Video Game Review: WWE 2k19
WWE 2k19 marks the return of the series’ Showcase mode.
It’s been an interesting year for World Wrestling Entertainment. One that has seen huge money flow its way in the form of new television contracts, yet at a time when ratings for both Raw and SmackDown! have hovered around historic lows. Into this unique mix comes WWE 2k19, the sixth installment in the annual series under 2kSports’ watch, adding its own set of ups and downs to the equation.
None of the core elements have changed from previous years, so you’ll still be executing a vast array of moves based on opponent positioning, holding down a button versus simply pressing it, which direction the analog stick is pointed and so on. We’ve always enjoyed the basic setup of WWE 2k titles, and this is no different.
One new element is the addition of the Payback System, which is a way to help turn the tide of a match. Each wrestler can equip two paybacks: a Level 1, selected from less powerful items such as automatically reversing a move on instantly getting to your feet, and Level 2, which allows you to trigger a run-in from an ally, execute a low blow and much more.
As you take damage the payback meters will fill, first Level 1 and, if you absorb enough punishment, the Level 2. Initially we weren’t particularly fond of the system — and even now, it can be frustrating to be on the wrong side of — but it’s grown on us and become a nice tactical option, particularly when wrestling multiple matches in a row.
Cage matches have also received overdue attention. You can now do things like move freely along the ropes, call for the door to be opened and toss your opponent off the top of the cage. The changes have dramatically improved cage matches, which have been among the series’ most frustrating for years now.
If there’s an area in which WWE 2k19 looks better than its predecessor it’s in the animations, which seem cleaner and more impactful than ever. There were moments during matches when we’d just nail a shining wizard or a knee to the face, and it felt incredibly satisfying, especially if you got a little colour from it. Clunky moments are few and far between this year.
Other aspects are less impressive, however, especially during the MyPlayer mode in which our CAW looked like he was imported from a bygone graphical era. Some of the legit wrestlers look pretty rough, too, and it appears as though the development team has pretty much punted on rendering long hair.
Theoretically there’s lots of new commentary from the team of Michael Cole, Corey Graves and Byron Saxton, but in practice we were hard pressed to notice once the bell rang. They just don’t follow the flow of the match effectively, and that lack of excitement hurts the delivery as matches build to a finish. Most of the wrestlers deliver their lines competently, though the John Cena “sound alike” is rough.
One of the big items with WWE 2k19 is the return of the 2k Showcase after a two-year absence. You’ll follow the path of Daniel Bryan from his humble beginnings through his ascension to the WWE title and recent return to the ring. Each of the 11 matches is set up with a video package and remarks from Bryan, which is cool and provides some historical context to his journey.
As in previous years, Showcase matches contain a number of optional objectives. Completing them will often trigger cut scenes that recreate what happened in the actual match, meaning it’s not always just about winning and losing. While most of these are fine, 2k would do well to implement a checkpoint in longer encounters — some objectives require you to put yourself in a bad situation, and if you miss the kick out prompt it’s back to the opening bell.
WWE 2k19‘s second pillar is MyPlayer in which you’ll create a wrestler from scratch and guide him through his ascension from the bottom to stardom across 14 chapters. It’s a much better effort than last year with full voice acting, a less predictable story (spoiler: you don’t start in NXT!) and an arc that’s representative of what you might see on television.
There’s still room to grow, though, as the game rips any meaningful decision making from your hands, forcing you to play the baby face role. Even when the game offers you a choice it often disregards what you pick under the guise of Triple H or some other authority figure sticking it to you. Minus any branching aspects, the career mode is destined to be one and done.
New this year is a progression tree in which you unlock nodes to grow your character, building from a set archetype and even implementing a sub-genre. In terms of layout, it’s fine, but the speed is glacial, forcing you to climb the ranks of WWE as a glorified jobber with a rating in the 50s and 60s (for reference, Sin Cara is a 72!).
As always the game provides a ton of customization choices, including moves and outfits, but a staggering amount is locked in loot crates, which you’ll need to purchase using in-game currency. You can buy individual moves and items using tokens, but it’s crazy pricey. Again, the whole thing makes no sense since there’s no financial motive (you can’t buy tokens with real money). Please, 2k, move on from this.
Beyond the two primary modes, WWE 2k19 has tightened up the Universe Mode, providing more control over match outcomes and progressing storylines. It’s mostly enjoyable for those that like to book the territory. One new mode of note, Towers, challenges you to topple multiple opponents, often with different conditions. It’s a solid addition.
WWE 2k19 is better than its predecessor thanks to an improved career mode and the returning Showcase, but brutally slow progression and annoying loot boxes undermine some of the fun.