The Video Gamer’s Experience – WWE 2K18 Review

2014 wasn’t a very good time for the WWE video game series. Following the releases of Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s Playstation 4 consoles a year prior, “WWE 2K15” entered the world following a series of announcements both early and recent that had fans reasonably pessimistic and worried that 2K Games’ first entry in this latest generation of gaming would be disappointing. Sadly for almost everyone, the low expectations were proven valid as “WWE 2K15” came across as a beta version of what could’ve been the next enjoyable evolution in the franchise. Thankfully for the series, its creators turned out what should’ve been its eighth generation console debut with “WWE 2K16”. Everything from its gameplay to mode offerings were more robust and satisfying than almost anything its predecessor offered – giving every WWE video game fan high hopes that the sequel would be even better. “WWE 2K17” proved to be more of a mixed bag than one would’ve expected as improved gameplay and a fantastic roster was marred by another mundane attempt at “MyCareer” mode and glitches that caused everything from hard crashes to corrupted saves. Unlike my thought process coming into “2K17”, I cautiously popped in “2K18” with the belief this would be more of the same without the lofty promises of greatness or significant improvements.



Did I Complete “WWE 2K18”?


Sometimes it’s hard to judge what “complete” means when reviewing a wrestling game as trophies/achievements usually only represent a tip of the iceberg when it comes to offerings in a WWE game. Usually the best criteria for completion in a WWE game came courtesy of “2K Showcase” mode where the player would take one or more characters and play through a historic era of wrestling (the most recent example being “2K16’s” journey through the career of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin). Like last year’s iteration, the primary talking point mode has been done away with, leaving “MyCareer” mode to pick up the slack. The stand-alone mode allows a player to create his or her own wrestler (males only) and take that individual through the WWE title ranks in hopes of achieving the WWE World Heavyweight Championship or the WWE Universal title depending on what brand (“Raw” or “Smackdown Live”) the players chooses to be a part of after making it through training and NXT. My time with this year’s version of “MyCareer” didn’t take half as long as last year’s grind (around twelve hours in regards to the prior) before my character achieved WWE World Heavyweight champion status and completed the mode’s “Main Story” to leave him wandering around the backstage area, picking fights and completing side quests. There are other things to keep a person busy (from online competition to creating your own WWE Universe), but just like last year nothing fulfills the completion quota better than “MyCareer” mode.



Did “WWE 2K18” Live Up to the Hype?


Rather than abandon what worked for the last two years, “2K18” sees minor improvements on the in-ring gameplay that pushes the series further down the rabbit hole of simulation gaming similar to the AKI games released during the heyday of the Nintendo 64. The matches are much slower in comparison to the style that got the franchise off the ground that has left players either happy about the realism or longing for the days of rapid-fire attacks topped off by a succession of stored finishers. If you’re a player that comes from the latter category, “2K18” isn’t for you in any way, shape or form. But for those who have enjoyed the changes over the past three games (including smarter AI to the point it can pull off the equivalent of “squash matches” if the player isn’t prepared – something I learned first-hand in my first match) will find a lot to enjoy with “2K18” when the bell sounds.



A majority of the implementations seen in its last three predecessors return in “2K18” including the reversal meter (a regenerating bar under the character’s health that limits the amount of reversals a character can utilize at one time with the bar’s length being solely dependant on the grappler’s stats), the stamina meter (a second bar under the character’s health that depletes with each move attempted and/or executed that can prevent the usage of finishers if the meter gets too low), the “rock, paper, scissors”-like collar & elbow tie up sequence that can occur at the start of a match (though not as long-winded as the variations seen in “2K15” & “2K16”), the overhauled taunt system that can give a character a temporary momentum or damage buff, and the rollout system where a character taking a good amount of damage in multi-person matches will roll out of the ring to recover and potentially get a buff for completing the sequence, or a de-buff for using the “Early Recovery” to get up faster and reenter the fray that’ll leave grappler weakened and vulnerable to being knocked out of the ring again. Just like last year, the rollout system can be iffy at best as there are times when a player will be forced out of the ring from anything including a power bomb to a simple shoulder block even if the character hasn’t lost a third of the starting health bar. The rollout system is still a great implementation, but didn’t get the fine-tuning it needed coming off last year’s game.

The submission wheel where the character looking to complete the submission (red bar) must catch the opponent’s blue bar while inside a small circle also returns from the last two games alongside an alternate submission system that involves a lot of button tapping similar to the mini-game found in the Royal Rumble match when trying to cause or prevent an elimination. Then there’s “Breakout” option where the player or AI can attack an opponent during an entrance or after a successful match. Just like the last games, “Breakout” is fun the first couple of times, but gets pretty old and unnecessary fast if the player wants to have a straight-up match. The biggest additions to the gameplay are the “Carry” system where a character can pick up and carry an opponent in four different positions to set up maneuvers including backbreakers on the ring’s edge and turnbuckle power bombs. If the player is on the receiving end of a carry it’s up to them to tap the Circle/B button to free their character. It’s a nice callback feature from the WWE games of last generation that’s been greatly improved upon, but can get somewhat annoying thanks to the AI’s need to use it so frequently. The most noticeable gameplay addition proves to be a blast from the very far past as up to eight characters can be in the ring at the same time just like in “Smackdown: Just Bring It”. For the first time ever, players can have actual “Survivor Series” style elimination matches or crazy battle royals. Unfortunately for non-PS4 Pro/Xbox One X owners, having eight bodies (nine counting the referee) in the ring at the same time will drop the frame rate significantly (even six-man matches has this problem – something that wasn’t the case last year).



Several match types have been either refined or still use the same modifications from last year’s game including Ladder matches that now feature a mini-game where the intended winner needs to get a little ball inside a small, open circle to chain together the unlocking mechanism. While it might not sound fun, it works exceptionally well and is a wonderful modification to a once problematic match type. Table matches have also been given the meter treatment as a character must slam their opponent over and over again against a table while building up a “table breaker” meter before someone goes through the wood. Unlike the Ladder match improvement, the table meter doesn’t really work as someone can go off the apron and through a table for a short victory with no meter needed. The biggest change in a match type has to go to the Royal Rumble match as eliminations can now occur from a variety of ways including the meter option similar to the one used in the submission system’s button-mashing scenario and even simple running clotheslines on an opponent stuck against the ropes. By making the Royal Rumble match simpler it also becomes more frustrating as the player can easily be knocked out of the ring before realizing what just happened. There are also “rollout buffs” in the Rumble match that sees the character resting under the bottom rope with the same risk or reward system as the regular rollout. For some reason as well you can’t have an all women Royal Rumble match. Backstage brawls return and outside of the parking lot area featuring a big rig trailer that can be climbed & people thrown off of and the most annoying equipment boxes ever, there’s not much differing this year’s version from the last.



Creation enthusiasts are in for a treat yet again. The creation of a wrestler is helped by one of the most robust facial transformation systems in WWE game (and maybe even gaming) history, as well as the return of importing a picture of someone’s face to place on a generic CAW to almost instantly put that person in the game. There are plenty of options in regards to clothing and hair including the ability to stack shirts & pants, and dyeing hair without much change from last year’s iteration including body shaping that still isn’t as good as the version seen two games ago. The other “Create-A” modes are getting better with each iteration of this generation including a reformatting of “Create-A-Entrance/Show/Arena/Championship/Video”. There’s also the new “Custom Matches” where the player can create their own style of match like a Two Out of Three Falls Hell in a Cell bout. Unfortunately the Custom Matches limitations are obvious from go when certain set up like having a cage inside Hell in a Cell isn’t allowed. These extra creation modes are exceptional and better than most of its predecessors in every way including Community Creations where you can download everything from CAWs to custom logos from people around the world that works a lot smoother this time around when compared to “2K17”. All this ties in perfectly with the practically untouched “Universe” mode where a player can create shows, rivalries and loosely held together storylines. While not as glitchy as last year’s version, “Universe” mode is exactly how 2K left it a game ago – which is rather unfortunate considering there are many ways to improve the mode without a complete overhaul (a mini-“GM Mode” offering would be great considering the return of the Brand Extension on WWE programming).

While “Universe Mode” isn’t really any better or worst than last year’s iteration, “MyCareer” mode is a further example of how flawed the idea and execution is after four games. While last year promised an expansion of what was originally seen in “2K16”, it proved to be more of the same; just faster and a little cleaner with an end goal of becoming a “Paul Heyman Guy” that didn’t do anything to make the mode unique other than a single cutscene. This time around it goes back to being a mixture of “2K15” & “2K16’s” offerings with a rag to riches story that concludes with the player-made character winning the top championship of a specific brand. Between that time learning under the former “Prince Albert” and reaching the Mecca of pro wrestling, the player can take on matches, complete promos (the promo system from the last game returns with better, more cohesive writing, but still features the odd pantomiming and doesn’t necessarily reward proper follow-ups to statements made during the promo), complete mundane side quests (including performing a random run-in, winning a series of matches by submission, or initiating a backstage brawl) that are activated by speaking to certain Superstars while awkwardly walking around the same backstage area you can fight in and, most importantly, become a fan favorite bucking The Authority, or turn into a “Corporate Man” who is molded into the next big thing by the McMahon family. Depending on what side of the fence the player chooses to be on, their character will unlock options for more moves, clothing, and even the ability to change the card. Unfortunately it’s very easy to ride the fence and end up only getting half of the options before “MyCareer’s” main story concludes – leaving a lot of grinding to get the required amount of points necessary for upgrading.



Actually grinding is a big part of this year’s version as well thanks to the output of VC – the game’s currency that allows for the purchasing of extra legendary wrestlers such as Ric Flair to fill out an already impressive roster, classic championships & arenas, and moves for your “MyCareer” character (though all the moves are available outside of mode for other creations) – both during “MyCareer” and anywhere else the player gains it by completing matches. The reason the low VC output is bad is due to the fact almost everything in “MyCareer” mode is behind the VC pay wall. A majority of the appearance customization options, moves, skills & abilities can only be unlocked by paying with VC. That wouldn’t be too big of a problem if “MyCareer” purchases weren’t also tied to loot boxes. For some odd reason, loot boxes (which only can be bought with VC and not real money) have found their way into a “WWE” game and when the randomly generated boxes make a rare appearance for completing a side quest or some random moment, it can unlock those creation parts – parts that have to be purchased with VC to use!

You have to mostly pay for any loot box you obtain then pay a fee to use the unlocked items – it doesn’t make any sense and turns “MyCareer” into an unnecessarily daunting experience even if the story itself is streamlined, more cohesive and a lot more entertaining than any of the previous offerings when you’re not stuck with some near impossible match objective the player must complete to continue the story like win the Money in the Bank Ladder match with an overall 60 level character taking on the likes of John Cena, Roman Reigns, and Dean Ambrose. The only explanation for the low VC output is 2K wanting more people to pay up to fifteen dollars for the “Accelerator Pack” and/or “MyCareer Kick Start” DLC that unlocks everything and gives a one-time VC boost respectively (or buy the game’s Deluxe edition). For the first time, “MyCareer” felt like it was on the right track of delivering a true memorable mode for all the right reasons; only to become an unnecessary grind thanks to those loot boxes and low amount of VC (even t-shirt sales numbers – a returning feature from last year’s game – are lower than last year even if your character is the WWE champion).



“MyCareer” is, in actuality, under the much larger “MyPlayer” banner thanks to the online mode – “Road to Glory” – specifically made for players taking their “MyCareer” wrestlers online to fight for main event spots on the special pay-per-view events held around the same as the actual WWE special events to earn all those pretty loot boxes. The usual online modes are also available for those who simply want to play as a WWE Superstar, but there’s still that problem with lagging connections causing problems with the pin system where the person getting counted down can’t kick out. “2K18” sports a new graphics engine and the results are mostly exceptional thanks to the improved lighting effects that make things like Bobby Roode’s entrance look glorious. Some character models, however, really look rough including Shinsuke Nakamura and the animations are can still be oddly robotic & stiff. When it comes to crashes & overall game-breaking problems, my experience with “2K18” has been a lot better than most as I’ve only had a few graphical glitches and no major crashes like what I experienced with “2K17” by simply being connected online while playing “MyCareer” and having my entire save corrupted (cloud saving is a Godsend). Commentary still leaves something to be desired thanks to frequent inconsistencies such as women being called, “he,” and redundant usage of the same phrase when talking about a particular wrestler (like Michael Cole saying the line, “Natalya is not one to mess with,” four times in a row),



Coming off “2K17” I felt very underwhelmed about the franchise’s future outside of the in-ring action and the fantastic roster offering. “2K18” didn’t do much that change my mind thanks to a disappointing lack of improvements to “Universe Mode”, odd decisions in regards to “MyCareer” mode, and what feels like the beginning of an incoming microtransaction era to WWE games.


Should You Play “WWE 2K18”


Just like “2K17”, “WWE 2K18” is one of those games that you really want to love, but the flaws are so obvious it’s hard to give it a strong recommendation. The gameplay bell-to-bell is just as good as last year’s offering – meaning dependent on what style you fancy from your wrestling games it’ll either be perfect or disappointing. The roster is incredible, and so are the “Create-A” modes. But for every step forward there’s a disappointing step back due to “Universe” mode being no different than the year before (though was promised to be improved according to developers), online action still being underwhelming due to server issues, and “MyCareer” now having a strong foundation when it comes to storytelling, but hinders the player with low VC output and loot boxes. Just like “2K17, “WWE 2K18” simply feels good enough to warrant a purchase when it’s on sale if you want a wrestling game for your eighth generation console, skipped the last game and/or always wanted to digitally recreate your favorite “Survivor Series” match. It’s becoming more and more obvious the “WWE 2K” series needs to be given the “EA UFC”/“Assassin’s Creed” treatment by getting more than a single year of development to fully realize the commendable intentions they have when trying to improve so many facets of a pretty grandiose game. “WWE 2K18” is a good game, but “good” is all it is.



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