WWE 2K22 is a better game than WWE 2K20. There, that's the headline. For a variety of reasons 2K20 was released in such a disastrous state that we called it "a comedy horror title" in our review at the time. Surely taking stock of just how much the WWE license is worth to them, 2K and beleaguered developer Visual Concepts made the brave decision to skip WWE 2K21 entirely, before going on to push 2K22's release back several months. The result is a title that's a welcome return to form, boasting significant gameplay tweaks and practically bursting at the seams with content – almost to a fault. So what's new?
A lot of WWE 2K22’s pre-release marketing has touted its “redesigned engine”, and they weren’t lying. Admittedly the bar set by WWE 2K20 was so low the police would be called if it had somehow sunken lower, but we’re pleased to say everything actually works now! Menus are sleeker and faster, a new lighting engine and wrestler models bring to life the best looking entrances and grappling action we’ve seen from this series to date, and eyeballs, haircuts, and assorted limbs all stay where they’re supposed to with very few visual bugs in sight. We did experience a couple of crashes, and our custom wrestler’s cheeks had a habit of clipping through his mask during MyRise cutscenes, but there’s absolutely no doubt that 2K22 has massively upped its game.
Speaking of which, WWE 2K22 tries really hard to be more accessible. There are a smorgasbord of modes on offer – arguably too many – and Coach Gulak (active WWE Superstar Drew Gulak) is on hand to walk you through all the changes, including the game’s new controls. Complex combinations of triggers, right stick flicks, and face buttons are out, and fighting game-style combos are in. Square and Cross cause you to perform light and heavy attacks respectively, with Circle being grapple. Hit Square four times and you’ll pull off a light combo, hitting Square three times and finishing with Circle will hit a different combo, and so on. All available combos are viewable at any time in the pause menu, effectively allowing newcomers – see: button mashers – to get in on the action relatively easily.
Advanced manoeuvres are of course, also achievable. From a grappling position you can hit Square or Cross to land a light or heavy move, and pressing Circle again will Irish Whip (throw) your victim in a certain direction. You can also combine shoulder buttons and face buttons to attempt springboard, signature, and finishing moves, and for the first time ever, you can even dodge.
In a bold addition to 2K22’s controls revamp, not only will Triangle allow you to counter offence when prompted, but holding it will block incoming strikes, and R1 will cause you to dodge or roll to one side. You can even try to guess which combo your opponent is going for and head them off by pressing that button first, “breaking” their combo and regaining control. It’s a nice idea, but in the heat of the moment we found it far more effective to simply await a reversal prompt, relegating these additions’ importance. Thankfully, however, there have been welcome changes made to the previously challenging submission and pin kick-out minigames, although the former seems almost too easy at times.
MyRise is WWE 2K22’s take on what was previously called MyCareer, allowing you to experience a Male or Female career in WWE. You’ll start by creating your very own superstar, selecting an athletic background, and beginning your journey to fame and fortune at the WWE Performance Centre. While it kicks you off with a scaled back customiser so you can get stuck right into the action, it wasn’t long before we were able to see the improvements made to the creation suite.
And that is to say, they’ve done away with loot packs. A huge barrier to creating the superstar/abomination of your dreams in previous games was the baffling decision to lock away the majority of the game’s customisable content (clothing, hairstyles, beards, moves, entrances, and entrance music) behind in-game currency and loot packs. Mercifully, that decision has now been reversed. While some items are rewards for completing certain objectives in specific modes, the otherwise excellent creation suite from WWE 2K20 has finally been unleashed. Except, you know, without beards causing the game to crash.
Adonis/Monster in tow, you’ll undertake Stories by interacting with the various people you encounter around the locations available to you, and social media plays a huge part in this. Bringing up your social media feed will show posts from other superstars, and if you choose to engage, you’ll soon be heading to the ring to settle the score. The quality of these Stories are massively inconsistent however. Some feature cutscenes and run for four or five matches, while others might task you with beating up a wrestler who badmouthed someone’s podcast with the result being an apology post on social media. Even the choice to play as a Face/Heel (good guy/villain) can be altered at will via a DM with your general manager.
Making these Stories even harder to stick out is the excessive loading times. Across the board, WWE 2K22 seems to load fairly fast, but with MyRise predominantly featuring custom performers, the gameplay flow is frequently as follows: check social media, accept a Story, load for 15 seconds, have a match of low consequence, load for a further 15 seconds, and then do another. The bigger Stories in which you challenge for championships are naturally far more engaging, but so much discourse takes place on social media it can feel tedious at times.
Another issue is taking on the same faces over and over again. The three brands of NXT, SmackDown, and RAW are all available, and you’ll be flitting between them as MyRise progresses, but with performers split evenly between them it won’t be long before you’re getting tired of hearing Raul Mendoza’s entrance music, and he’s still with the company! You see, WWE released a record number of superstars from their contracts during the course of WWE 2K22’s lengthy development, and around 30 of the games’ sizable roster are no longer actively competing. This is all to say that there are moments of brilliance in MyRise, but it feels a lot more like a promising foundation to be iterated on in further releases, than it does a fully realised career mode.
The flagship Showcase mode makes a return this year, featuring the career of cover star and legendary luchador Rey Mysterio. As with previous incarnations of Showcase mode, several of Rey’s most important matches, and one or two questionable ones, are recreated in-engine. You’ll receive prompts in the corner of the screen to perform specific spots and moves, in keeping with the match it’s based on, with in-game cutscenes periodically taking over and seamlessly transitioning into real footage of those matches. It’s a simple concept, and the objectives can occasionally be a bit obtuse, but presentation is everything here, and Visual Concepts has nailed it.
The entire thing is presented as a playable documentary, with a talking head of Rey himself describing his career in depth. Indeed, during the matches themselves, Rey narrates proceedings at key moments, with commentary removed and a cinematic soundtrack added for effect. The result is a fantastic, if a bit short, journey through a storied pro wrestling career. The production values here are far higher than in any other mode, and it’s well worth experiencing for that reason alone.
A new addition to WWE 2K22 is MyFaction. When we first heard about this, we thought it might be a story-driven experience where you’d put together your own team of superstars to challenge the might of legendary factions such as DX or nWo. We’re sure you can appreciate our dismay, however, when we discovered MyFaction is, in fact, a card game. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a card game, and EA has leveraged its FIFA Ultimate Team mode to great effect with fans flocking to it every year. It’s patently clear in this case, though, that 2K want a slice of that pie.
You’ll begin with some free card packs and can purchase more using in-game or premium currency, with the quality of cards ranging from Bronze to Diamond. Assigning four male superstars, four female superstars, and a manager to your line up, you can compete in various matches and challenges to earn additional cards, currency, and other rewards. It also comes with all the bells and whistles of your standard card game fare, with daily login bonuses, cosmetic cards, and powerups. We’re sure this will find its audience, but to us MyFaction felt completely out of place, like a mobile game that had gone astray. It may be prominently featured on the main menu, but we’d be surprised if most players ever give it a second look.
Now it’s time to talk about MyGM – see what we meant about the game being a tad overstuffed? This fan favourite mode hasn’t been seen since WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2008, but it might not be the return to glory most players have been clamouring for. Selecting a General Manager and Brand, you are in charge of running the show. From drafting your desired superstars and keeping them happy, to booking the matches, promos, and run-ins to co-ordinating the size of your venue, experience of the backstage crew, and more, with your ultimate goal being to win the ratings war, hit commissioner goals, and stay under budget.
But herein lies the problem: unlike previous GM modes, you don’t quite have the same level of control and your run isn’t indefinite. Instead, you’ll play against the AI or a human opponent for a set time period, with a winner selected upon your run’s conclusion. The minutia of day-to-day management is still quite engaging, with options to sign some truly absurd fictitious free agents being a personal highlight, but we think it would have made far more sense to roll MyGM into MyUniverse, in which you’re essentially a god.
Here you are in total control. You might not answer emails, worry about ratings, or sign the hottest superstars, but you do control the programming. All of it. You can create entire shows from scratch, fully customising them with their own logos, arenas, and versus cards, which is all wonderfully assisted by the creation suite. You can even choose to play through it as a single superstar, turning it into an almost proxy MyRise. Both MyGM and the long-running MyUniverse have their benefits and drawbacks, and we truly hope Visual Concepts can find a way to marry the two without losing the merits of either.
WWE 2K22 is the return to form the WWE 2K series has desperately needed. Skipping 2K21 and delaying the release by five months may have caused the roster to be largely outdated, but the game is stable, plays great, and is practically bursting at the seams with content. An excellent Rey Mysterio Showcase really bolsters the experience, and every other mode (perhaps with the exception of MyFaction) sets a strong foundation for WWE games to come.