STAFF REVIEW of WWE 2K19 (Xbox One)

Tuesday, November 20, 2018.
by Adam Dileva

WWE 2K19 Box art It’s been quite some time since I’ve sat down and watched some WWE wrestling, so long in fact that SmackDown used to be on Thursday nights. I can’t remember when I stopped watching, or exactly why, as I used to be quite a dedicated fan, watching every week, every pay-per-view and even still to this day own a handful of shirts and merchandise. I know it’s been a long time though, as when I started up WWE 2K19, I wasn’t familiar with much of the roster. I know the legends, the guys that have been around for quite some time, but not many of the newer guys, NXT, or others. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy playing the games, as I used to own every yearly iteration back when I used to watch religiously.

So grabbing WWE 2K19 was going to be my first baby step back into the WWE universe, not just the games, but the programming as well. The last WWE games I actually played and owned was 2K15, as I’m a diehard Hulkamaniac, but have skipped the iterations following, until now. Skipping a few years and jumping into WWE 2K19, I knew there would be some drastic changes and improvements, but I wasn’t expecting it to be this varied, robust and impressive (at times).

So you’re a WWE fan no doubt, else why would you be reading this review, so I’ll first delve into what’s new with 2K19 over the previous years’ installment, though it’s a lot, and while I can’t cover every single detail, it should give you an idea about how much effort has gone into make this year’s edition the most robust yet, with more options and modes than I knew what to do with.

While MyCareer isn’t new by any means, it does have a lot of new features that really surprised me. The first thing I noticed was that this career mode is now fully voiced. Not just your wrestler that you design from the ground up, but even some WWE superstars lend their voices to the experience as well, making it much more interesting and believable. Sure, the story itself is your typical narrative about a new wrestler to the biz, starting out in the local indie scene and hoping to one day be a WWE Hall of Famer, but that’s fine, and I actually really enjoyed the slow progression.

What is new though is how you actually progress stat and skill wise. As you wrestle and win matches, you’ll earn MyPlayer Skill Points, which can then be used in a much more visual skill tree now. No more simple sliders to put a point into, as now there’s a three way branching tree for you to customize your wrestler just how you want. Broken into Attack, Body and Defense trees, putting skills into one will unlock new stats, abilities and skills the further you go up each. There are even ranks that you can reach once you put enough points into a tree, all the way from Rookie to Hall of Famer. Taking a page from Call of Duty, you’re also able to Prestige should you desire, allowing for even more options to be customized the further you progress for the truly hardcore. For someone that really enjoys creating and playing with their own wrestlers, there’s more than enough content here to keep you busy for quite some time (probably until 2K20).

Creating your wrestler has also been streamlined, as you can now choose one of five base fighting styles: Striker, Technician, Powerhouse, Giant, and Cruiser. Obviously, each has its own strengths and weaknesses, but it’s up to you how you want your base, then allowing you to further customize your looks, movesets and more. The only major downfall to this new mode is that there’s a lack of choosing to be a female wrestler. Not a deal breaker by any means, but I’m sure there’s an audience out there that would really enjoy seeing this implemented in future sequels.

Of course, a 2K game wouldn’t be complete without its loot packs, provided in different tiers of cards you can purchase with in game currency, or of course, real world cash, should you desire. Simply playing enough will earn you a decent amount of currency to purchase individual parts, clothing, moves, styles or a ton of other options, if there’s really that one thing you want, but it’s pricey and a long grind this way. Luckily, items you don’t like or want can be scrapped, refunding you a small amount of currency, though it’s completely random what you’re going to get in each type of pack.

Showcase makes a return, focusing on Daniel Bryan’s WWE career path. You begin with the story of his WWE introduction, through to his “YES!” era, all the way to his Championship gold. Between each match you’ll have pre-recorded video of him telling the story of what happened and why, and then you get to recreate those pivotal matches yourself. You’ll get to experience the highlights with actual footage, as well as in-game recreations of specific situations.

During these matches, you’re meant to recreate the match as it happened in real life. For example, you’ve always got an objective in the top left that you need to accomplish before moving onto the next. Sometimes this is simply damaging your opponent in the ring, sometimes it’s a little more specific, but complete enough of these and you’ll trigger cutscenes from some of his most iconic moments. My only complaint about this objective system tied to the matches is that they don’t trigger auto saves at all. So when you’re 20 minutes deep into a match and end up losing, you need to start from the beginning all over again unfortunately. I wasn’t watching much during his time in WWE (I knew about his YES! though), so I really enjoyed this mode, as I got to see his career path from start to present.

A completely new mode addition to 2K19 is Towers. This pits a specific superstar in a gauntlet-like style of matches back to back, challenging you to survive them all in one go. Here you’ll not only have to survive back to back matches, but also win with specific stipulations or match types. Each tower has a different theme to it and is uniquely challenging in its own right. It’s a fun little diversion and addition if you’re looking for a challenge, as the really difficult ones don’t even let you regenerate health between matches either.

While the onscreen wrestlers are still set to eight, it’s said that it’s much smoother this year, keeping a more constant framerate, which I would agree with. Not once did I notice any slowdown or framerate issues, though loading menus and changing character options takes forever still. Commentary has over 15,000 new lines, though there are still times where transitions feel a little awkward or don’t apply as well as they should, and when you’re wrestling in the indie circuit, you’re going to hear the same terrible lines over and over again.

Tons of new mode additions for 5-8 player matches have been added, and a Women’s Royal Rumble, but some of the biggest changes are with the Steel Cage and Hell in a Cell matches themselves. Now you’re able to fight each other on the Steel Cage while climbing and will have to perform a small minigame when trying to escape or open the door.

I never realized that the Cell in the games was actually a bit larger than their actual counterpart in real life, so this has been scaled down slightly to be much more realistic. I thought it felt a little more cramped when fighting outside the ring and within the confines of the Cell walls, and this would be why. Now, with enough damage from regular moves, you’ll be able to break through the Cell walls and even climb all four sides. Just like the cage, you’ll also now be able to fight while climbing the massive structure as well. There’s also more panels on the roof of the Cell that can be broken, sending superstars hurdling through, also able to be broken with enough damage from standard moves.

Also new is a few Money in the Bank changes, for the better. My favorite is the ability to now design and customize your own briefcase to match any wrestler you desire. You’re also able to determine when you want to cash in before, during or after a match, which can make for some exciting events to unfold.

While reversals are still a staple to shifting momentum your way, with precision timing needed, there’s now a Payback system in place to help further this. Taking a lot of damage and losing, unable to turn the tide of a match? Then this system is for you. The more damage you take, the quicker your Payback meter will fill, allowing you to utilize some unique abilities to get out of specific situations if you’re repeatedly on the losing side. You’re also able to choose these abilities from a handful to suit your wrestler or playstyle as well.

While there are even more new additions and changes, these were the most important that stood out to me while playing across dozens of matches and modes. With a roster boasting over 200, anyone that’s up to date with current WWE will surely find the majority of their favorites. For someone that’s been out of the loop for at least a good decade, it’s great that many staples and legends are included as well, and if they aren’t, it’s almost a guarantee that someone has made them and posted it online for you to download.

Visually, everything looks vastly improved overall from the last time I’ve played. Sure, it’s been a couple games since then, but it’s still impressive... most of the time. Certain superstars and intros looks absolutely identical and realistic to their real life counterparts, like HHH, whereas Ronda Rousey’s character looks really off. The majority of wrestlers look fantastic, as do the animations for the most part, but there’s still a little ‘jankyness’ to some of the animation transitions. I’ve also had the ropes do some very odd things when limbs get caught between them, wobbling like a soundwave.

While I found most of the controls simple enough to pick up and play, there’s a lot of thinking involved when you want to do something specific, like holding two buttons to drag someone onto a table, or figuring out how to drop a weapon before the referee notices. Strike and Grapple controls are vastly unchanged, but maybe because I’m not playing this every year like most, it was hard to acclimate to the controls and learn specific timings for reversals.

It may not be enough to make me tune into RAW and SmackDown every week once again, but I am enjoying my time in the squared circle after such a long hiatus. There’s no shortage of modes to enjoy and fans should be content with the additions and changes in 2K19. I’ll definitely be checking out 2K20 next year to see what more improvements have been made on top of these, as this is a great step in the right direction. For the non-fan, sure, it’s not going to convert them, but that doesn’t mean there’s still not a good time to be had baw gawd.

Overall: 7.8 / 10
Gameplay: 7.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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