WWE 2K23 is the newest iteration of the long-running, pro-wrestling video game franchise. While it doesn’t drastically alter the formula, it does cement the fact that developer Visual Concepts has learned from past mistakes. From WWE 2K20, which botched its introduction worse than The Shockmaster, the cancellation of one game led to the eventual release of WWE 2K22, which, admittedly, was a “fine foundation” for future titles. And that foundation laid the groundwork for what we can see in WWE 2K23, which has a lot of improvements across the board.
From the get-go, you’ll notice realistic and top-notch character models, down to rugged muscles and elaborate tattoos. Controls feel smoother, with a slight tweak to grapple actions and light or heavy moves. The PS5’s haptic feedback helps here too, letting you feel each DDT, powerbomb, top-rope dive, and submission maneuver.
Every match-up you’ll recognise from TV is here, ranging from battle royales and Royal Rumbles to Elimination Chamber and Hell in a Cell. The newest addition this year is WarGames, a 4-on-4 bout that takes place in two rings placed inside an unforgiving cage. Two fighters start things off, before additional teammates join in, though you can only attempt to win the match after everyone has entered the fray. It’s chaotic and ridiculous, and astoundingly fun to boot. Imagine eight combatants duking it out, bringing tables and chairs, and slamming one another until only one team is left.
As far as wrestlers are concerned, you’ll be able to choose from around 178 superstars, including 40 who weren’t in the previous game. The selections include icons like Triple H and The Undertaker; main roster luminaries such as Cody Rhodes and Asuka; up-and-comers like Bron Breakker, Gigi Dolin, and Roxanne Perez; and celebrities such as Logan Paul and Bad Bunny. Unfortunately, some active superstars have been left out and will come later as part of their own DLCs, including Bray Wyatt/The Fiend, AJ Styles’ buddies Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows, Andre Chase, Tiffany Straton, and many others.
WWE 2K23 manages to surprise thanks to the John Cena Showcase. It’s not just because of Cena’s long-storied career, but also due to how the whole thing is presented. Rather than use the featured character all throughout, you’ll play as his opponents.
From rivalries against Kurt Angle and Batista during the Ruthless Aggression Era to getting trounced by Brock Lesnar and The Rock, you’ll relive many of Cena’s losses. It makes each bout more refreshing since you’re controlling a different character with their own moves, as opposed to the same superstar across a dozen matches.
WWE 2K23’s MyRise or Career Mode also sees a long-awaited functionality that lets you import your created superstar or create-a-wrestler (CAW). Male superstars have The Lock, a storyline where they’re supposed to be “the chosen one” or “the next big thing,” but things don’t go according to plan. Female superstars, meanwhile, have The Legacy, where your character is thought of as a nepo baby given an aunt’s achievements. It’s up to you to cement your status as a second-generation star or fall by the wayside.
There are a few notable issues here, notably some wonky facial animations and corny voice acting. Likewise, it can lead to a point where you’re desperately pushing from one conversation and loading screen to the next, just to have a match. However, having two distinct storylines with multiple branching options and unlockables makes for additional replay value. Moreover, since you can import different CAWs, you can think of each run as a distinct career path.
Speaking of CAWs, the Creation Suite is back in WWE 2K23. As usual, you’ll be able to make your own movesets, entrances, teams, highlight video packages, shows, championships, and more. You can use thousands of in-game selections available by default or upload custom logos, face photos, and renders. For instance, you can change a simple armband’s colors and materials, then cover it with a custom pattern to make it look like it’s made of lace. The same can be said for shirts, vests, tights, pants, and other accessories, allowing you to come up with unique designs.
Naturally, creating superstars (with 100 slots available) will definitely take up a chunk of your time. Given the aforementioned photorealistic graphics, even generic CAWs themselves look visually striking, no longer out of place as hodgepodge characters. Currently, I’ve made a Jon Moxley CAW (seen in the image below), using a face photo from PhenomCAWs/Peter Peja, which can be easily edited and downloaded for use in-game. I’ll also be making versions of Matt Cardona (fka. Zack Ryder) and Chelsea Green, just because I want more mixed/intergender teams.
Then again, if you’re not keen on making new wrestlers from scratch, you can always wait until other players have uploaded their own creations, especially with cross-platform functionality removing system/console restrictions. The only gripes when it comes to the Creation Suite are the removal of moveset templates and the lack of a search function for moves.
Then, there’s MyGM, which exemplifies how Visual Concepts has learned from feedback. WWE 2K23 has more General Managers (GMs), including Xavier Woods, Tyler Breeze, Mick Foley, Kurt Angle, and Eric Bischoff. Various shows can be selected (i.e., Raw, SmackDown, NXT, NXT 2.0, and even WCW). From there, you draft superstars, plan matches, and balance the books. It’s also possible to earn Shake Ups, buffs that truly change how you progress, such as increased match ratings and instant recovery. Better, you can continue playing through multiple seasons now.
Meanwhile, Universe Mode, where you can be the booker in charge of the entire company and all its wrestlers, has also been expanded. Now, there are extra actions that you can pick for rivalries, whereupon you’d use momentum to nudge a superstar to one-up their opponent.This could include pre-match attacks, post-match beatdowns, running interference, potential injuries, and questionable ref bumps, all things that will feel familiar to fans watching the shows in the real world.
Universe Mode feels like it still lags behind. Rivalries are still one-on-one or two-on-two affairs, not a faction-wide brawl; you can’t even make a main stable with several tag teams within it (i.e., you have to delete The Usos as a team if you want to form The Bloodline as a five-person group). Similarly, you can’t customize three or four-person entrances as a stable (you can only change custom tag team entrances). The mode also feels like it needs a means of completely delisting wrestlers that we don’t plan on using. If a game has a roster of 200+ default, DLC, and CAW characters, you don’t want to sift through multiple versions of the same wrestler.
Lastly, there’s MyFaction, which is, basically, match-ups against the AI or human opponents, except your wrestlers use a card system (i.e., rarities denoting overall stats and limited-use contracts). I’ve only tried this mode sporadically as it uses both in-game currency and one that uses real money purchases. It’s completely playable as is, and spending cash is optional. However, you might encounter a few hurdles (i.e., no available contracts for matches) or feel that you need to obtain higher-tier cards for more challenging content.
WWE 2K23 is available now and can be played on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S, and PC. This review was played on the PS5.
WWE 2K23 doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, but it proves that Visual Concepts has learned from past mistakes. Meaningful improvements in several different areas build on the foundation laid by the previous game, and make WWE 2k23 a stellar addition to the roster.
- Fluid and responsive controls
- John Cena Showcase is a refreshing story mode
- Two MyRise/Career Mode options with branching paths
- Odd facial expressions and animations during cutscenes/conversations
- Universe Mode is still in need of improvements, including a focus on factions/stables and more customization options