Reviewed for the Xbox One.
2K Sports has had it rough with their WWE games in recent years. Buggy ports and a lackluster development has seen fans clamor for something different. Whether that be new guys at the helm or a game that feels worthy of the WWE name. 2K Battlegrounds seems heavily inspired by the underrated 2011 game WWE All-Stars and is a breath of fresh air for the stagnant franchise. Once you play the game, however, there is nothing further than their visuals to link them.
Easy to Play Doesn’t Mean Fun
It is very easy to pick up and play. Playability appears to sacrifice depth however as combat begins to feel very similar and bland after the first three matches. A roster of 70 wrestlers is impressive until you come to realise that a large majority are locked behind a micro-transaction wall.
What it does have going for it however is it’s natural arcade feel. No chain wrestling, submissions or timed minigames to get your head around. No requirement to learn how to put up a table, then put someone through it for example. You could grab anyone off of the street and hand them the controller and tell them “this is for punch, this is for kick, throw someone with this”, etc. It is an approachable game for wrestling game newcomers, but what does that mean for WWE faithful? It sacrifices move diversity and depth to make sure that the game is pick up and playable, making it very vanilla after a while of playing. I found my experience was best when I picked up the game and played a few matches and put it back down again to keep the experience fresh…ish.
Five Moves of Doom
Even with the arcadey tone the move-set for each superstar is very thin. There are only basic combos and throws so don’t expect to bust out a five star match or make the PWI 500. To make it worse, moves are copy and pasted into different classes. You have Powerhouse, Brawler, All-Rounder, Technician or High flyer. This means that AJ Styles will have the same moves as The Miz and Natalya the same as The Undertaker. They do however have different signatures and finishers, so there is that. Aside from that, they play the same way.
The differences only come with the classes, and even still these are few. Powerhouses are slow yet have attacks that will overpower opponent strikes. Brawlers magic up weapons like steel chairs and motorcycles and have more power on their strikes. High-flyers can jump off of the ropes and get to the top ropes faster. Technicians have more power in their throws and can apply damage to limbs, stunning opponents briefly. All-rounders can do a bit of everything.
Stick it in Reverse
The reversal system gives you too long to reverse throws, attempting to balance this out by having throws take a portion of your heat meter (the build up to your signature/finisher). This meant that my most competitive matches consisted of reversal after reversal. This only serves to drag a match out and sap you of motivation to play more.
The best way to describe this experience would be to compare it to trivial pursuit. It’s fun at first to crack out with your friends, but after a while it starts to feel bland once you start knowing what’s next.
More of the Same, But With Comics
Battlegrounds has a campaign mode, but it is as shallow as the gameplay. Essentially the synopsis is that Paul Heyman wants to create his own brand of pro wrestling. He travels the world and recruits different wrestlers and having them fight inside a ring in their home turf, giving birth to the Battlegrounds brand.
It can be said that the game is very self aware and knows how cheesy it is. This however does nothing to mitigate the lack of flair and the one dimensional characters you control. You’ll find no reason for you to care about the characters you play as with them only being afforded two comic book pages to establish their story. The gameplay doesn’t do much for the campaign even still. With it being a long line of matches against a number of superstars, providing occasional awards. Rewards include new battlegrounds and new power ups, but more exciting: New characters.
Pastures aren’t exactly greener in other game modes either. Battleground Challenge is the campaign subtract the story, using your own created superstar that you get to improve with micro-transactions. King of the Battlegrounds in concept is cool. The objective is to survive as long as you can in a Royal Rumble style match. Again this falls short but only because you can bypass the elimination minigame by pushing your opponent through the ropes Even without this bug it does begin to get too vanilla after the first few plays.
Sometimes it’s Best to Say Nothing at All
As great as the work of Mauro Ranallo is, and of course The King Jerry Lawler is, their commentary is poorly matched to the gameplay. This is by no means down to their performances. If you close your eyes it will be just like watching them at a WWE show. But open your eyes and you’ll find that their calls are super off the mark. Delayed reactions and overreactions and recycled lines litter the commentary.
Pay to Play as Your Favorites
You will most definitely not be able to play with your favourite superstar right off of the bat. Many of them need to be unlocked using micro transactions and this just leaves a bad taste in my mouth as many of these characters are popular faces of the WWE brand. Names such as Becky Lynch and Seth Rollins should not be locked to begin with, worse yet to be unlocked by microtransactions. On this front, the game begins to feel like a free mobile game, not a paid console release.
Using a different and simplified format is most easily the best alternative to pro-wrestling simulators. But Battlegrounds fails to deliver on its promise to wash the bad taste of 2K20 out of our mouths. The game is riddled with microtransactions in the most unnecessary way. The gameplay is vanilla and the campaign is uninspired. It’s a party game with the WWE brand applied to it, fun to play for an hour or so. Enjoy it with friends because solo play will find you switching games before you know it. It is by no means as bad as WWE 2K20 but as far as being a good wrestling game, it falls short of the mark.