Authenticity is key when it comes to WWE games and since 2K has taken over this generation with the former THQ series, it has elevated the status of the series to an accurate representation. With WWE 2K19, developers Visual Concepts and Yuke’s wanted to focus on the game being fun rather than being a simulation of WWE. The series has never been short of play modes and the team has retooled and brought even more this year. Just like the career of Daniel Bryan, however, when this game starts to excel, it gets brought back to reality.
“Never Say Never” was the mantra from the development teams this year, and they went above and beyond in trying to bring a new experience to the table. The smorgasbord of game modes is almost overwhelming and the roster is so deep that you’ll get lost in awe on who to choose. An experienced WWE writer was brought in to give the Career Mode a new direction. This narrative-based mode will have you take MyPLAYER and progress through a story that has actual voice acting and a Player Tree that allows you to gradually make your character better. It’s broken down into three categories and progressing through the main tree will open up sub-sets and an overdrive tree. The Career Mode involves a lot of grinding and having to branch out to the MyPLAYER Tower and Road to Glory in hopes of gaining extra XP and skill points to use. Through the narrative, you’ll hit road blocks as there isn’t any XP granted for losses. Eventually, side matches open up to help build get even more XP.
The narrative in Career Mode is a step in the right direction. Complete with voice acting, you’re not just reading dialogue. Gone are the days of starting in NXT and just trying to blindly guide your way to the main roster and compete for a belt. If you’re a fan of doing something like that, that doesn’t exist in this game. Instead, you get a story full of in-game cutscenes that have you fight your way onto the main roster as you start in the indie promotion BCW. The story has plot holes that will bug you, but this isn’t a movie or a story-driven game. The fact that it is something different and enjoyable is what is important. There will be moments where you have to make a decision during a conversation that doesn’t seem to have much of an effect in what happens. The story is predictable in a WWE way.
MyPLAYER and creating wrestlers have a ton of options for customization including an option to randomize their appearance. This is where the 2K-aspect starts to show its cards, though. All these customization options are initially locked and that’s just for the creation options. There are even more options locked in the game behind a paywall. The game still surrounds virtual currency and can be gained by winning matches. There is a new currency that ties into separate entities such as the customization suite and the only way to unlock these is via loot boxes. You may get five total items per loot box and it could contain an elbow pad, head band and a t-shirt. Even being provided with the Digital Deluxe Edition of the game and some extra money to spend on this, nearly all of it is still locked. I also don’t want to spend time unpacking loot boxes just to have access to this stuff. Also, all those legends and the deep roster mentioned above? All locked behind VC. All of this should be available out of the gate especially for the edition that is $20 more.
Showcase Mode returns after a year hiatus with the Daniel Bryan story and this may be the best mode to play. While Career Mode is fun and different, the Showcase Mode hits every wrestling fan’s musical note. Full of video highlights and a story told directly from Bryan’s mouth, you will replay key fights over the span of his career. These fights include objectives that are tied into moves that actually happened during the match. This might be landing a critical strike or jumping off the top rope to land a move. Once the set of objectives are completed, the game cuts to a pre-rendered sequence that adds a great storytelling element to the mode, feeling like you relive history. After each match, the two versions of the wrestlers and the arena they fight in are unlocked for use in other modes that help to battle the virtual currency.
The other big addition with hopes to keep players coming back is the ever changing 2K Towers mode. Along with MyPLAYER Towers, this mode takes a page from the Mortal Kombat book and introduces a gauntlet-type set of matches to complete that can have varying stipulations. The big one is the Million Dollar AJ Styles Challenge currently going on that sees the player progress through multiple matches while maintaining the same health along the way. During the press event a few weeks ago, I was told that only one person in the office was able to successfully beat this mode. There are rewards if a certain criteria of match points is met after each Tower that can go towards loot packs and XP.
While the modes are one aspect, the in-ring action is the other aspect. Plain and simple, the visuals in WWE 2K19 are stunning. WWE Superstar entrances are perfectly replicated in the game as the visual quality has been improved. This is the only place that you can get an experience like this as the crowd is lively and the commentary probably shines best during this portion. The player models in the ring look fantastic and the overall speed of matches have been increased. An improved lighting engine allows for reflections and arenas to look realistic. Grappling and striking animations are much more fluid and clipping is minimal. Facial animations are elaborate and add life to the characters. Players now interact with collisions with the rope, but some strange things can happen when collision is made there. Pulling off moves this year are cleaner and satisfying and the game incorporates plenty of new and smaller match aspects that allow you to explore what can be done in the ring.
The Payback System is a game-changing feature that needs to stay put. Each player now has two storage spots to pull off a Payback move that gets built throughout the match. The move can be an instant recovery or a kick out or even a low blow and mist to the face (however this would get you disqualified if the ref sees it). Other smaller improvements allow players can play “possum” under the rope during a royal rumble, move sets for against the ropes, being able to fight outside the ring during a Hell in a Cell and even fight backstage (including the Wyatt House). There are plenty of small match aspects you will pick up along the way.
The series combat has always had its gaffs and issues and while the improvements are here and it does feel better, it gets brought right back down due to legacy issues. There are still some warping animations between wrestlers and while the collisions are much improved, this reduces the feel of the match. Match momentum with the AI also doesn’t feel right and navigating outside the ring still feels difficult. The submission system could also use a new approach. The game still consists of a good bit of bugs even after the day one patch. During a ladder match, I kicked out the ladder and my opponent floated in mid-air.
The sound quality is good and bad. The three commentator team adds a lot to the table as Corey Graves sounds word-for-word on par with what you hear in a broadcast while Michael Cole still deafens the ears and Byron Saxton is just there. This is light years ahead of Cole and King, and while there can be some repetition, the variety of commentators help alleviate that. There are audio bugs abound in the game that need to be cleaned up. Being in a non-tag match and the team commenting it as a tag match is annoying and happened on a few occasions. Michael Cole will also break into a story of a legendary match that doesn’t have anything to do in relation to the match you are competing in, but the main problem with this is the fact that it’ll get repeated three times during the match. While the crowds sound fantastic, if you’re competing in a royal rumble match, the boos and cheers will get cut off and it sounds awkward.
All the past modes still return including the Universe Mode that allows for more micromanaging during your simulation. There’s just a plethora of things to do in WWE 2K19 and the multiplayer still works well. This includes the Road to Glory mode as taking your MyPLAYER will gain rewards against other people’s, but the matchmaking could be better. Money in the Bank briefcases can be customized this year and run-ins can be triggered during title matches. Lastly, the Big Head mode is a cool edition and actually shows how detailed the player faces are and it’s just funny.
There’s no doubt that WWE 2K19 is the best series offering of this generation. With the Daniel Bryan Showcase, the narrative-based Career Mode and the 2K Towers to keep players coming back, these should answer the previous cries from fans that the games got boring. On top of that, WWE 2K19 offers the best visuals in the series and possibly the best player models in any sports game to date. Faster gameplay and mostly satisfying combat animations will have players hooked until the legacy issues and bugs start coming into play. Even with the overwhelming amount of game modes and content, there’s no excuse to have the majority of the content behind two separate pay walls. This proves even more so when buying the more expensive edition of the game. Grinding doesn’t make it impossible to get the WWE Legends, but it does make it difficult to get customization gear via loot boxes. While a great and fun addition to the series, instead of inventing new things to do, the team needs to look at what is still holding it back.