Much like the WWE’s actual touring schedule, the WWE 2K series never stops. This lineage of games has been releasing every single year since WWF SmackDown on the original PlayStation in 2000. As a result, each entry has started to become mostly iterative rather than radically different, as all annual sports games eventually become. However, as many wrestling fans know, there are plenty of areas of improvement in this franchise, and thankfully, WWE 2K19 actually manages to address some of these.

When sports games started trending in the direction of trading a regular “season” mode for the MyCareer format, the WWE followed suit. While this proved to work well for the FIFA's of the world, it didn’t exactly jive with wrestling. Players would play repetitive matches over and over again until they eventually moved up the championship rankings, completely doing away with the over the top story-lines and general wackiness that professional wrestling brings. WWE 2K18 tried to address this, but ultimately it was still more miss than hit. Thankfully, this time around MyCareer mode is something truly worth playing.

In WWE 2K19, Yuke's has done away with treating the WWE like a professional sport, and instead has written a 14 chapter storyline for you to play through. You play as 'Buzz', a young star on the independent scene who gets noticed by NXT, the WWE’s developmental brand. However, on your very first night with the WWE you are attacked and involved in an altercation with a fan, resulting in you losing your contract and falling right back to the indies. What follows is an off the walls story that takes inspiration from iconic storylines like the New World Order, WCW Invasion, and is clearly inspired in parts by Daniel Bryan’s career path.

The story definitely isn’t going to win awards or anything, but for wrestling fans it is the right blend of drama, excitement, and surprise, with some classic wrestling cheesiness sprinkled on top as seasoning. It also benefits greatly from not taking itself too seriously. Since the WWE license was snapped up by 2K MyCareer has been devoid of humour, but 2K19 sees a return to the days of the 'Road to WrestleMania' series that was never afraid to get weird and wacky.

Gameplay in MyCareer has also seen a rapid improvement. When creating your superstar you now have five different wrestling styles to choose from: technician, powerhouse, giant, cruiser weight, and striker. The style you choose decides the way you’ll wrestle, and will either give or prevent access to certain abilities. This new system means that not only can you sculpt your own player into a certain type of wrestler, but the opponents you go up against genuinely feel different and unique to wrestle.

Similarly, each style has a couple of sub-styles to choose. For example, we chose the technician style and then had the choice of becoming a “shooter” or going down the “UK Strong Style” path. We chose the shooter style, and after playing with superstars who use the UK Strong Style it’s clear they play noticeably different to one another. This is a level of depth that has never been seen in Yuke’s series of wrestling games.

You’ll upgrade your MyPlayer through a skill tree system, and mercifully, VC is not required here. Technically, you can upgrade your guy or girl with the game’s virtual currency, but this is completely unnecessary unless you want to have Hall of Fame level stats right away. You are given more than enough experience points just from wrestling the matches and you’ll be steadily growing your abilities. In fact, the rate at which you grow always matches where you are in terms of the story perfectly.

The smooth as butter progression is even more impressive considering loot boxes are present in the game. Loot boxes are primarily focused on the thousands of cosmetic items and animations in the creation suites. This system will no doubt turn some people off, but we found that we were earning enough currency just playing the game to open numerous packs, and if you want a specific item you always have the option of purchasing it individually, which is very welcome.

Once you're done with MyCareer there is the new 2K Towers game mode to keep you from abandoning your superstar forever. 2K Towers sees you take your MyPlayer to various towers as you fight through different gauntlets of WWE superstars, with new towers being constantly added based on the comings and goings in the actual WWE. This is a fun addition, and a great way to keep players coming back to their MyPlayer after the career mode is long done and dusted.

WWE 2K19 also sees the return of Showcase Mode, a fan favourite that had been put on the back-burner recently. For those out of the loop, Showcase takes players through all the important moments of a selected superstar’s career. This year’s featured star is Daniel Bryan, and while it’s fun to play through the highlights of Bryan’s career, the gameplay consists of being given various specific tasks to do in each match and this becomes extremely tedious at times.

Elsewhere, smaller quality of life improvements have been made to Universe Mode, with things fans have been clamouring for like assigning managers permanently to a superstar and 205 Live being a separate brand. You’re also able to have six championships on one show now, and the Money in the Bank system has been completely revamped to make it work much more realistically. The general gameplay has also seen minor upgrades over last year’s game, with the physics and animations receiving noticeably more polish.

Conclusion

WWE 2K19 hasn’t changed much at its core, but the smaller alterations to the overall package make it a vastly more enjoyable experience to previous instalments. Introducing a proper story to MyCareer gives players an actual reason to play it this year and it's a genuinely engaging experience. The increased depth of the player creation suite means each superstar feels different from the next, while quality of life improvements in Universe will be music to the ears of diehard fans. All of this adds up to make WWE 2K19 the best entry of this long-running series.