Bouncing off the ropes.
WWE 2K19, like previous entries in the long running wrestling franchise, is a good game. The core wrestling does a great job of simulating a WWE match, and the strike/grapple/reversal fighting system is a lot of fun. It’s got one of the best and most comprehensive creation suites of any game out there, and the way that it basically lets you do everything that wrestlers do in real life, in WWE 2K19, is kind of astounding.
But those are all things that have remained true for a long while now, and while WWE 2K19 goes to great lengths to fix it’s biggest flaws from last year, it still leaves a lot of long-standing issues unchecked that limit the otherwise significant improvements over 2K18.
The campaign mode, or MyCareer, has been a WWE 2K staple since 2K15. But, in 2K19, it finally feels like a proper AAA wrestling story mode complete with voice acting, cutscenes, and likable characters that grow and change over the course of the story. The campaign is brought to life thanks to a great performance from former Tough Enough competitor and current indie wrestler, AJ Kirsch, who brings a much-needed level of authenticity to the lead role.
And for the most part, the actual wrestlers that lend their voice to WWE 2K19 also do a great job, outside of a few who seem like they’re reading from a script as opposed to acting.
From a presentational standpoint, everything about MyCareer this year is fantastic and is exactly what the template should look like in future years.
Unlike previous years that always start your character in NXT, WWE 2K19’s MyCareer mode starts you on the indie scene in an organization called BCW, where you’re wrestling out of high school gyms – a fact that the obnoxious commentator won’t stop reminding you of. From there, you’ll get noticed by WWE head trainer Matt Bloom and begin your twisty and windy path to the WWE main roster.
From a presentational standpoint, everything about MyCareer this year is fantastic and is exactly what the template should look like in future years. But MyCareer still stumbles when it comes to progression.
Your character starts off extremely weak, with a paltry set of moves, pathetic stats, and generic entrance options. As you level up by gaining experience, you can increase your stats through three skill trees, which are further divided by different paths within each one. The skill trees manage to reduce the stat overload that typically accompanies WWE 2K’s career mode, but you never get the feeling that the skills you’re adding to make much of a difference in your character’s overall strength.
Despite the annoying character progression, the overall story and the journey of your character as he rises up through the ranks of the WWE make it worth the struggle.
On top of that, new moves and cosmetic options are once again locked behind loot boxes, which is a huge bummer. The boxes can only be purchased with virtual currency, and individual items can be bought on their own, but the cost of buying things ala carte is very expensive.
For the most part, MyCareer is easy enough to get away with playing with a sub-par character, but there are a few points in the story where Triple H decides to stack the deck against you, forcing you to compete and win in wildly unfair matches, such as a 3-on-1 handicap match, an 8 man battle royale, and a gauntlet where you health doesn’t refill after each match. Rather than coming out of it feeling like a highly skilled beast of a wrestler, you feel like you have to resort to cheap hit and run tactics just to survive.
Aside from MyCareer, 2K19 brings back the much-beloved Showcase Mode, this time highlighting the WWE career of Daniel Bryan. Every chapter covers a different noteworthy match in his career, with an introduction by Bryan himself that sets the stage in a fascinating mini-documentary style. Once it’s time to actually play, you’re guided by objectives that have you doing many of the same moves and big spots that actually took place in the real match, with some objectives triggering painstakingly recreated cutscenes of some the biggest moments. Unfortunately, while completing those objectives is a lot of fun, they don’t trigger checkpoints, and with some of these matches lasting upwards of 20-30 minutes, it’s extremely frustrating to force players to replay all of that from the beginning if they fail near the end.
2K19 also takes some cues from Mortal Kombat X with their 2K Towers mode, which challenges players to complete themed “towers,” consisting of a series of matches under a unifying theme. These towers change both daily and weekly, so there’s always something new to tackle, and they offer a great source of VC to spend in other modes.
Those are the big differences in 2K19 this year, but there’s also a lot to be said about the plethora of small changes that go a long way in improving the overall quality of 2K19, even despite some of the frustrations of its main modes. A new Payback system adds another layer of strategy to the core wrestling gameplay by giving players two powerful abilities that can change the flow of a match, whether it be giving a player an instant finisher, an extra reversal counter, a one-time use free kick out at two, or an array of others.
Royal Rumbles are a lot more fun now that you can pick and choose the order in which superstars enter. Steel Cages matches have undergone an almost complete overhaul with new exit minigames and several new animations that add to the excitement of the match type. You can also now create your own Money in the Bank briefcases and have wrestlers defend them in matches.
Beyond that, WWE 2K19 just seems to embrace a much more fun and arcade-y tone and is much better for it. Big head mode matches are hilarious to watch, some of the 2K Towers have crazy modifiers like sped up gameplay that do a great job of making each tower feel like a unique challenge, and one of the payback abilities essentially turns you into Thor as you charge electricity to build your momentum meter.
As for things that have stayed the same, the core wrestling gameplay thankfully still holds up and makes up for a lot of flaws in other areas. The commentary is still laughably bad, it’s still very buggy, but create-a-wrestler remains one of the most incredible tools for character creation across all video games.