WWE 2K Battlegrounds Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Google Stadia, Microsoft Xbox One, PC and Nintendo Switch
I have been a wrestling fan for about as long as I have been a gamer. Most of my long, tiring life, basically. I was there for the peak of Hulkamania, I saw the rise of The Rock, I could not see John Cena but I was assured he was there. Since my WWF/WWE heavy childhood, my tastes in wrestling have grown somewhat to the more thoughtful, impactful style of Japan and the more out-there style of the indie scene, but my heart will always belong to the house that Vince McMahon built.
Gaming and wrestling go together well; they both have big, colourful characters and gravity-defying, staggeringly dangerous moves. So it’s no surprise that wrestling has a long and prolific reign in the gaming world. We have seen some genuine classics in the genre, such as Smackdown 2, Here Comes The Pain, and No Mercy. Recently, the WWE franchise became one of many annual sports franchise games with only minor cosmetic changes and ‘updated’ rosters. They honestly started to blur together after a point. Until WWE 2K20, of course. It is well documented what a mess that game turned out to be; glitchier than a washing machine full of Fallout 76 discs, fans had reached their absolute limit.
It was time for a change. 2K mad the decision to scrap this year’s iteration of the sports sim series and instead opted to release WWE 2K Battlegrounds; an over-the-top (rope with both feet hitting the ground) arcade-style spin on the genre that fans haven’t really seen since WWE All-Stars. It was a bold choice and not every fan was on-board with the idea but after WWE 2K20, I feel like fans would have accepted a string of German suplexes from Brock Lesnar on hard concrete over the possibility of 2K21 being somehow worse.
With its exaggerated character models, that somehow manage to look closer to their real-life counterparts than most of the realistic efforts of recent years, and the overblown special moves and outlandish locations, WWE 2K Battlegrounds is something very different to what fans are used to. And, for this fan, it has been a welcome change.
This game is fun. There are no complex mechanics at work, you’re mashing one of two buttons for strikes, you have three separate buttons for special throws, you button mash for submissions, and hit the trigger buttons to activate your signature moves. Beat your opponent down enough (which is easy to determine, thanks to the very clear to follow UI) and pin them or tap them out for the win. You gradually power up your character with successful hits, which charge one of three power-ups, as well as your special moves. There are weapons to retrieve from under the ring and there are environmental attacks (such as throwing your opponent into the jaws of an alligator) to help you along the way. The entire game is really easy to pick up and play, it has a very forgiving learning curve and accommodates more strategic combos or simple button-mashing alike.
The visuals really enhance the more arcade-style, powered up characters either crackle with energy or burst into flames, the animations are a constant spectacle as even a simple DDT will have your character launching themselves twenty feet into the air before drilling their opponent’s skull into the mat. There’s never a dull moment in WWE 2K Battlegrounds.
The game boasts a massive roster of over 70 WWE wrestlers, before from the current roster and a lot of legends of the past. A few of the modern roster faced are already outdated, as is the norm for wrestling games. The industry is constantly moving 24/7, 365, and people are released from the company all the time so you will notice a few cases where an ex-employee is available to play. You can unlock certain characters through the story mode and the more high profile names (and their costume variants) through spending points that you earn through playing the game. They do expect a lot of grinding, over the many single player and multiplayer modes available, and they stress that point by making most of the best characters locked at the start of the game. If you want to play Becky Lynch, Asuka, Triple H or the Firefly Funhouse version of Bray Wyatt then you better get cracking. The alternative, as always, is micro transactions. You can buy currency to unlock characters quicker.
Thankfully, the game is a lot of fun and it honestly does not take a lot of time to earn enough points to unlock even the WrestleMania worthy stars. You would likely need to be very impatient to pay for such shortcuts.
The single player modes come in the form of Exhibition mode (where every match style is available, from singles matches to Royal Rumbles), a lengthy and colourful Campaign mode which recounts its many stories through comic book panels and gives you a nice variety of matched and opponents to choose from, and Battlegrounds Challenges that let you test your customised character’s mettle.
Multiplayer options involve the aforementioned Exhibition mode, online tournaments, and a last man standing style King of Battleground mode. I did not habe a lot of fun wigh ghe multiplsyer component, I will be honest. From network lag making some matches unplayable, to other players trapping you in corners to spam unblockable combos, there was never that feeling of having a good time. Other people just want to win, they don’t care about giving you a chance to have a dynamic and varied match the way the AI does.
The game offers both a character creator and a battlegrounds creator. I do not have much skin in the game when it comes to character creators, good or bad, I am going to spam my way through the settings to get started. And the battleground creator does not seem that good, the only way a battleground will look aesthetically coherent is when you use the matching components from that set. Mixing and matching just leads to weirdness. This is likely to be a minor issue to most players but will cause grief for the character creator community that relied on WWE 2K’s usually robust customisation options. It will likely be lean months ahead for the dedicated 2K mod youtube channels.
It was not a major concern for me, I just wanted the game to be entertaining and not bug out every other frame. A low bar to pass but WWE 2K Battlegrounds managed it with great success.