WWE 2K17 was a finely-tuned entry in the long-running series and felt quite a bit different than the prior few entries. After the misstep that was 2K15, 2K16 re-focused things on improving the core gameplay and 2K17 refined that even further. WWE 2K18 takes everything that worked about 2K17’s improvements and adds to it. Small things like transitions to the floor and between-move animations were tightened up, while a huge increase in moves allowed matches to have a more modern feel than before. The game allowed for just about any kind of in-ring style to be replicated — so if you wanted to have a fast-paced Young Bucks-style match, you could have one just as easily as a stiffer New Japan affair.
WWE 2K18 brings with it the MyCareer mode from prior games along with the new Road to Glory mode. MyCareer continues the trend of the past few games of starting you off in the developmental league NXT before having you go to the main roster and making your long-term goal the main event of WrestleMania. New to 2K18 is the ability to walk through the backstage area and interact with not only the roster, but also trainers and GMs alongside a seamstress to adjust your gear as you see fit. The idea behind it is to replicate the feeling of experiencing a career from a humble beginning to a celebratory end — and the end result is a mixed bag.
The in-ring portion of things begins as a tutorial, which is smart for newcomers, but annoying for veterans who don’t need it. The restrictions placed on your appearance and moveset make progress make it a little harder to have exciting matches, and while this does fit being a rookie with little experience, it does hurt the in-ring quality. You can use the revamped carry mechanics to add a few moves to your arsenal, but matches feel a bit samey and the backstage stuff feels like it would be far better served to be menu-driven instead of running around backstage. While that does make things seem more realistic in theory, it winds up feeling like busy-work because the end result is just to be taken to a menu.
Road to Glory is a bit more exciting because it takes your MyCareer character online and allows you to build an in-universe legacy of sorts for that character. It’s a great way to encourage players to use their newly-created character in a way that feels substantial. It also means that players should want to put some effort into it so that they wind up with something that is both memorable for someone to face, but also effective to use in the ring. All too often, playing created wrestlers online led to facing a sea of badly-tattooed long-haired rocker-types, but with this incentive to keep using the same character, it should lead to more creativity over the long haul.
The core gameplay has seen some major revisions from last year’s incarnation — with the biggest being the return of opponent-carrying. Previously-known as the UCM system, this allows you to not only drag people around the ring from a standing position, but also do a variety of moves. Using a combination of the right bumper and the right stick, you can do things as simple as a body slam quickly or do a flick of the stick either up, down, right, or left to do more devastating attacks. Being able to add different ways to do things like Seth Rollins’ buckle bomb, or Braun Strowman’s powerslam allows you to tell different stories in your matches than just being stuck to the usual signature/finisher dynamic.
The powerslam, powerbomb and fireman carry positions enable you to do a fairly wide variety of attacks. Beyond doing things like the wasteland and powerbomb as regular moves, you can also do snake eyes moves in the corner and another one on the ropes. The corner death valley driver/Oklahoma stampede hybrid looks outstanding too — especially when done on a chair. It’s also great to be able to toss people over the top rope to the floor again with this system. It isn’t quite as versatile as the UCM system before, which had more transitions and let you do things like turn a chokeslam position into a tree slam position and do that into a corner — but it’s a huge step in the right direction. Hopefully, the chokeslam position can be added next year since down and up do the same powerbomb setup now and it feels a bit wasteful.
This system makes extreme rules and falls count anywhere matches more enjoyable, and allows for even more chaos. The addition of two more people in matches, bringing the total to eight wrestlers on-screen. This means that Survivor Series matches can be created in the games for the first time in many years — although strangely, it isn’t a default match type. It’s a match type you can make via the match type creation tool. While it’s called a match creation tool, it really just allows you to mix up different match types, so if you want to make a knockouts-only match to recreate Brock’s rise in 2002, or make a regular No DQ stip by default, you can do it.
Visually, WWE 2K18 has a higher level of graphical fidelity than the prior games. Character models have far more detail than before and it really shows during longer matches. Sweat builds up on the body and offers up a convincing sheen. This makes arduous matches seem more grueling and the revamped sweat effects pay off during bloody bouts too. A crimson mask has a more realistic tone now than before and transitional animations are better now too. Going from the mat to the apron now features folks going underneath the rope briefly before standing on the apron, giving the person on the apron either a chance to avoid an attack and land their own or put themselves in a tougher spot by having to avoid another attack. Move animations are better than they’ve been before too and things like environmental textures are much-improved. Backstage brawls seem far more realistic thanks to a realistic sheen on the floor.
WWE 2K18‘s sound design is better overall that past games, but still has major room for improvement. The three man team of Michal Cole, Byron Saxton and Corey Graves is featured to update things in the post-brand split era. The end result is much fresher commentary than years past — but the commentary retains the stilted feel that doesn’t always match up what’s going on in the match itself. It’s far from bad, but would benefit from the removal of Byron, as his work sounds lifeless. The sound effect work is solid, with chairshots sounding a bit more devastating than before, but the mid-match voice clips from wrestlers like Bobby Roode’s “glorious” sound like they’re in an echo chamber and not an arena.
Featuring an enormous roster of over 200 characters with revamped gameplay, WWE 2K18 is a solid upgrade from last year’s game. The carry system changes hardcore matches up rapidly, and allows you to do things in games that haven’t been possible before. The upgrades to MyCareer don’t do much to fix the mode’s core problems with limited movesets and overall variety. Thankfully, the redone gameplay mechanics allow you to have great matches from just about any style imaginable — and for a video game replication of pro wrestling, that is the most important thing. Longtime fans of the series will enjoy a more robust experience, while newcomers will get the best-playing incarnation of the franchise yet.