WWE 2K Battlegrounds does exactly what it sets out to do: provide some quick, easy wrestling fun. While clearly lacking the depth and production values of the core WWE series, Battlegrounds is accessible and entertaining – and I am generally good with that, despite a handful of shortcomings.
I’ve been a big fan of the mains WWE series for years now. I thought 2K17 and 18 were both a good deal of fun, even if they were at times frustrating and unapproachable (seriously, those Royal Rumble storyline missions just got on my every… last… nerve…). Then 2k19 came out, and it was an unmitigated disaster. The bugs were numerous, the polish was missing and the series lost a ton of goodwill with its fans last year. That change in developers went poorly, to say the least.
When I heard that 2K Games would be bringing on Sabre Interactive to take the NBA 2k Playgrounds approach to the WWE universe, I was curious to see how it would go – but the potential was evident to me immediately. The development team took a very similar approach to WWE in cartoony, yet recognizable characters with over-the-top antics in unusual venues. Just like Playgrounds is a spiritual callback to arcade basketball titles like NBA Jam, WWE 2K Battlegrounds struck similar notes for me as the old Midway Wrestling titles I played back in the arcade years ago.
The mainline WWE games have for years been getting a bit more cumbersome in their control schemes as they try to do a bit too much of everything. There are so many different wrestlers and combat styles that trying to merge punching, grappling, weapons and high-flying acrobatics in a single system made the series very unfriendly for newcomers. Here the opposite is true. While there are a handful of different wrestling styles to be had here, from powerhouses to brawlers to technicians and more, they are all functionally pretty similar. Their move sets have variety from one another, but the general way of pulling them off is the same from wrestler to wrestler. Sure, a powerhouse is going to have an easier time picking someone up and chucking them, but your acrobatic little guys can do that too. I will say that I felt as though the gameplay favored the big bruisers by and large. I just had an easier time with them when the bodies started colliding.
The WWE is known for having some pretty out-there stories and over-the-top characters, but Battlegrounds definitely takes that a step or ten further. You can throw your opponents up into the air and deliver completely unrealistic but visually exciting double uppercuts to your opponent’s body. You can pick them up and toss them into the waiting mouth of a nearby alligator to be chewed on. You can take control of a ram and use it to enter the ring and attack your opponents (yup, you read that right). Even the weapons range from typical WWE fare (kendo sticks and metal folding chairs) to slightly more ridiculous (motorcycles that you pull out from under the apron, or large inflatable hammers that make squeaky sounds when they strike someone). Gone are the fully voice acted motion cutscenes the primary series has used in recent years, and instead we have a comic book style storyboard at certain points in the campaign mode.
This zany style is evident in the brightly colored visuals and squat, chunky character models. Similar to NBA Playgrounds, I am amazed how easily recognizable stars from the WWE are here, because of the overly exaggerated cartoon appearance they have here. If anything, I think they’re easier to recognize here than in NBA Playgrounds, in part because in the NBA players are generally wearing the same thing – shorts and shirts that are somewhat uniform. Here you have everything from distinctive hairstyles to masks and costumes that reflect the wrestlers’ real-life counterparts. While the characters look okay, the animations can get a bit weird at times, especially with weapons (I got motorcycles hung up oddly on the ropes a couple of times, and there were times collisions didn’t actually look like they were… well, colliding). The action is hard-hitting and fast, and the visuals and sound effects support that. Even Jerry Lawler’s familiar voice is part of the commentary – though many of his quick remarks get repetitive somewhat quickly, which is always a problem in sports games but even more evident in something like this where there is a lot less diversity in the action than simulation titles.
That is where we get into the crux of where Battlegrounds largely comes in lacking. There are several modes of play, which certainly helps. We have caged matches, versus computer, versus human, tag team, gauntlet, Royal Rumble and more – and in the exhibition modes we have numerous dials we can play with such as ring out rules, number of times weapons can be used, difficulty, things of that nature. These are all great, especially if you’re looking to do some quick sessions with some buddies that just want to share in some arcade styled throwdowns. However, it doesn’t really take long for the shallowness of the overall offering to start to show through.
The campaign mode deserves credit for actually being pretty lengthy. I sunk some good time in during the first night, several hours, and got through about a third of what it has to offer. I think it took me about two fairly solid days of playing to get through it all. It is smartly designed, with different types of matches and changing up which wrestlers you use along the way at regular intervals to change up the pacing a bit. You unlock new power-ups (more on that in a minute) that you can equip along the way as well, which helps keep things somewhat fresher. However, with all of that being said, I really found myself doing largely the same thing in match one hundred as I was doing in match three.
There is a bit of depth to the wrestling, but with the accessibility comes some tradeoff as over time everything begins to feel somewhat same-y. Progression also is not nearly as interesting with the lack of a true career mode, and while the story told in campaign is fine, it’s not going to be remembered as a great one either. You earn some currency as you play, which is nice because you have the option to unlock additional wrestlers. It’s great to see so many classics such as Jake the Snake or Andre the Giant or Undertaker hitting the mat with current wrestlers – and as long as you have the patience to grind for the currency, you can unlock the ones you want. With a roster of more than seventy available overall, that is probably the biggest carrot being dangled in terms of progression. This adds a major amount of grinding if you plan to unlock all of them, but if you only have your heart set on some specific ones? That happened pretty organically for me. Still, given the $40 price of the game, the microtransactions as an option will likely still rub people the wrong way. I appreciate that the game is discounted compared to the usual sixty dollar price tag we see for a main WWe title, but it still feels like it could be about ten dollars cheaper on launch given the compromises made along the way.
There are options for creating characters and battlegrounds, but neither one really seemed all that robust. They get the job done, but there are just not a ton of options out there. It probably is more than enough for the quick pick-up-and-play mentality, compared to the more robust character creations found in mainline WWE titles that see your created character through a lengthy career mode.