, dumb fun, this is the game for you, but there’s a lot of loose ends that are papered over the cracks.
WWE 2K Battlegrounds is undoubtedly a better game than WWE 2K20, despite a lower budget and a more stripped-back approach. It creaks with confusion sometimes, unsure whether it wants to be a wrestling sim or commit to its own uniqueness, but there are good times to be had. Monetisation remains a curse on these sorts of games, but it’s not too restrictive here to scare anyone away.
- Can be a blast to play
- Does a lot with the tools it has
- The colourful, arcade aesthetic is a big win
- Confusing and damaging monetisation
- Story can feel repetitive
- Lack of any real variation