Annualized Sports Games • WWE 2K23

Last year, after a much needed break between games, we saw the return of a new WWE game, WWE 2K22 — after previous releases, WWE 2K20 and WWE Battlegrounds. Now, we’re back to the yearly grind with last week’s release of WWE 2K23. While many noticeable improvements have been made, there are still many areas where the game has been left unchanged. As gamers, and fans of these annual franchises, we expect and accept small changes.

What if it wasn’t this way? After taking a year off to revamp the WWE 2K series, I started wondering — Are annualized game releases (mostly sports games) necessary? Do we need to see a “brand new” version of the same game each year? Can these games instead be released on a multi-year plan (two to five years) with yearly updates or DLC (Downloadable Content) in between?

When it comes to any big sports franchise in video games (Madden, NBA 2K, FIFA and the others), the biggest change each year comes in the form of the roster update. For the past few years, team rosters and player ratings have been updated weekly in many of these titles — why not do that for an extra year?

Other than roster updates we mostly see small changes in gameplay, menus, a new feature here or there. We recently began to see the addition of “story modes” in these games: Face of the Franchise mode in Madden and MyCAREER in NBA 2K. These have been a nice change, and the latest NBA 2K23 even added a Michael Jordan Mode* where you play through the GOAT’s (Greatest of All Time’s) career.

*Check out our coverage on NBA 2K23 and the Jordan Challenge.

Now, imagine a world where instead of playing NBA 2K22 followed by NBA 2K23, you got NBA 2K22 followed by NBA 2K25 — with yearly roster and gameplay updates in between. Studios would be able to have one team working on the yearly DLC, while another team would take a couple of years to really make the next release feel fresh, new, and different.**

**I have no idea how these big game studios work or if this would be a possibility, but it sounds like a good plan to me.

The reason for the two year break between WWE 2K20 and WWE 2K22, was the poor reception, bugs, and all the problems that came with WWE 2K20. Instead of trying to quickly correct their mistakes with a WWE 2K21, the studio decided to take an extra year to really change the game up, and they did a great job. Although I never played WWE 2K20, I do remember seeing and hearing about many of the problems. Not just bugs, but also players complaining about the controls and technical aspects of the game.

Let’s go over some of the changes from WWE 2K22 to WWE 2K23:

Professor Woods

After becoming a WWE 2K22 pro last year, due to the hours I spent in the virtual squared circle, I thought I could skip the tutorial this year. Seeing as WWE 2K23’s gameplay tutorial was hosted by one of my favorite WWE Superstar’s, Xavier Woods (aka Ya’Boy Austin Creed from the NEW DAY), I decided I should give it a shot — get rid of some of that ring rust.

Woods gave the tutorial a makeover in the way of making it less serious and adding some flavor to it. Last year felt more like attending a serious wrestling camp hosted by nobody’s favorite, Drew Gulak (Sorry Drew).*** It felt like a normal “let’s go over these moves real quick,” sort of tutorial. Xavier Woods went over the basics, followed by his dream Wrestlemania match versus this year’s cover superstar, John Cena.

***I recently attended a WWE Live event where Karrion Kross annihilated Drew Gulak, and the crowd loved it! Again, Sorry Drew.

After completing the tutorial in WWE 2K23 I can say that the move sets and controls have virtually the same layout, but I can say it feels a bit different. I’d say there’s about a 5-10% difference. The in-ring action runs a bit smoother this year. Not including some small glitches (to be expected with a pre-release copy) I have run into so far, I can truly see and feel the updates made this year — I’m just saying they may have been even more noticeable with an extra year of work.

One change was adding a new kick out system when being pinned by an opponent. In WWE 2K22, players could mash a button to kick out of a pin. In WWE 2K23, you can either use the button mashing technique, or a new timed meter system. I thought of this to be a great new feature to make sure players were paying attention, if the kick out mini game was interchanging throughout the match. Instead I was instantly asked, “What kick out system do you prefer?”

Pre-Game Changes

While the menu options have not changed all that much, the menu pages are more user friendly. Everything looks more clean, and choosing the right kind of match is less confusing this year — match type vs match rules. Those were the same options last year, I just like the way it’s all presented this year better.

I didn’t really dive into each game mode yet, other than [quick] Play and Showcase. I do plan to go deeper into the other game modes and include some coverage on those later on. I don’t expect them to have too many big changes from last year, which is why I started with my focus on the Showcase.

With any WWE game, it’s tough to keep up with the ever-changing personas of the vast WWE roster. I’m not just talking about the wrestlers themselves, but their in-ring personas which can change from one week to the next.

It feels kind of silly to see someone’s old persona in a new game when they have already moved onto something new (like Doudrop/Piper Niven or Nikki ASH/Nikki Cross). WWE 2K22 did feature a few superstar DLC packs, each adding new and past superstars to the roster. A nice new feature I’d like to see in WWE 2K23, is updating the look of outdated and current personas through free DLC.

Most superstars wear a different outfit to the ring each night. Why not use this to add some more flare to the game? My old school WWF/WWE games had the choice of Mick Foley coming out as Mankind, Dude Love, or Cactus Jack. Those are different personas instead of costumes, but still I want to see more of that. Seth Freakin’ Rollins should definitely come with multiple colorful jackets and pants. You can always customize Superstars and create unique outfit choices, but I’d like the game to do it for me.

In-Ring Action

As I mentioned earlier, I did notice slightly better performance in the ring. Primarily when interacting with objects. Chairs and weapons seem to hit more precisely. Tables broke into extra pieces around the ring. Newly added camera angles make the superstar intros feel more realistic. I even noticed some new camera angles during matches.

There were many times that I found last year’s WWE 2K22 matches to be a bit too easy. Especially when it came to countering an enemy attack. Both games feature two ways to counter. You may either guess your opponent’s grapple attack by pressing the same button, or you can push the counter button at the perfect time. In WWE 2K23, the counter window feels greatly decreased, making it harder to hit it at the right time
— leading to more exciting matches overall.

Cena Showcase

While I mostly enjoy using these games to replay each week’s matches from real WWE events and rewriting history when my favorite superstars lose — like beating Roman Reigns with Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens after their recent premium event loses — my favorite mode in these past two games has been the Showcase mode.

Last year (WWE 2K22), we got to play through some of Rey Mysterio’s greatest matches of his career. It was a history lesson, featuring some amazing matches. The mix of real life and in-game footage really intensified these matches. This year, the superstar career being showcased is John Cena. After the first match, I was already surprised.

The first match was an ECW match versus RVD (Rob Van Dam), and you didn’t play as John Cena, you played as RVD. At first, I was thrown off and quit the match my first try, thinking I wasn’t controlling any wrestlers in the match. I later realized what was going on. There were so many great moments in this first match — referees getting knocked out, outside interference, a rowdy crowd, and Paul Heyman himself.

The next couple of matches have you playing as Cena’s opponents, since they beat him. I’m sure that at some point I will get to play as John Cena in some of his best matches, but the game does a great job at acknowledging the ups and downs of Cena’s career.

The only problem I come across in this mode is when you are asked to do some specific move, but it’s just not happening. I ran into this twice with the Undertaker, but decided to just win the match early and move on. I’ll come back and try to make it through the match objectives at a later date.

Worth It?

The additions and improvements made to WWE 2K23 are definitely worth picking this game up for anyone who considers themselves part of the WWE Universe (or a WWE Super fan). These games include different modes for different types of fans, whether you want to create your own Superstar, work week-to-week as a current Superstar, be the general manager, or my favorite — The Showcase mode.

As stated before I haven’t given the other modes much of a try, but from what I read only small changes have been made. Online capabilities have been added to a few modes, along with some other quality improvements.

My Failed Plan

I still think it would be cool to see at least one of these sporting game studios try to take a year or two off before their next release to really focus on bringing some big changes to the franchise. The reason why this won’t happen is because we as fans continue to buy these games each and every year. They are always some of the highest selling games year after year.

If you’re a fan of a particular sport or sports game, of course you’d love to have the latest version. As long as fans continue to purchase these games, the studios continue to make money, and the system continues. In the end my idea may not even work, I just think it would be cool to see someone try it out. I would love to see the comparison of how much a game changed when it took one year to create it vs two or three years.

As a kid I was a huge fan of the WWE (WWF back then), but I fell off right before the John Cena Era began, and I came back to wrestling after he had left — for the most part. He is returning in a few weeks for a big WrestleMania match against Austin Theory. It’s nice to get a whole history lesson on what I missed these past 20 years, through the lens of John Cena’s career.


* was provided a review code for WWE 2K23.

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