“Phenomenal” is a proper classification for WWE 2K19 when it’s working at its best.
Like coverboy AJ Styles, the latest offering from 2K Sports is versatile, appeals to all and is sheer fun in just about any situation. Hyped as a bit of fan service and getting back to what makes wrestling games enjoyable, 2K19 delivers in droves.
Unlike Styles, who has no equal on the planet and doesn’t dip in quality on a day-to-day basis, 2K19 can’t match this pace and stutters at times. But those moments are brief. Otherwise, WWE 2K19 is one of the most robust offerings wrestling fans could ask for given the scope of the globe’s top company and the demands that come with making an annual video game.
WWE 2K19 isn’t a risky between-the-ropes suicide dive by any means, but most matches don’t need those to classify as fun, anyway.
Graphics and Presentation
We’re at a point with the 2K Sports series where there isn’t much to say in this area anymore.
That’s a good thing.
WWE 2K19 is one of the best-looking sports games on the market, just like its predecessor was. Wrestlers look like their real-life counterparts thanks to extensive face and motion capture. There aren’t any odd proportions here or weird outliers, and the physics tied to hair and attire mostly work well (there are some weird hair moments, but that’s an industry-wide thing right now).
Taking it a step further, details like sweat and areas of abuse really stand out. Slap an opponent in the chest enough and he or she starts to turn red there. Work an area enough and the damage shows or blood pours, if the latter is turned on.
Perhaps a bigger compliment than simply saying this year’s game looks good is stressing it captures the atmosphere of a WWE event quite well. The stages are properly gigantic and unique to their specific event, and the arenas themselves feel massive. Crowds look good up close and even better as they get farther away, creating depth.
Furthering the cause, the sound effects are A+ material, noticeably better than last year’s game. Moves just sound painful, from bodies slamming on to the mat to the fleshy impact of knuckles on a wrestler’s face.
The announce team is the best yet in a WWE game, and while it’s a staple of sports games these days, it’s still refreshing to hear the team pause their conversation for a big moment and later renew it.
As far as getting the game looking as true to life as possible, it feels like we have hit a point where there isn’t much else to do, though kudos goes to WWE 2K19 for arriving to that point.
No more plodding.
With this release, the gameplay has gone from say, the gaunt of a guy like Big Cass (he’s gone now, that’s the point!) to the frantic urgency of a guy like Seth Rollins.
In WWE 2K19, everything feels faster, especially going for pins. A staple of past releases was feeling the urgency to get on a pin as fast as possible while trying to increase the chances of a three count, only for the on-screen character to take his or her sweet time in actually doing it.
Much of the talk surrounding the game on the run up to release centered on bringing the fun back by getting away from 2K Sports’ simulation roots. The approach sounded good on paper when they took over the series, but it didn’t show in the actual gameplay much.
Becoming more arcade-esque for this release doesn’t mean throwing away everything from past iterations by any means. It feels like 2K Sports has found a really solid groove, striking a balance of arcade and simulation that is faster and retains the realism.
That all sounds almost too good to be true, but it isn’t hard to figure out how to do special environmental set pieces anymore. Reversals are snappy and timing based, with plenty of ways to counter things now. Striking feels especially better this year, and players will notice the huge uptick in variety there right away.
Players will need to experiment a bit with difficulty settings because at times the new emphasis on strikes can feel like it lends to building finishers too quickly, but it’s a minor gripe. The new Payback system is a great way to let matches have a natural momentum to them.
Simplified and faster with typical yearly additions like new animations, the gameplay in 2K19 is simply fun and will have players wanting to come back for more.
The feature list in WWE 2K19 is overloaded, though it manages to feel all-inclusive and with enough options as opposed to being intimidating.
But the big-ticket items are Showcase and MyCareer.
After a hiatus, Showcase is back by popular demand, and that popular demand has the mode featuring the well-known story of Daniel Bryan. Thanks to in-depth commentary from Bryan himself before each stage, this has the feel of one of WWE Network’s documentaries as opposed to just a video game mode.
The same fun gameplay is still here, though, and as Bryan fans will find out, the choice of stages does a good job of documenting the major talking points of his career, from his WWE release after fighting another up-and-comer named John Cena to present day.
MyCareer got a makeover as well aimed at fan service. Last year’s game was a grind fest with plodding backstage segments that felt awkward instead of immersive. This year is a complete 180 for the mode, to say the least.
Wanting a bigger narrative similar to others sports offerings like 2K Sports’ own NBA 2K series, MyCareer puts players in the boots of their created wrestler and starts them in the indies.
The narrative there gets wacky in a hurry—but in a good way. Out are the backstage segments, in are tiny setpieces between matches that let the player talk to a few other characters and even make choices that have ramifications.
Cutscene, set piece, match, repeat doesn’t make for a good Brock Lesnar t-shirt, but the simplistic design keeps the story moving along at a great pace. It’s a fun tale and players won’t forget secondary characters, which speaks to their design and the mode’s writing.
The voiceovers in MyCareer are superb, with even Triple H putting on his acting chops to deliver some strong lines. But get ready to hear some repetitive lines from the announcers calling the matches in the indies if it takes too long for a player to complete the objectives some matches outline.
Those objectives should probably get a mention, too—they aren’t always the easiest to accomplish. Some won’t mind objectives in a wrestling match, but it can be frustrating that the game doesn’t provide a marker for where to go, and the consequence is instantly failing.
Also housed under the MyPlayer umbrella is Road to Glory, a fun online side event, and MyPlayer Towers. The overall skill tree for a created wrestler is absolutely gigantic after picking one of five styles and earning two substyles. While it feels like it could be another huge grind, the branching skill trees at least provide serious customization for the type of Superstar a player wants to create.
Speaking of customization, this is where things can get intimidating. Players can create superstars, movesets, entrances, championships, shows, arenas, videos, victory reactions, custom matches and even Money In The Bank briefcases.
The scope is staggering and what happens when an annual release drip feeds these things into the ecosystem, where they then remain. And while it’s cool to be able to create a custom MitB briefcase that cashes in on a custom-created title with customized side plates, with the result of the match having a custom victory celebration and crowd reaction, less-ambitious players can thankfully just lean on the creativity of others through the Community Creations tab, as always.
Don’t forget more casual endeavors, like big-head mode and 2K Towers. The former is exactly what it sounds like and makes for a funny time, while the latter is something along the lines of what players would see in a traditional fighting video game. Each tower has a theme and end boss, and various layers of the tower could have certain stipulations. It all adds up to an enjoyable, different way to experience the improved combat.
These are the features a game like this needs. Realism-craving players have no reason to gripe about their inclusion because they aren’t forced upon them. But simply having the option included for those who might want to goof around is a good idea. Variety and accessibility is never a bad thing in video games, which rings true here.
Also like more traditional fighting games, the fight can go well outside of a WWE arena. Some of the out-of-ring locales are an interesting twist. But some of the most hyped don’t allow much environmental interaction. It’s not an end-of-the-world ordeal, and plenty of fighting games with various locales never touch the background environments, but WWE games normally do, so it seemed odd.
Like everything else, the roster is huge, though far from perfect. Some of Bryan’s face models in Showcase seem a bit off. Noticeable appearance outliers like Lana don’t match the on-screen product anymore. Perhaps more important than all these other roster points, though, is the absence of Tommaso Ciampa, who hasn’t even been mentioned in two of the upcoming DLC roster packs that flesh out the roster despite being in last year’s game.
General improvements to the user interface are also worth a nod. The chromed-out look to basic menu systems smartly housing modes and options is a huge upgrade, and so too are the wrestlers who show up on them. Video gamers who have slogged through bad menu systems know this is a much bigger deal than it sounds like.
Maybe Roman Reigns is a better representative of this year’s game: he’ll put out quality most of the time, can work with anyone and please most, but the hardcore or picky will poke holes in the presentation and execution.
But Reigns is still top dog for a reason.
Reminiscent of Bryan’s run to the top, it feels like 2K Sports pulled the plug on several things they had planned and simply listened. And listening to fans with 2K19 is a better-late-than-never situation if this is the end result.
While it’s a bit perplexing that the developers didn’t look in-house to something like the NBA 2K series for story-mode inspiration earlier given the vast universe at their hands, the apology offering has character and stands out as a highlight.
With a little bit of something for everyone, including two marquee modes and a more enjoyable overall playing experience, WWE 2K19 offers quite a few new positives compared to typical annual sports game releases.
Like the WWE product itself, part of the excitement here comes from dreaming up what might be possible next. Until then, an entertaining foundation awaits WWE fans itching to get back in the digital ring.