STAFF REVIEW of WWE 2K Battlegrounds (Xbox One)

Wednesday, December 16, 2020.
by Matt Paligaru

WWE 2K Battlegrounds Box art Once in a while, you need a wrestling game that doesn’t take itself seriously. It’s been nearly a decade since THQ released WWE All Stars, which I still think is an underappreciated work of art. With the annual 2K series on hold this year, 2K Sports has turned their sights on WWE 2K Battlegrounds, a lighter hearted arcade style title with more bells and whistles than some of the cartoony predecessors from the past. Boasting a massive roster at release with more to come, Battlegrounds is available now for Xbox One and Series, but is it worthy of the spotlight or should we throw it over the top rope?

Right out of the box, you should know that the character selection is pretty good. You have a list of about 20-30 wrestlers available off the top, with more that you can buy through your choice of virtual or real currency. Currency works similarly to 2K’s basketball games: Complete objectives or just play and grind, or else you can throw a few real dollars in to speed up the unlock process. Some characters can also be unlocked by just progressing through career mode. It seems like the dailies give you enough coins to blitz through common tier unlocks (like Naomi, Carmella, the Good Brothers, etc) pretty quickly, but you’ll need to play through a few days in a row by the end of it to get the Hogans, Ultimate Warriors and Sasha Banks’ of the world. Of course, if you just want to buy your way to your roster, there’s a store and there are usually rotating bundles to cut down the individual purchase prices.

One thing that will catch your eye right away is the character design. The character builds are extremely cartoony without being ridiculously over exaggerated. They’re not as over the top as All Stars was, but still fun and cartoony. The character models are the highlight of all graphics though. The standing room only crowds aren’t super animated, and the rings are what they are.

The 118-objective career mode should probably take you somewhere between 5-10 hours to complete, and has you playing out Stone Cold Steve Austin’s mission of creating a new Underground-esque wrestling promotion at Vince McMahon’s request. You take the role of a new up-and-comer each time you visit a different city, which culminates in you taking on a boss character and then unlocking that arena/battleground as you move on toward Wrestlemania.

Each of these unlocks will ultimately affect your exhibition matches too, since it’s the only way to unlock new environments and the unique challenges they bring. Each environment also has its own unique quirks and interactions. The Florida stage, for example, is my favourite battleground, with the ability to throw your opponent to Alligators.

One of the biggest beefs I had with WWE All Stars was the lack of roster depth. While a limited amount of character DLC was released (with emphasis on the “limited” part,) things were abandoned fairly quickly. By the time it hit shelves in March 2011, THQ was already in financial trouble and the developing studio in San Diego closed one year later. 2K has already announced a large fleet of WWE superstars coming soon, so if you’re waiting to see some of your favourites that are primed as “coming soon,” you will see them soon.

Of course, all DLC is subject to change, but it seems like character likenesses have been getting worked on for a while if Alicia Fox (who hasn’t been with WWE for nearly a year) is on the game’s out of the box main roster. I don’t know that you’ll see much change from what’s already been announced, but there are plenty of upcoming wrestlers that were released during WWE’s Covid cuts and some that are now out of contract, so while I want to see the previously announced Sting, I wouldn’t be surprised that wrestlers like he and Curtis Axel have been shelved. Characters have not yet “disappeared” either when they’re no longer with the company, so you can still pick up the Good Brothers, Erick Rowan and the aforementioned Fox. When the dust settles, expect to see over 100 characters, which is a massive roster for a title like this.

All of this is good and fine as a selling point, but how does the game play? Having played just about every major wrestling title in the history of gamekind (yes I still own a copy of WCW Backstage Assault too,) I’ve always felt as though the playability of a wrestling title is directly driven by its controls, basic mechanics and how those both interact together. People still laud No Mercy for Nintendo 64 as one of the greatest titles of all time, and I always felt the game both looked and sounded awful, despite being ridiculously fun overall.

You can create arenas and your own wrestlers in this, but both have a very introductory feel to them. When you get used to the previous titles allowing you to customize ring entrances down to the amount of pyro on stage, this feels like a bit of a step back. That said, I admit my hopes weren’t high for this feature to begin with, as I wasn’t expecting anything major for a fairly simple arcade title. I’d say you have enough customization options with the character creator. I think there was a lot left on the table with the arena creator and so much more that could be explored, but it’s a decent attempt nevertheless. Just don’t go in expecting that you’re going to be able to create WCW Monday Nitro or Thunder arenas with the same accuracy you’ve been able to in the parent 2k titles. If you approach it as it is (a hybrid arcade-style title with features to boot,) it’s fine for what it brings. With the unique interactive elements of the existing arenas, you’ll probably spend more time playing those anyway.

There are some interesting gameplay mechanics that give Battlegrounds the solid arcade-esque feel that matches its visual presentation. While just about every button on the controller is utilized, the game controls still retain a fairly simple feel and you can pick up on the basics within about five minutes. There are very simple combos, grappling, power-up and special move mechanics for beginners, and experts will enjoy more diverse movesets each wrestler has. Wrestlers are classed based on their fight style (ie. brawlers, all rounders, powerhouses, etc) and react with their movesets accordingly. The moves between classes are largely the same with the exception of each wrestler’s signature and finishing moves, but again, I stress that this is intended to be more of an arcade title over a technical masterpiece, so I think you’d have to go in expecting a high degree of repetition as it is. Spend as much time with the tutorial as you need to get your feet wet, because the degree of difficulty ramps up pretty quickly as you progress through the campaign.

There are some other frustrating things about Battlegrounds too. The controls themselves are clunky at times, as are the character transitions between interactive elements like the turnbuckles and ring aprons. You should be able to transition in and out of the ring and up and down turnbuckles pretty fluidly in a video game at this point. There’s a bit of stopping and starting involved with these things. Countering moves is too reactionary in this game, and when you have to mash the A button for your wrestler to get up, getting a split second to then react to pressing a different button to counter or failing it altogether is frustrating. To be honest, the more you play with the game, the better you’ll recognize the character animations to help you learn when to stop button mashing and to start reacting. The controls are definitely the biggest detriment to WWE 2K Battlegrounds.

Clipping and framerate jumps was a huge issue (as it’s always been in wrestling games) when the game was released. You could disappear under the ring mid-move, and your opponents would sometimes sink into the ring during their moves too. I also ran into some issues initially where the game would slow down with weapon shots. 2K has since released a patch that seems to clear most of that up. Just be aware that it’s an additional 2GB download on top of your game, so keep some additional hard drive space ready for that.

The commentary from Mauro Ranallo and Jerry Lawler isn’t great either. Don’t get me wrong - Mauro and Jerry are easily the two best choices for an over the top arcade title like this, but their commentary feels very isolated to each others’ lines, if that makes sense? I’m sure that most commentary teams in sports games don’t always record together, but this game in particular doesn’t really feel as though they’re feeding off each other like we’ve become used to in other sports games.

That aside, I know this isn’t a full priced retail title, and I’d say Battlegrounds offers a lot of good bang for the buck. The title isn’t for everybody, but arcade-style wrestling games are hard to come by nowadays, especially on consoles. Mobile gamers have a few options, but some (like Scopely’s WWE Champions title) utilize really heavy Pay 2 Win models. I’m not sure what the future holds with 2K Battlegrounds outside of DLC that’s already been announced. If the game winds up being popular among WWE fans, the sky is the limit for future DLC possibilities. The WWE Champions mobile game has seen character tie-ins with the WWE Zombie and Masters of the Universe Toys, and this is the perfect type of game to introduce console gaming fans to those characters, and new arenas too.

These types of games aren’t for everybody, and those who like the much more serious simulation style of the WWE 2K games are best off waiting for the next edition of that series. WWE 2K Battlegrounds is wild, over the top and more importantly, it’s fun. While it obviously lacks the customization bells and whistles of a full sized 2K WWE game, it has a good amount of content for its price point. Battlegrounds takes some inspiration from Technos Japan’s old arcade wrestling games and gives it a modern twist. This game is probably best played with all of your friends, but there’s a ton for you to do in single player modes if you decide to progress with all the unlocks.

The game will perpetually get compared to WWE All Stars and I think it’s fair. I have to admit that through my rose colored glasses, I remember All Stars as the better overall title at launch, but the lack of roster depth (including no women) and the fact that it died off because its parent studio did really hurt its potential. The fact that Battlegrounds still that potential to be discovered and 2K can do so much more with it makes this an interesting title to watch, and one I’d recommend giving a shot if it intrigues you enough.

**WWE 2K Battlegrounds was reviewed on an Xbox One X**

Overall: 7.0 / 10
Gameplay: 6.5 / 10
Visuals: 7.5 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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