The market for wrestling games is split into two camps. In this corner sit the purists, those who are looking for the most technical and challenging gameplay they can find that still provides entertainment. Those people will naturally gravitate towards games like Fire Pro Wrestling World. In the other corner are the fans of WWE-style wrestling, with all of its drama, suspense, and over-the-top booking, and that’s where games like WWE 2K19 come into play.
WWE 2K19 is a welcome entry into a series that has been met with extremely mixed reception since it began with WWE 2K14, and as a bonus, at its worst it’s basically a perfect microcosm of the current problems that plague actual WWE television. Whether that commentary is intentional or not, WWE 2K19 is by no means an excellent wrestling game, but it is an excellent WWE simulator.
Yes! Yes! Yes!
One of the most exciting parts of WWE 2K19 is the return of Showcase mode. I’ve always felt like these touches were wonderful additions to a genre that needs to explore the emotional side of it much more deeply, and Daniel Bryan is the perfect choice. His career has been filled with the kind of peaks and valleys that few others can attest to surviving, and hearing his voice-over commentary on some of those moments is insightful and engaging.
Showcase mode also mixes matches and storyline progression deftly, never feeling like it’s more documentary than gameplay mode, but still providing a lot of information for those unfamiliar with Daniel Bryan’s story.
The other gameplay mode that shines is MyPlayer, which has been totally revamped after several years worth of iterations that were dull at best and painfully slow at their worst. MyPlayer’s story is well written, with a lot of actually funny dialogue rather than the forced humor that was present in previous years. The narrative is also compelling in a way that makes it more enjoyable to continue the grind that is leveling up a character from scratch, as there is far less repetition than before. There will be no ten matches in a row against Barron Blade this year, although the legend himself does make an appearance as a prominent early figure in the journey.
It’s nice to see WWE 2K19 take these steps in variety, because for the past few years, it felt like all the major sports franchises were evolving to produce more of an experience rather than just a showcase for the sport. MyPlayer isn’t on the level of something like FIFA 19’s The Journey, but it’s closer than ever before, enough to warrant a comparison to it for the first time, and that’s a good thing.
No! No! No!
Here’s something that many fans will struggle with the return of in WWE 2K19: loot packs. Early on in the game, players looking to build their own characters will have severe restrictions placed on their ability to do so. Appearance, movesets, and more are all locked behind loot pack progression, which can lead to some frustration. While you are able to purchase a move or a piece of attire with VC instead of hoping to open it, the cost is very high and takes a fair amount of time to grind up to.
With that being said, however, WWE 2K19’s loot packs are much better than they were last year. VC is freely awarded in virtually every mode, even those outside of MyPlayer, which helps offset some of the grind. If we’re stuck with loot box-esque microtransaction models (and, let’s face it, we are), at the very least WWE 2K19 doesn’t feature the most egregious of them.
Cold comfort, to be sure, since not being able to give your character the finishers you want them to have without making a huge dent in your VC savings is a serious cost.
Fear the Beard (Or Hair Physics in General)
If you’d ask me for the most summative description I could give of the gameplay within WWE 2K19, I guess I’d say that it’s everything you expect honed to a fine point. That’s both good and bad. While I enjoy WWE 2K19’s system by-and-large, the gameplay still suffers through the awkward movements of characters in multi-person matches, weird move glitches, and hair physics that make me seriously question if anyone who has developed these games has ever seen human hair.
Still, the standard-bearing qualities that make WWE 2K19 great are still there too, and they’re as good as they’ve ever been. The graphics are absolutely gorgeous, with a deep roster of wrestlers fully-realized with wonderful character models. WWE 2K19 is also clearly made by people who love wrestling. Subtle touches, like Pete Dunne and Adam Cole being two of the more prominent advertised wrestlers, show that the team working behind the game are well aware of the need to appeal to both casual and more invested audiences simultaneously.
They succeed with that, too, thanks to gameplay that is largely familiar. Additions like Overdrive and Paybacks add some depth to matches and, in particular, a bit of flair. I particularly loved all the ones that let me play a bit more dirty, which is certainly my preferred style. Any game that lets you adopt the time-tested strategies first innovated by Ric Flair is worth commending.
Beyond those additions, it’s most just some fine-tuning on 2K Sports’ part. Striking is a bit more fluid, though it can still come off as awkward in spots, and grappling is slightly more varied but remains, at its core, the same system. Match variety is a bit nicer, with a focus on gauntlet matches in Tower Mode shaking things up with some online competitive gameplay that rewards some much needed in-game currency to develop characters further.
And the roster. Oh, the roster. There are just so many wrestlers present in WWE 2K19. If all you want is a good wrestling game that features nearly every superstar you can imagine in the WWE, WWE 2K19 will be pitch perfect for you.
Peak Sports Entertainment
Overall, WWE 2K19 suffers from the same problems the WWE product does as a whole: a failure to move forward. The game is great and makes some very notable improvements, especially in MyPlayer and Showcase modes, but it also refuses to move beyond the dated engine that limits actual gameplay innovation. Some of the same issues that were present way back in WWE 2K14 are essentially still there—wonky hair physics and the awkward movement of wrestlers in the ring are two of the most immediately visible—and that simply shouldn’t be the case. It has been over five years, and it’s time to move on.
If that reminds you of a situation that currently involves Roman Reigns, then you’ll see why I’m so convinced WWE 2K19 is the best WWE port 2K Sports has ever made. Just like the real WWE, there are different audiences even within the same fandom, and there will be plenty of gamers who are blown away by the depth and tweaks made to WWE 2K19. WWE 2K19 is a great WWE game that is only a good wrestling game, and feels like it has reached the end of what is possible within the constraints of the WWE 2K series as we know it.
WWE 2K19 review code provided by publisher. Version 1.01 reviewed on a PlayStation 4 Pro. For more information on scoring please see our review policy.