WWE 2K23 is the follow-up to last year's successful relaunch of the wrestling game franchise, which took a year off after the disastrous WWE 2K20. With 2K23, 2K Games and developer Visual Concepts are hoping to build upon the solid foundation laid by last year's title. The new game features John Cena as the cover star and the primary focus of this year's Showcase Mode, with the incredibly complicated WarGames match type being added to a WWE game for the first time.
GameSpot got to play an early build of WWE 2K23, with all of the focus being on a limited view of Showcase Mode, a partial roster, and the introduction of WarGames. And even though explaining the rules of WarGames is a bit of an undertaking, it's a brand new match type that is easy to figure out once the bell rings.
WarGames Is As Much Fun As You Want It To Be
The WarGames match type is incredibly chaotic and can be hard to follow at times, much like the real product itself. It is made up of two three- or four-man teams, depending on what you choose (we only had access to 3v3). Two opposing wrestlers start the battle inside two rings which are encased in a steel cage, and one-by-one, members of each team are released from cages in the crowd. Momentum swings back and forth as one team gets the advantage over the other and team members make their way to the ring. No one can win the match, however, until every member of each team has entered the WarGames bout. Yes, it's exceptionally convoluted as far as rules go, but luckily, an intro scene before the match breaks down everything for you. We're pretty sure there was also audio explaining the rules on that screen, but the room was a bit noisy, so we couldn't hear anything.
Outside of the learning curve of the rules, the match type is a breath of fresh air for a franchise that needed something special to keep up with the television product. Once you embrace the utter chaos within the confines of two wrestling rings enclosed in a cage, the match type is one of the most fun and innovative things 2K Games has done with the franchise in years. Depending on who you are playing as, you can even do springboard maneuvers between the two rings, which is something that completely caught me by surprise. "The Trench"--the area between the two rings--is a confined space your wrestlers can find themselves in from time to time, but unlike the limited area of movement in Hell in a Cell matches, you have a much fuller range of movement in The Trench, so it doesn't have a No Man's Land feel. You can and should fight in this area, as you'll want to use the entirety of the brawling space available, including climbing to the top of the cage and moving around by scooching on your butt. Granted, there's not necessarily a tactical reason to do that, but it is pretty funny to watch.
Outside of the chaos, the first thing WWE fans will notice is that WarGames has a different presentation compared to the live TV product. Typically the wrestlers who haven't entered the battle wait for their chance to come out in shark cages--which tend to be at the top of the entrance ramp. WWE 2K23 puts these wrestlers in cages in the middle of the section behind the ring, complete with stairs for them to walk down, so players can always see the other members of their team awaiting their chance to get involved in WarGames. And when these wrestlers enter the ring, they may or may not toss a treasure-trove of weapons into the ring--whether they do so is an extra randomized element.
From the build we played, WarGames works. It's something we were skeptical of because the real-life version is an exciting match type, but one that can be hard to follow. Sure, WWE 2K23's version is also somewhat hard to follow at times, but that works given how chaotic the match is meant to be. Yes, you're primarily taking on one person at a time, but you also have to be mindful of the rest of your members of your team, in case you have to break up a pinfall or submission. Then, there are two rings, so you can separate from the other people in order to have more time to pin someone, but in doing so, you put distance between yourself and other members of the team, making it tougher to break up pins. There are tough decisions to make, and that's what makes this such an exciting--and at times, anxiety-inducing--match type.
Showcase: Revamped, Minus The Tedium
Much like previous installments of the game, Showcase--this time featuring John Cena--opens with the superstar at a microphone, narrating the highlights of his career, interspersed with archived WWE footage. The introduction sets the stage for a bit of a spin on the classic game mode, starring the previously mentioned cover superstar John Cena. The twist is that unlike previous incarnations of Showcase, you aren't playing as Cena match-after-match. Instead, you play the role of the opponents that have beaten him over the years. So those on the "Cena Sucks" spectrum of the polarizing Cena chants get to live your dream--and AJ Styles's as well--you get to beat up John Cena.
You follow major moments in Cena's career, playing as everyone else, while the cover star narrates the battle. Again, we could not hear the audio during the event, so we cannot comment on the flow between what we saw during gameplay and the narration. In the build for WWE 2K23 we played, there were two matches available for Showcase Mode out of the 14 confirmed.
The first match was Cena vs. RVD at ECW's One Night Stand PPV at the Hammerstein Ballroom. The RVD model looked exceptionally nice, and the Ballroom itself was a nostalgic jump back in time. You jump between playing the match, trying to complete optional objectives--if you complete them all, you unlock items to use in the game--and between archive footage of the match, a presentation established with WWE 2K22. A lot of what 2K Games and Visual Concepts built in last year's Showcase Mode is here in 2K23.
Yes, matches in the career of Cena were a little out of order, as the game begins in 2006 and the second match takes place on Cena's debut on Smackdown back in 2002. However, it felt more natural as a player to fight an already-established Cena rather than dive right into his first match against Kurt Angle where Cena brought "Ruthless Aggression" to the WWE.
Those were the only two matches provided for this build of WWE 2K23; however, this was a step in the right direction as far as Showcase Mode goes, as playing as different characters each match was incredibly refreshing compared to previous games. While WWE 2K22's Showcase Mode was fine and the presentation was nice, playing as Rey Mysterio over and over again became tedious, and so many of Mysterio's matches didn't have the impact to make that year's Showcase Mode a big success. Things seem to be improving with 2K23, as it is refreshing to play the game as Cena's opponents, spending time working on specific objectives in order to unlock different arenas, championship titles, and even wrestlers.
There's even more incentive to play through the entire Showcase Mode this year. We noticed that some of the things you "unlock" by completing specific challenges won't actually be accessible until you complete Showcase Mode as a whole. Yes, this is a tad frustrating, but it is an incentive to get through the entirety of the mode and play through to the end.
New Mechanics/Overall Gameplay:
One new gameplay element in 2K23 is how you kick out of pinfalls. You can use the traditional "pound the buttons until your fingers fall off" way--one which wrestling games have clung to for the longest time. Or you can select a new variation of this, in which a bar pops up on the screen, and there's a smaller red bar moving back and forth which you must line up with your cursor and then flick up on the right control stick. It's different and gives a nice accessibility option for those who either aren't great at button mashing or who may not be capable of doing so.
You can now taunt while holding a weapon, something new for the series. Some characters got brand-new models--like Cody Rhodes and 2006 RVD, who both look brilliant--and others look like they haven't changed much since last year, like Roman Reigns.
There are lots of new animations this year, and because of this, gameplay seem a bit smoother compared to last year's game, which in itself was a much-needed upgrade from previous incarnations of the long-lived series. The gameplay felt more fluid and quick, and yes, there were a few minor glitches here and there--like hair clipping through people's shoulders and the one time we saw someone teleport from the middle of the ring to the outside of the ring, causing their own elimination in a 10-person Royal Rumble match--but overall, everything felt a bit more smooth and polished. The HUD for your player is a bit clearer and easier to read, as it got a minor aesthetic update. The finisher bar has three separate sections so it's even more apparent how many finishers you have, even though that was never really an issue. Regardless, the new design is an improvement, although we did notice that the upper deck of the arena had no one in it during our time with the game.
Our look at WWE 2K23 was very limited compared to what we will eventually see, as we were given access to two modes of play, and when it releases in full, we'll see additional modes like MyGM, MyFaction, MyRise, Universe, and the creation suite. 2K's WWE games are exceptionally large and offer a variety of different modes to play. However, from what we saw, WWE 2K23 is taking the foundation layed in 2K22 and built upon it in the window the team has to produce a new game. WarGames plays much better than expected and will undoubtedly be the highlight addition to this year's game. The changes in Showcase Mode are all for the better and eliminate the sluggish playthrough. This feels like yet another step in the right direction for 2K.
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