In 2019, All Elite Wrestling opened its doors and immediately changed the professional wrestling world. For the first time in a long while, a promotion emerged which could rival the longtime king of American pro wrestling, WWE. There have undeniably been some growing pains, but four years later, AEW continues to be a popular alternative option for wrestling fans. Now, the company is trying to do the same in the video game world with AEW: Fight Forever, and much like those first AEW shows, the game is a promising debut effort--but with some noticeable room for improvement.
Fight Forever features 47 wrestlers--a far cry from the 218 wrestlers in WWE 2K23, for comparison--at the start, with more able to be unlocked via the in-game shop with currency earned through playing the game. AEW mainstays like MJF, Kenny Omega, Jon Moxley, Dr. Britt Baker D.M.D., "Hangman" Adam Page, and The Young Bucks are here, as well as a few surprising entries. Some of them are heartwarming tributes to wrestlers who have passed away--like Mr. Brodie Lee and Owen Hart--while others are names who have departed to the competition like Cody Rhodes. There are plenty of names missing--the current AEW Women's Champion Toni Storm, the previous women's champion Jamie Hayter, and two-thirds of the Trios Champion House Of Black, for example--but it does represent most of the top talent currently in the promotion.
What's cool about Fight Forever's approach to the roster is that everyone is on an even playing field. There are no ratings in Fight Forever; I can pick any matchup I want and have the same chance of winning no matter who I'm controlling. And I do mean "any matchup I want," as intergender matches--which aren't available in WWE's current game series--are completely fine here. The game treats its roster less like a wrestling simulation, with clear divisions and ratings that separate the big stars from the midcard talent, and more like a fighting game where anyone can fight anyone, no questions asked. Being able to book whoever I want in a match, regardless of gender, size, or any other factors, is a really cool approach and I love that Fight Forever opted for it.
The game's mechanics are simple and approachable--adopting a scheme that channels WWF No Mercy from the Nintendo 64 days--which gives even more weight to the "everyone is even" roster approach. Moving around the ring is easy, attacking with strikes, grapples, and special moves feels comfortable in my hands. There will be an adjustment period for those accustomed to newer wrestling games, though, as some actions aren't as responsive as others. Running easily requires the most practice, as it's slow to start up and then requires the wrestler to run in a single direction. The game does a good job of teaching the basics, however, both through tips that pop up during a match and through the training mode. The tip screens are accompanied by voiceovers from notable AEW personalities, though some of the voices sound like they're reading from a script rather than trying to train a wrestler.
I particularly like how executing a finishing move is the same input as taunting, since taunting with a signature move available is how I access the finishing move to begin with. I don't have to worry about multiple button presses to pull off my favorite moves, it's one simple motion. Therefore, a quick flick of the right stick to taunt, followed by another quick flick of the same stick when my opponent is in range, and I'm hitting my most powerful move. I love how easy that feels.
I can also add to the roster myself through the game's wrestler creation suite, which on the surface seems limited but ends up being surprisingly robust. The physical customization options are fine but noticeably limited, with the amount of attires, hair options, and other elements available being mostly generic apparel or wrestler-focused offerings. Creating a moveset is much more in-depth, as it offers plenty of moves for a variety of different situations and lets me create the perfect moveset for me.
Getting through the list, however, is a challenge, as there's no organization in how the moves are listed. Alphabetizing each list would have gone a long way in making customization even more streamlined than it already is. That said, though it may seem limited compared to other games' offerings, it never feels too overwhelming, and what might take me an hour elsewhere I was able to make work in about 20 minutes here even with the menu issues.
Fans of pro wrestling know that one of the most important aspects of an event is the wrestler entrances, and I found myself disappointed with what Fight Forever offered in that regard. Instead of full walks to the ring with all of the pomp and circumstance of a Wednesday night on AEW Dynamite, each wrestler gets about 10 seconds of their entrance shown before the game moves on, much like an updated version of WWF No Mercy on the Nintendo 64.
While other wrestling games let you skip entrances to get to the action faster, it feels like that choice is taken away from those of us who want to watch them in full. There is an attempt to mitigate this, as I'm allowed to add my own pyrotechnics and lighting effects by pressing buttons, but while that's fun, I can barely see anything I'm adding to each entrance, so I don't understand why they were added in the first place. What's more, customizing my own entrance for a created character only twists that knife further; I want to see my creation in all their glory, but it's just not available.
The variety of matches is unfortunately just as lacking as the roster, as there are some popular match types missing. Standard match types such as one-on-one singles, two-on-two tag, and three- and four-way matches are all here, along with some specialty matches including ladder matches, "lights out" matches (basically "anything goes'' matches with weapons), and two AEW trademarks: The Casino Battle Royale and the Exploding Barbed Wire Deathmatch. All of these can also be played online in ranked and casual matches, which is a major plus.
One notable omission is three-on-three trios matches, especially considering AEW has a Trios Championship title, but as the game only supports a maximum of four wrestlers in the ring at one time, trios by its nature had to be left out. However, there's also one extra addition: minigames, a selection of small, Mario Party-style games which are unlike anything I've ever seen in a wrestling video game before. Trivia contests, coin collecting while wrestling, and more are available, and they're all silly fun which serve as a nice break between matches.
The Casino Battle Royale here in Fight Forever is an interesting spin on the real-world version, one which takes into account the technical limitations of the game only supporting four wrestlers in the ring at one time. In the real version, wrestlers are assigned "suits" and they all come out when that suit is called--club, spade, heart, and diamond. Here, you are still assigned a suit, but now one wrestler of each suit comes out at a time, and should they be eliminated, the next wrestler in that group comes out. This makes the match feel like a Team Battle mode in a fighting game rather than a battle royale, which some might argue goes against the spirit of the match, but as a technical workaround it's a novel approach that works for me.
The Exploding Barbed Wire Deathmatch, meanwhile, is presented as advertised: Barbed wire lines the ring ropes, and if I can force my opponent into them, fireworks explode and the poor wrestler on the receiving end takes massive damage. There's also a running timer where, after two minutes elapse, a massive explosion rocks both wrestlers in the match and acts as a "reset" of sorts. Playing this match is a ton of fun, with the explosions and blood marking the canvas giving it an extra edge from other match types--and thankfully blood can be turned off for the more squeamish players. The Exploding Barbed Wire Deathmatch in game is, ironically, much better than the one AEW actually put on in 2021.
The last main offering is Road To Elite, which is a story mode played with either a created character or an existing member of the roster. The mode is broken up into four sections, with each section containing four weeks of action set in a different real-world city. The first three weeks end with an episode of Dynamite, while the fourth week ends with one of AEW's pay-per-view events.
Each week, I can choose between multiple activities--working out, dining, or "going out"--with each one giving me a buff to my statistics. I'm allowed four of these activities before going to that week's match, and a small cutscene plays based on whichever I choose. These cutscenes range from routine weightlifting to goofy conversations with other wrestlers which result in pictures being taken in front of a famous landmark in whichever city I'm in.
These cutscenes are the best part of the mode, as I never knew what to expect whenever I'd pick one of the activities. In one moment I could be signing autographs and telling fans about the hard life of a wrestler, in another I'm posing in front of the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia with Jon Moxley, and in another I'm eating a Juicy Lucy--a burger with the cheese baked in--from a restaurant called Grub Informer in Minneapolis. The dialogue in the scenes is just as goofy, as it borders between laugh-out-loud funny and cringeworthy, but I'm happy to say I laughed more than I cringed. There's barely any interaction in these scenes outside of moving the dialogue along, but they're still a lot of fun to watch.
Better still, Road To Elite offers four different stories for each of the four-week sections, which means that in my second run through the mode, I saw completely different stories with completely different cutscenes and photo ops. There are 256 photo opportunities in all, in fact, which gives the mode plenty of replayability.
However, the storylines don't always match up properly, which creates some strange situations. For example, in a run with Malakai Black, I ended up winning the AEW Championship at All Out--the first pay-per-view on the docket. Amazingly, I was never pictured with the title belt again, as if that win never happened. I found that odd, as I had assumed the storylines after winning the title would be defending it, but that opportunity never came. The stories that did play out were still fun, but what happened to my championship?
AEW Fight Forever, much like the company it represents, is a cocky young upstart trying to take the crown from a titan. Also much like its source material, its first outing is a decent foundation for what its future could provide. The roster is a good primer on the current AEW lineup, there are enough match types to keep things fresh for a while, and Road To Elite is an irreverent look at the life of a wrestler that made me smile. There are some bumps in this road--particularly the lack of trios matches and the disappointing entrances--but those are all things which can be fixed in future installments. If AEW truly plans to Fight Forever in the video game world, then they've thrown an effective first punch.